Historical accuracy can be worth a little extra browsing

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Placitas, New Mexico

Most experts on writing recommend that we not spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the Internet, and I agree. It can be such a time suck. I’ve gone on many a bunny trail and watched my precious writing time slip away while I was engrossed in learning, for example, whether blackthorn or Irish oak makes the best and most authentic shillelagh. 

Yesterday, while I was putting together my research materials on a setting for my first novel, I came across some crucial and previously undiscovered information. It came in a roundabout way while frittering away my time browsing through obscure historical references and centuries-old land grants.

My first novel is going to be paranormal historical fiction, set in early 1820s New Mexico. The climactic scene was going to take place in Placitas, a small town nestled in the hills at the base of the Sandia Mountains, not far from Bernalillo. 

I thought I’d done “due diligence” on my research, having even strolled the actual streets through Google Earth, until I “stumbled” across the crucial and vital fact that in the 1820s, Placitas was called San Jose de Las Huertas, or Las Huertas for short. Not Placitas. Yikes! 

On the plus side, my guesses about vineyards and complex irrigation systems in the area were confirmed, so even though I just “made that up,” it turns out to have been true all along.

Readers of historical fiction, along with readers of science fiction, can be very alert to glaring inaccuracies, and are reputedly vocal in their criticism of writers who haven’t done their homework. With reviews so easily accessible on Amazon/Kindle and elsewhere, a criticism like that could hurt book sales, even if the story itself is pretty awesome. 

I’m writing paranormal fiction, but I want SOME of the facts to check out, and having the right name of the town seems pretty crucial. So I figure God (or at least the Internet Faerie) wanted me to dodge that particular hate e-mail or nasty review.

But I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the original, historic spelling of “Alburquerque.” No way is my spell checker, much less an editor, going to let that slide.

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