Wednesday, February 15, 2017

WORDS ON WRITING: Putting Facts in Fiction

As a writer, one of the hardest things about research is deciding which of the interesting facts you run across will actually end up in your novel. For example, have you ever wondered what it took to have a healthy garden–in the 1700s?

This is from the book, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way by Wesley Greene. (In it, the “we” he’s referring to are the modern-day workers of Williamsburg who tend their gardens using 18th century methods.):

The ability or inability to water the garden has been the single most important limiting factor to gardening throughout history, particularly in southern climates. …In 18th-century Williamsburg, water had to be hauled from a well. 
We have found, in our small 1/4-acre garden, that with hauling water from the well, filling up the cistern, and using watering cans, the two of us can move 4,000 pounds (about 200 gallons) a day… In 18th-century Williamsburg, the garden was the responsibility of the lady of the house, and she was at the mercy of the weather. 

In My Sister’s Prayer, which I co-wrote with Leslie Gould, there’s a vegetable garden behind the inn where our main historical character works as an indentured servant, set in 1704. Here's a passage about it:   

Later, Celeste went out to the garden to see if there were more cucumbers to fill the small barrel Sary was using to make the pickles. The midsummer garden was far ahead of where the garden back home would be. Bush beans grew up a trellis. Cabbage and broccoli flourished, along with squash, parsnips, and greens. Tall stalks of what she’d been told was corn grew along the far end. She filled the basket with cucumbers and then stood, straightened her back, and wiped her brow with her apron as Mr. Edwards marched past to the chicken coop and then stopped. He turned back, saying he needed her to go down to the blacksmith to pick up an order.
Celeste put her hand on the small of her back, not used to the labor she’d been doing. “All right.”
“Take the handcart. It’s behind the chicken coop.”
Celeste followed him, put the basket in the cart, and then pushed it around the coop. As she did, she heard Mr. Edwards talking to the gardener about manure. The garden was one of the best in the village that she’d seen, and Celeste could tell a lot of work went in to it. Every morning Benjamin and his father hauled water from the well to the orchard and garden for several hours. Their hard work paid off. Farmers brought meat, milk and cream, and some produce to the inn, but Mr. Edwards did well with what he grew on his own property.

I can't imagine how well I would fare with having to water a garden by hand for several hours every single day. Considering that I sometimes find it burdensome to turn on a hose and stand there long enough to wet down two measly tomato plants, I’m guessing not to well!  But it does make a fun fact to include in a novel. 


  1. I loved reading My Sister's Prayer and am looking forward to the next story. :-)

    1. Thanks, Melissa! You're always so sweet and encouraging!