I Didn’t Know That!

by Karen Wills

Wire buttons for 18th century re-enactors, military historians, and museum interpreters.

I once took a writing course from author David Long who introduced our class to the term “Insider Information.” One of the joys of reading fiction is being the recipient of unexpected, fascinating facts about the world a character inhabits…the one the author is opening up to you, sharing details that pull you in. I love to read and write historical fiction. In writing the manuscript I’ve just completed, I learned about the wild life of the mining community of Butte, Montana, in the late 1800s, and about the life of early wilderness settlers, including how they made wooden snowshoes as well as rhubarb wine.

I’m currently reading Tracy Chevalier’s, Burning Bright, set in London in the last decade of the 18th century. While it’s about the artist and poet William Blake and his relationship to two working class children, a delightful feature is that the women in the family of one are button makers. I had no idea there are/were so many names for handmade buttons: Singletons, Birds’ Eyes, Dorset Crosswheels, and Blandford Cartwheels. Or that they were made by winding thread around frames like the one pictured.

Historical fiction is rife with insider info about clothing, food, medical treatment. So is fiction set in remote or specialized locales. The White Mary by Montana author Kira Salek shows in detail the huge physical and cultural adjustments necessary for a first world person to live among natives of Papua, New Guinea. James Michener was the insider info master. Remember Airport? It took us inside the workings of a place where international flights are handled every day. The list is endless, but insider information is an entertaining, eye-opening facet of reading.

Look for it in a novel near you.

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