I don’t write historical mysteries, and I don’t think I ever will. Mostly, that choice is driven by the fear of getting something wrong.
I enjoyed history in school, particularly when we were learning about the Civil War and the settling of the West. I loved reading about the various battles between the blue and the gray, the creation of the Pony Express, and the variety of colorful outlaws and lawmen that lived during that time. But I also realize that I romanticized these events and people. They weren’t nearly as glamorous as my young mind wanted to believe.
Now that I’m grown up and a little wiser, I don’t know that I love any historical topic enough to spend hours and hours researching it. And research it I must, thanks to my dad. He has read hundreds of nonfiction books, most often about the west, presidents, and automobiles, but he rarely reads fiction. I recommended a historical mystery to him once, and he told me he doesn’t read them anymore. He’s tried several in the past but always finds mistakes and inaccuracies that ruin the entire book for him (he has the same complaint about most movies).
And that’s where my fear comes from. How could I possibly get every detail right so that readers are drawn into the story and aren’t thrown back out when I write about the wrong gun for that time period, or the clothes, or the language? And what if I do meticulous research but base some of my information on a book that is itself wrong? Does that mean I have to double-check every detail? If I want to be thorough I do, and yet I would still be worried.
That’s not to say my books are without errors. Definitely not. But I figure my odds of making a factual mistake are lower since I write in current time about things I mostly know about. I still have to do research for my books, of course, so that I can create a believable setting and story, but at least I don’t have to worry too much about the clothing of the era or the technology. I’ll leave that up to other writers, ones who are no doubt better at paying attention to the tiniest details as they craft their stories in earlier times. As for me, I’ll be right here in 2015 if you need me.