Oct 10 2016 3:00pm

How I Build the World of Hattie Davish

Read this exclusive guest post from Anna Loan-Wilsey about the research that goes into each Hattie Davish Mystery, and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of A March to Remember!

In my Hattie Davish Mysteries series, we follow Miss Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary who solves crimes in each American town that she visits. So far, the towns have included: Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Galena, Illinois, Newport, Rhode Island, St. Joseph, Missouri, and Washington, D.C. The series is set in the 1890s.

As I aim to be as authentic as possible, I have had the opportunity to conduct a great deal of research, both of time and place. There is a great deal I am able to glean from both my own personal library (such as Sears & Roebuck catalogs, an encyclopedia of poisons, and a book of 19th-century menus) as well as from the internet. However, the most important aspect of researching my series is the site visit.

The very first thing I do once I’ve decided on the location of a book is set aside three or four days to visit the town. I have visited all the locations in the series before, but the research visit is dedicated for that only. I am always amazed of what I learn when I’m visiting a place not as a tourist, but as a writer researching her book.

When I arrive at my destination, I park my car (as Hattie is a hiker and prefers to walk over using public transportation, I do the same when possible), get out my digital camera, and walk the streets. Only by doing this can I get a sense of topography (several towns have hills that are quite steep and challenging to walk), the distance from place to place (I had to edit a plot idea I had after I walked the entire length of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Wow, that took me longer than I’d expected!), architecture, the character of different neighborhoods—as well as intangibles, such as how the light hits the buildings during a particular time of year or what the air smells like (essential for the seaside town of Newport). I do this until I’m satisfied that I’ve captured what I need to be able to transport the reader to this unique place.

The next thing I do is visit the local library. Local libraries are an invaluable source of historical information that can’t be found anywhere else (including the internet). This includes local history books, historical photograph collections, archived annual city directories and, most importantly, archived local period newspapers. I have found more information searching period newspapers on microfiche than any other single historical resource. For example, I discovered the minutes of a temperance union meeting in a Eureka Springs newspaper and a call to strike by “cottage” gardeners in Newport, both of which influenced the plots of their respective books.

After I emerge from hours at the local library, I head to the local historical museum, a source of unparalleled, otherwise inaccessible, information, expertise, and artifacts. In Galena, I stood inches away from personal possessions of President Ulysses S. Grant, and in St. Joseph, I was able to interview the city’s museum curator and walk the tunnels beneath what was once State Lunatic Asylum #2. I have also contacted local convention and visitors’ bureaus for maps, contacts, and any other information that will make my research trip as productive as possible.

Armed with this wealth of information, I am able to return home to my desk, put together all that I have learned, and create the town and the world as Hattie would have known it.

Read an excerpt from A March to Remember!

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of A March to Remember by Anna Loan-Wilsey!

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A March to Remember Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) October 10, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 3:59 p.m. ET October 17, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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As a librarian and information specialist, Anna Loan-Wilsey tracks down information every day that helps to solve mysteries. She earned her B.A. at Wells College and had several poems published in their literary magazine, The Chronicle. Readers can visit her website at

