Researching Oleanders in June
Historical fiction brings with it the unique experience of researching everything that goes into a story. And I mean everything--the clothes that different classes wore, common food and meals, city development and street access, businesses and locations, political climate and cultural topics relevant to characters, and so much more. Among the most interesting pieces I've researched for Oleanders in June are the medical studies of students at the time, especially for my characters that study at the first medical college in the state during its formative years, and the very green field of meteorology.
The history of Galveston is not only an interest of mine but something I hold very dear to my heart. Representing the city, its culture, and the time period accurately have been goals of this novel from the get-go. This has meant reading books upon books on the history of the island and its families, speaking with historians and locals, and visiting historical locations to ensure I get it all just right. The added bonus? Galveston has some rich gems hidden in its bricks and they've given me beautiful experiences.
Mint juleps were a fashionable drink in 1900, as Alfred discovers when he visits The Tremont House; thanks to preservation organizations, the third iteration of The Tremont House is open today and serves patrons at its 1880 bar. I had my first mint julep, just like Alfred, in the front of the hotel as I leaned on mahogany that was more than 100 years old.
The Strand, also known as Avenue B and renamed for a more fashionable feel by businessmen looking to attract shoppers, was the primary business strip in 1900 and has been partially preserved with a good deal of buildings boasting 1900 Storm survival plaques. I've walked that street more than a hundred times, and each time I imagine what it looked like as coaches carted the wealthy to lunches or Sunday service while mules pulled drays full of wares and goods and less than a block to the north the street ended with the harbor where steamships towered over the buildings. I've toured the Bishop's Palace and Ashton Villa, two of the city's most well-known homes, and hunted the residential streets for inspiring floor plans that feature into my characters' homes.
And I've stood on the beach at sea level, 17 feet below the sea wall, which was constructed in 1906, and watched as storms rolled onto land from out over the water with lightning flashing across the waves. The scenes are as breathtaking in person as they are in novels, and it is this experience that I've aimed to capture in my characters' lives, to transport readers to a place that shimmers like the water beneath the summer sun.
Researching Galveston Island, the Great Storm of 1900, and the lives that my characters would have lived involved so much more than dates and names, and my life has been enriched by the stories I have learned along the way. Galveston Island continues to surprise me with every visit, and it's my hope that Oleanders in June leads readers to fall in love with the island in the same way that I do every time I see it glisten from the causeway in the evening sun.
Just as Florence talks of flowers being the island's love letters to its inhabitants, Oleanders in June is my love letter to an island that is overflowing with history.