Guest Blog: Jennifer Jakes

02 Mar

Our guest blogger today is author Jennifer Jakes. After trying several careers—everything from a beautician to a dump truck driver—Jennifer finally returned to her first love, writing. Maybe it was all those Clint Eastwood movies she watched growing up, but in her opinion there is no better read than a steamy western historical.

Married to her very own hero, she lives on fifteen acres along with two beautiful daughters, three spoiled cats, three hyper dogs and one fat rabbit.

 During the summer she does Civil War re-enacting and has found it a great research tool, not to mention she has continued appreciation for her microwave and hot water heater.

Her debut novel, RAFE’S REDEMPTION, was a RWA Golden Heart Finalist and Won BEST ROMANCE 2011 at DITHR. Visit Jennifer Jakes at


Sad but true. I have to say as an American Civil War reenactor I gained a huge amount of knowledge about the 1860s by “living” it. But what about those who don’t have the opportunity – or the inclination *grin* – to sleep on the ground or cook over an open fire?

As it happens, my last published work, TWICE IN A LIFETIME, was a pirate historical set in 1768, in the Caribbean. Since I live in Mid-West USA, that was a setting I couldn’t just get in the car and research. My WIP, ALSAKAN HEAT, is set in (you guessed it) Alaska, in 1898 during the gold rush. Yes, drivable, but it’s not going to happen.

So let’s talk deep research from the comfort of your desk, couch or recliner. *grin*

For TWICE, I started with studying what government(s) controlled the particular islands I wanted my Hero/heroine to land on. Once I knew that, I used a map to chart the course I wanted the H/h to use. (They dock at 3 ports.) For the final big scene – and the final island – I needed to know what part of Jamaica was less inhabited in that year, and where were the available ports deep enough for a larger ship. I also needed to know if the places I wanted to use were named the same as they are now. For example, I debated using Key West, Florida as one of my islands, but found it was called Cayo Hueso then and no one would know where I meant if I’d used that term. I decided against using Key West and started researching the Kingston/Port Royal area of Jamaican. I found I didn’t want to use the Kingston/Port Royal areas as they were destroyed by a huge fire in 1750 and destroyed again by a hurricane in 1774. So even though in theory my story could have happened there in 1768, it’s not a place I wanted to put my H/h to spend their happily ever after since a major hurricane was coming in six years.

Next I studied ships. I needed to know about masts, how many and what they were called; how many men were needed to man what size ship, and what the interior looked like. I read several articles and Googled images of old ships, both interior and exterior.

Another tool – one that I think is an absolute must – is using an Etymology Dictionary. This will tell you the origin of the word and in what year it began to be used. Nothing irritates me more as a reader than for a word to be used that didn’t exist in the (plot) era.

For the story set in Alaska, I again Googled images of Skagway in 1898. I found some wonderful pics that are so inspiring to writing. I also found names of infamous characters who lived then, including Soapy Smith, a mafia-type of that time. He was also a con-artist, running a telegraph office there – charging up to $5 to send a telegraph – but failing to mention no telegraph lines ran to America yet. I’ve found a wonderful book, KLONDIKE WOMEN by Melanie J. Mayer, that tells all about women making the trek to the gold fields. Several of them got rich by prostitution, some of them by actual panning for gold, and a couple of them, by opening hotels or restaurants

I watched a documentary on the History Channel about the gold rush and found in April 1898, an avalanche killed about 80 people. You can bet I will use an avalanche in my story! I love to weave in true facts. I also learned of a husband/wife team who dismantled their small steamboat paddler and hauled it up and over the pass to re-assemble once they reached the Yukon. They not only made it, but beat several of the bigger steamers who had to travel from Seattle/San Francisco all the way around Alaska and then down to Dawson. You can buy episodes from the History Channel to watch at home so if you don’t get that channel it might be work checking their website.

Clothing of any historical era is seemingly easy to find through an online search, but I suggest digging deep and not just using pictures. I found a great book titled, THE CALICO CHRONICLES by Betty J. Mills. It lists (grid-like) the decades, the popular colors women wore, and the kind of cloth. Within the book’s chapters it tells about the styles. Those are all invaluable facts! I have found one website that gives good fashion information

What about someone who calls clothing by the wrong name? The best example is the word Bloomers when talking about women’s underwear. The word Bloomers referred to trouser like pants to be worn under a shorter (knee or calf length) skirt. Women’s underwear was called Drawers (which was crotchless for the convenience of using the outhouse). So when you read of an intimate scene and the hero must remove the heroine’s drawers to touch her bare skin…, no, he wouldn’t have to.

So in summary, I have to say I think research is all in the details. Will you use everything you learn? No, probably not. But I think it gives you a richer feeling of whatever era your story is set in if you know these details. I’m so happy to live in a time where a world of information is literally at our fingertips. So if you write historicals, don’t assume you know. Research!


Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Guest Blog, Idaho


26 responses to “Guest Blog: Jennifer Jakes

  1. Jennifer Jakes

    March 2, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Thanks so much for having me here, Clarissa 🙂

  2. Clarissa Southwick

    March 2, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    Hi Jennifer! I think the hardest part in writing historical fiction is not knowing what we don’t know. I love the research aspect, and could go on forever looking at pictures and sketches. Thanks for giving me some new resources to check out. Your books look fascinating and I’ll be downloading them to my kindle tonight 🙂

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 2, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      Thank you, Clarissa:) I could spend hours on the wonderful resource books. I admit I enjoy research, but The Calico Chronicles is one I think even those authors who hate research would find easy to use.

