Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sara K Joiner: Researching After the Ashes

Research. It is the cornerstone of any good historical fiction. Why are you setting this particular story in this particular time?

Why did I set After the Ashes on Java when Krakatoa erupted?

As I said, the original idea struck me when I read a book about the volcano's eruption. Consequently, the eruption itself becomes a plot point.

This meant I needed to research the eruption. The best source, and the one I relied on the most, was Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester. Whenever I would come across differing accounts, I would rely on Winchester's book to settle those conflicts.

In reading different books about Krakatoa's eruption, I discovered some interesting facts that I couldn't necessarily add to the novel—either the main character never discovered this or it didn't add anything to the story. Here are some of the more amazing facts:

  • Time zones had not been established in 1883. Therefore, recorded times for each of the explosions from the volcano vary quite a bit. Historians today generally identify the first explosion as happening at 1:06 p.m. Sunday, August 26, 1883. The remaining explosions occurred at 5:30 a.m., 6:44 a.m., 8:20 a.m. and 10:02 a.m. Monday, August 27. Time zones were officially established in 1884 at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC.
  • The Dutch navy's paddle-steamer Berouw broke her moorings during the tsunamis. She was carried two miles up the Koeripan River in Sumatra and wedged, upright, across the river like a bridge. All twenty-eight crew members were killed. The ship remained there until the 1980s when the last, non-scavenged pieces deteriorated.
  • The final eruption at 10:02 a.m. was heard almost 3,000 miles away on the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean. People there thought they were hearing gunfire from distant ships.

This is what's so fascinating about research. All these little tidbits of information that add up to an awe-inspiring view of the world.

So go forth and research. Learn new and interesting things. Share that knowledge with the world.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes and is also a public librarian in Texas.

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