The author of ﬁve books, and numerous published articles, David M. Delo tells of the research involved in his wide variety of writings.
“Peddlers and Post Traders: The Army Sutler on the Frontier” (non-ﬁction) delves into the history of civilian military post traders (sutler is an old Dutch term meaning “soldier’s servant”) who provided soldiers with food and small wares at military posts. The evolution of this profession grew in America as the story of the settlement of the West, of western economics, and military politics.
While working in the Northwestern University library, Delo discovered that nothing had been written about the early post traders. He had access to everything that had been written on Montana’s history and took advantage of the opportunity to research the topic. He also contacted historical societies and poured over printed manuscripts and books. He found so much material, a paragraph here and a reference there, that he had to choose what to use, what to adapt, and what to leave out. Material gathered has been incorporated into other writings and added to a backlog of notes for the future.
Among those who have purchased the book are Easterners who reenact the Indian wars, War of 1812, Revolutionary War and the Civil War. They have found the book to be excellent reference for realistic character descriptions and props.
Coming from an education in geology, Delo was interested in the life of Ferdinand Hayden, an early government geologist. After research for about three months he heard of another who was writing on the subject and had been working on it for eight years. Rethinking, he came to the conclusion that Hayden and his connections with others of the time and area could be his book. As a result, he wrote not only about Yellowstone, but about Hayden, his dreams, associates, and events of the era. The result, his best seller “The Yellowstone Forever!” (non-ﬁction) about how history brought ﬁve men together into the process of exploring and founding our ﬁrst national park, Yellowstone, established in 1872.
Next, he decided to try to write a series of action mysteries. “The Right Touch” is an action/mystery of what he hopes to be the ﬁrst in a series with the theme “touch” in each of the titles. “This mystery,” he said, “is ﬁlled with action and a lot of humor, a real page turner.” He has written two others, unpublished at present. Other possible titles in the series could be “Stay in Touch,” “Out of Touch,” “The Midas Touch” …these remain to be written. Each adventurous story will deal with a different national problem.
“Insights from a Manic Depressive” was written from personal experiences brought on by dealing with his own disease. Primarily written for family and friends, it was not a big seller but met his need to write it and helped others along the way.
Though it had many titles before published, “Heartbreak in Heaven” (historical romantic novel) is about a post trader like those in his ﬁrst book and articles he had written for western magazines. Additional research was done on a Shoshone Indian reservation. Much of the research and background work was done. It was a matter of getting the story down, reshaping it, and using literary license to make it interesting. “Basically,” Delo said, “it’s life on the frontier in the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s.”
Delo relates some lessons learned from instructors and experience.
Collect 10 times the amount of material needed for the article or book. That way you can select the key items that identify a character or an incident in the story.
“Cast a net” for the best information. First, look to books. Follow up by checking out the references listed in the back pages. Government documents lead into the Internet. Useful bits and pieces found in articles in various journals and magazines add insight. Historical societies and local libraries can be utilized.
The largest libraries, including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, have extensive ﬁnding lists of every unpublished manuscript and where they are located. By developing a list of key names and words, research is made easier.
Find your own voice and pay attention to certain rules about writing. Establish new habits and writing becomes easier.
After the ﬁrst draft, let it sit for a few months. When you start to edit it will be with a fresh mind.
Figure that writing a book or article is 25 percent research, 25 percent ﬁrst draft, and 50 percent rewrite. Delo said that he usually rewrites six to eight times.
Delo’s last words of advice, “Write your passion, and what you know about. Borrow from all of your experiences and people you’ve met. Write for yourself. If you happen to sell something, that’s great!” blog comments powered by Disqus