  3. florence fois

    March 2, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    So glad to meet you here, Jennifer. I can see you put a great deal of hard work into your stories, and research is esstential with historicals. Did you know that even if you are writing about a place you think you know, or a time you actually live, you still need to be sure and research the finer details? Well … of course you knew 🙂 Takes a lot of stamina to sleep on the ground … I liked the part with you learning about other places from the comfort of your couch.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 2, 2012 at 5:08 PM

      Hi Florence –
      Glad to meet you too. And you are so right about research even if a person writes contemporary romance. Details make the story richer — no matter what the era 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by and visiting with me!

  4. Lynda Bailey

    March 2, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    Great post, Jennifer!

    I’m gonna put it on my favorites so I can refer back to it. I’ve always admired your writing ability. That admiration has increased knowing how much work you put into researching your stories.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 2, 2012 at 5:11 PM

      Hi Lynda-
      Oh, thank you!! I appreciate that:) Sometime I’ll have to compile a list of research titles I’ve found useful and post on my blog. I’ve found so many good ones, I’d love to share with other authors.

  5. Maureen McGowan

    March 2, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Great tips, Jennifer!

  6. Meredith Conner

    March 2, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    Great post, wonderful pictures and fabulous information. Thanks so much for blogging with us today, Jennifer. Sounds like I’m going to need to add another couple of books to my TBR pile 🙂 I love it when an author researches a story so it’s accurate.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 2, 2012 at 6:56 PM

      Thank you, Meredith. It was a pleasure to be here. I have to say the only thing I have to cave on (authenticity wise) was some of the erotic terms my editor wanted. I did find evidence of all but 1 word in a wonderful research book called SEX IN THE CIVIL WAR: THE STORY THE SOLDIERS WOULDN’T TELL by Thomas Lowry.
      Shockingly enough the men of that era talked as graphically as those now.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. ellaquinnauthor

    March 2, 2012 at 6:26 PM

    Great post. One of my biggest gripes is the lack of historical research.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 2, 2012 at 6:58 PM

      Hi Ella-
      Thanks! I have to agree. 🙂 As I said above to Meredith, I was able to account for all but 1 word being used in that time era.
      Have a great weekend! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Sharla Rae

    March 3, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Love the blog. I’m a history lover clean through. Actually, I think I could research for a living and make more money than writing books, I love it so much. Thanks for this.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 3, 2012 at 8:16 AM

      Hi Sharia-
      LOL – I agree. I can get so wrapped up in researching I have to force myself to get back to writing! 🙂
      Have a great weekend.

  9. Ally Broadfield

    March 3, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Great post! I’m always in danger of getting lost in the research and never getting to the writing, but I agree you should know what you’re talking about if you’re going to write a historical. My WIP is set in Russia, and I found a wonderful show on Animal Planet called Wild Russia that has helped me describe the woods, mountains and wildlife. Though I’ve been to Russia three times, I never left the more populated areas.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 3, 2012 at 10:03 AM

      Hi Ally-
      I love show like that! They’ve had several about Alaska and I devour those for exactly what you said: The scenery. 🙂
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  10. Barbara Bettis

    March 3, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    Love the post, Jennifer. I admit to sill loving a book when available, but more and more I’m delving into internew research. I love finding old books (or at least the titles 🙂 online (that has info not readily available online), then searching through my library for interlibrary loans that allow me to actually see and read them. Richard I’s itinerary is one of them I couldn’t find online, but got through an online library search.

    Your Alaska story sounds great. Can’t wait to read it. Oh, and the story of the couple who dismantled their boat and took it overland to reassemble! Perfect example of truth is stranger than fiction! Don’t you love uncovering tidbits like that.

    Best of luck. Oh, and I loved Twice in a Lifetime! Pirates could become my new knights LOL.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 3, 2012 at 10:06 AM

      Hi Barbara-
      I think using the internet to find research books you couldn’t find in stores/libraries is a great idea. That’s how I found all of mine.
      Glad you loved TWICE. I had fun writing about Ian and Izzy.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Janis McCurry

    March 3, 2012 at 8:56 AM


    I worry that I won’t think to check out key factors like the example of your ship sizes, etc. Scary. I admire your tenacity in research. I’ll think of you when researching my Irish historical. Thanks so much for visiting Gem State Writers.

  12. Jennifer Jakes

    March 3, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Hi Janis-
    I think that’s why I do research. I’m so worried I’ll get an important fact wrong. 🙂 And even thoughI realize we can only do the best we can- factually speaking, I really try to give it my all in researching.
    Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend.

  13. Mary Vine

    March 3, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    I’m so happy to live in a time where a world of information is literally at our fingertips, too. I can even remember how I got information before the internet. Thanks so much for telling us your process.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 3, 2012 at 7:35 PM

      Hi Mary-
      I agree 100% 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by.

  14. Liz Fredericks

    March 3, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    Very impressive approach to research, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing it with us on GSW.

    • Jennifer Jakes

      March 3, 2012 at 7:36 PM

      Thanks, Liz. I really enjoyed being here:)

  15. Maxine Mansfield

    March 7, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    Love love love Historicals, and if you need any Alaska facts just send me an email, or email the AKRWA and we’d be happy tp answer any questions you might have.. can’t wait for the new book..Maxine


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: