adventures in research, book excerpt from Love’s Harvest, Catherine Castle's Wednesday Writers blog series, historical romance, Linda Shenton Matchett, Love's Harvest, retelling of biblical story of Ruth
Today’s guest on Wednesday Writers is Linda Shenton Matchett, author of the historical romance Love’s Harvest. Linda will be talking about the research required to write this book. I think you’ll find it interesting—I know I did. Welcome, Linda!
Love’s Harvest: Adventures in Research
I’m of an age that when I was in school research was conducted with encyclopedias and trips to the library to question the reference librarian and search among the shelves for sources. Now I use the internet where I can check my library’s “card catalog” online, send an email to anyone in the world with my questions, look at maps and photos, watch YouTube interviews (thanks to oral history projects, these a great resource for primary source material), access museum and university information, read archived newspapers, and chase any number of rabbits.
You heard me…chase rabbits. That’s the blessing and the curse of using the internet for doing research. As mentioned, the blessing is the plethora of information available. The curse is the ability to follow link after link after link…! Eventually, a writer needs to stop researching and put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard)!
My novella, Love’s Harvest is a retelling of the biblical book of Ruth set between 1923 and 1946. In order to “translate” the story to the new time period, quite a bit of research was necessary. In Ruth, there is a famine that sends the family to Moab, the loss of Naomi’s husband and sons, Ruth’s rights to glean the fields after she and Naomi return to Israel, marriage laws and customs, and several incidents that shed light on Ruth’s and Boaz’s character.
Let the adventure begin!
Because I wanted to set the majority of the book in England during WWII, I had to find a famine that occurred twenty or so years prior to that time. Figuring that I’d be looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack because “famines don’t happen anymore,” I was stunned to find numerous incidents during which large segments of a population faced crop failure, drought, and hunger. The event that fit with my story was the 1921-23 famine that nearly devastated the Volga River area of Russia.
Research about the region told me about Catherine the Great’s efforts to colonize Russia by inviting Europeans to immigrate and become Russian citizens but keep their language and culture. A large number of Germans took her up on the offer. That fact allowed me to make the Ruth character German which would give me the tension I needed when I sent her and the Naomi character home to England.
One link I followed helped me discover that many of these Volga Russian-Germans immigrated to Kansas, the Dakotas, and California during the 19th and early 20th century. During the famine years, these people set up the American Volga Relief Society to collect and send relief and supplies to the Volga region. I was able to weave this information in the story.
Further research allowed me to find wedding customs, the British Women’s Land Army, Lord Woolton and his Ministry of Food, and the craft of basket weaving. I was surprised that it took me about two months to conduct all my research. Are you?
By Linda Shenton Matchett
Noreen Hirsch loses everything including her husband and two sons. Then her adopted country goes to war with her homeland. Has God abandoned her?
Rosa Hirsch barely adjusts to being a bride before she is widowed. She gives up her citizenship to accompany her mother-in-law to her home country. Can Rosa find acceptance among strangers who hate her belligerent nation?
Basil Quincey is rich beyond his wildest dreams, but loneliness stalks him. Can he find a woman who loves him and not his money?
Three people. One God who can raise hope from the ashes of despair.
Volga Region, Russia, 1923
Noreen yanked the zipper closed on her over-stuffed canvas satchel. Always resourceful, Edmund had attached straps to the moss-green bag so she could wear it on her back. She would also carry a suitcase in each hand. The journey promised to be arduous.
Sighing, she wiped a weary hand across her dry eyes. Even if she had any tears remaining, crying was useless. It would not make their situation less dire.
Muted voices and the occasional bump filtered through the ceiling from the boys’ bedroom above. Noreen shivered and hunched into her threadbare, ruby-red sweater. An impulse purchase made during her honeymoon, the garment held more memories than warmth. Edmund insisted it brought out the roses in her cheeks.
She tossed the bulging satchel to the floor and turned her attention to the yawning luggage on the bed. Two steel pots and a fry pan nestled in the bottom of one boxy, brown suitcase between faded blue towels that had been a belated wedding present from her mother and father.
Hopefully, Edmund would find somewhere they could live in his home country with enough food to actually cook. Here, along the Volga River in Russia, the crops had failed again, and the famine was entering its second year. The decision whether to eat or plant their seed wheat had caused many families to die of starvation.
Shuffling footsteps sounded behind her. She turned as Edmund enveloped her in his arms. Nestling against his too-thin chest, she breathed in his musky scent. He bent and kissed her forehead, his black beard scraping her skin.
“You work too hard.” He tucked a stray strand of her nutmeg-colored hair behind her ear.
She leaned into his touch. “Isn’t that why you married me?”
“No, Schatzi, it is most certainly not.” He grinned. “You stole my heart. I had to marry you, or I would die a broken man.”
“Don’t joke about that. Our friends are dying every day.” She frowned. “Who knew this famine would last so long? If it weren’t for the bit of help arriving from America’s Volga Relief Society, matters would be much worse.”
“They are sending more assistance than we are receiving. Jakob told me there is proof the government is confiscating some of the packages and keeping the money to construct new buildings and conduct repairs. As always, development of the country is valued above the lives of the people.”
“Shhh!” She pressed the work-worn fingers of her right hand against his lips. “You could get in trouble for saying that. Then where would we be?”
Edmund hugged her. “There is no one to hear us, but I understand your fear. Many unexplained disappearances make for extreme caution.” He released her and gestured toward the pile of clothes on their bed. “Enough depressing talk. What can I do to help?”
“Do you have our passports? With the government ratcheting up the price, we have no more savings to purchase new ones.”
“Now who’s speaking out against the authorities.”
Want to read more? You can find Love’s Harvest at Amazon
About the Author:
Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, journalist, and history geek. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places most of her life. A member of ACFW, RWA, and Sisters In Crime, Linda is a volunteer docent at the Wright Museum of World War II, and a trustee for her local public library. Receive a free book Devotions from a Writer when you sign up for her newsletter.