Kirstie Myvett is a children’s author whose books feature diverse characters. She was fortunate to live in Taiwan and Brazil where she developed a deep respect and admiration for different cultures. She resides with her family in the rich cultural city of New Orleans, which is the location debut picture book, Praline Lady. To learn more about her visit kirstiemyvett.com.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
The story idea comes first. Once that seed is planted I think about it for a while — picturing it unfold in my head. I then start researching and taking notes.
Do you have a specific system for collecting data?
Each story has its own notebook or binder. My binder has an index and tabs. For example, Tab #1 may include information I’ve discovered about the main characters with historical news articles and pictures. I even have a tab for special events (i.e. deaths, anniversaries etc.)
What kinds of sources do you use?
I use various sources including newspapers, library archives, blogs, books, etc. I have used the New York Times archives, NYPL digital collections, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Library of Congress. Google book search is a great resource where you can filter by date and books as journals over 100 years old are free to read. I also reach out to people that have knowledge of my topic or may have written about my topic before.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
It depends on the topic. For Praline Lady I was familiar with the subject matter so I wrote the story before I conducted in-depth research. With a subject matter I’m not familiar with I may research weeks or months before I start drafting the story.
At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?
I feel comfortable when I have a basic understanding of the timeline of events that affect my story. Once I’ve started writing I will fact check and do research at certain points throughout the story to make sure I’m writing as close to factual as possible. Even though it’s historical fiction it’s important to have realistic and truthful elements.
What is your favorite thing about research?
My favorite thing about research is discovering some little gem that helps move the story forward or gives me a better understanding of the time period and characters. Through research I’ve stumbled upon the actual obituary for a lady that’s featured in one of my stories. Discovering that obituary helped me learn so much more about her including what her age would have been at the time my story takes place.
What’s your least favorite thing about research?
My least favorite thing is reliving painful experiences of people from the past. I’ve discovered things that literally take my breath away and give me moments for pause.
What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
My favorite thing is putting a spotlight on some obscure unknown person, place or event and telling those stories.
Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?
One of the decisions I had to make for Praline Lady was re-writing it to where she wasn’t an enslaved woman selling pralines with the hopes of purchasing her freedom. Because slaves were considered property, there isn’t documentation on how many were able to self-purchase. Yet, when I visited a local museum, one of the first things the docent said while pointing to the framed free papers of a woman of color was “she probably self-purchased by selling pralines.”
We know there were praline ladies and vendors selling goods throughout the French Quarters during slavery, but finding actual hard proof was difficult. Their names and professions were seldom, if ever documented. Because of this murkiness I moved the story to a later time period. I did however include this important fact in the Author’s Note.
Why is historical fiction important?
Historical fiction bridges the past, present and future. These stories often lead to the reader delving into non-fiction sources and discovering more about the topic. It opens the door for people who may not be fans of history discovering that history, when told in this way, can be quite entertaining.