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Gail Malane
I would love to create a character like Hattie and do the research involved--putting myself in her shoes !
Sally Schmidt
5. bigcootie
What a great career! My life as a secretary was totally boring.
6. Amy Houts
Your careful research makes your books authentic, Anna. Thanks for sharing your process with us.
Portia Asher
7. pixie
I love historical mysteries, particularly ones that are well researched.
The book appears to be a winner!
Teresa Young
8. tmy56
A new series to enjoy - your research shows your dedication and I am sure comes through in your writing; I can't wait to read!
pearl berger
10. beach
Historical mysteries are captivating and fascinating. Great to learn about your research.
ellie lewis
11. italia
Your research trips have been so interesting and allow me to enjoy the fruits of your labor which I appreciate.
Angie Stormer
13. ReadaholicZone
I enjoy reading historical mysteries that the author has put the effort into making it as authentic as possible. Also, I LOVE libraries. When I travel I always check out the local library. In small towns, it amazes me how well they have been maintained in their original condition. They are one of my favorite places to spend time at.
Adrienne Hancox
14. ahancox
I have to admit that I've never read a Hattie Davish mystery however I definitely will now!
Russ Cross
16. Inertia-Lad
I'd like to read this book and the rest of the series. The books sound like they are very detailed and authentic.
Her research sounds thorough. I'll have to look for her books.
Linda Hobbs
18. GeoLady
I am always impressed with the talent it takes to write fiction, especially mysteries. Further, I appreciate the effort that is put into each book with such extensive research onsite. I will definitely add Anna Loan-Wilsey to my "to-be-read" listing.
Michael Carter
23. rubydog
Good interview.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
susan beamon
24. susanbeamon
I didn't realize how much work is involved in making up a story in a real place. Very interesting.
Donald Isaksen
25. donbbfan
Excellent interview, I'd love to have this on my shelf, enter me please.
Sandra Furlotte
26. skfurlotte
I am so impressed by writers who choose to write historical fiction. I would love to read this book.
Susan Pertierra
27. orchidlady01
I love historical fiction that has been researched properly, especially during this time period in history.
Jeana Keller
28. StuffSmart
Your dedication to research is both fascinating and admirable.
29. alisonalm
Historical Fiction that is properly researched is great to read.
30. bearcollector80
I was born in Washington Dc in 1935 but moved to California in 1936. Love reading about my birthplace
Ruth Nixon
31. bearcollector80
I was born in Washington DC in 1935 but moved to California in 1936. Love reading about my birthplace
Ron Pratt
32. rpratt
Sounds interesting. I look forward to reading the book.
33. LStirling
I love hearing that authors actually take the time to visit a location they're writing about. It gives such an authentic feel to the writing. Going through historical documents at the local library and the Historical Society are great ideas for researching period information.
Jim Belcher
35. librarypops
But libraries are not necessary any more. They are old school. "everything" is on the internet. Books are a thing of the past (boy are they , the past, the present, and the future). ;)
36. CindyB
This series looks wonderful. It is interesting to hear about your research.
Dolly Anderson
37. Dolly
Research is critical to the writing of a historical fiction books, as you want that element that makes it real, and in the end makes for a better story.
Jane Schwarz
38. Janeschwarz
It seems that you love the research as much as writing the books. Thanks for the opportunity to win.
John Quiring
40. kamandi
Neat, as a history buff I'll have to check this series out.
Rhonda Barkhouse
41. Rhobar
Well researched. I would love to read it.
John Smith
42. jsmith2jsmith
A mystery set in 19th century Washington would be fun! Gorgeous cover--really, really, gorgeous!
43. Kathy Hudson
As a fan of historical mysteries, I enjoy this series. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a strong female character.
Laurent Latulippe
44. krag48
Looking forward to reading this. I like that you explore the regions you write about.
Deb Philippon
49. DebP
I would love to read your books. Reading about your research would make me very aware of the settings.
50. rikkijack
Book looks like it would be a great read.
Barbara Lima
52. barblima
This sounds like an interesting new series!
Jerry Marquardt
54. versatileer
Thank yo so much for having this How I Build the World of Hattie Davish by Anna Loan-Wilsey givveaway, and for giving us all a chance to win.
56. alisonalm
Interesting research and interesting book.
Jennifer Brinker
57. brownbnns
Thanks for the chance, I would love to win!
58. Shannon Baas
I would like to read this.
Penny Snyder
60. grammypennyann
I love trying new authors - would love to read this!!~
Carl White
63. CarlWhiteEntry
Is Miss Hattie Davish as cute as Miss Anna Loan-Wilsey?
Heather Cowley
64. choochoo
Road trips! That sounds like a great way to write!
Sandy Klocinski
66. attea2d
Love historical mysteries! Interesting learning about your research methods. I always utilize the local library
69. stephanie macdonald
thanks for the chance
71. Stephanie Liske
Pick Me.
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