I've had a request to talk about my research in Williamsburg, where my 3rd novel, POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY, was set. That particular research had so many facets, this could turn into a dissertation, so I'll just tell you about one at a time.
Williamsburg seems the ideal setting for historical fiction. In fact, one of my favorite novels, Barbara Michael's Patriot's Dream is set there. So when Barbara Peters (Poisoned Pen) suggested that I set a Pat Montella mystery in Williamsburg, I thought "Sure, I could do that." 18th century America is my favorite time and place, history-wise, and I'd already been to Williamsburg five times.
My Pat books (a.k.a. The Possessed Mystery Series) all have two plots, one historical, one present day, and they're connected by a central theme and at least one ghost. In BY BLOOD POSSESSED, for instance, the central theme is the effect of war on family. At the time I began planning POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY, I was feeling the need to avenge myself upon certain doctors and the healthcare system in general. The theme of the Williamsburg book, I decided, would be medicine, then and now. So the first place I headed when I ventured south to Williamsburg for research was the Pasteur & Galt Apothecary on Duke of Gloucester Street (called DOG Street by William and Mary's students).
The interpreter I found inside was a pleasant woman in trim colonial dress. What warmed me to her was her expression when I started asking questions like "What were mercuric salts prescribed for? What was the normal dose? And are they toxic enough to kill a man?" She smiled as if to say, "You'd better have a really good reason for asking."
I gave my standard spiel about being a mystery writer, etc. and to her credit, she still didn't look as if she believed me, but she took down my address and we exchanged email addresses.
What I didn't know at the time was I'd hooked up with Kris Dippre, one of the foremost experts on medicine in early America. A week after I returned home a large envelope appeared on my doorstep containing chapters from a Domestic Medicine: or The Family Physician, published in Philadelphia in 1774. From this, I was able to bend my brain around contrary 18th century beliefs on the causes of disease, and to give one of my ghosts a distinguishing feature: scoliosis of the spine, from being put into stays at too early an age.
Kris continued to answer my questions via email. Of everyone I contacted at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, she helped me most. I sent her a copy of POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY as a thank you and, a month later, received a copy of another book which had just seen print -- PHYSICK: The Professional Practice of Medicine in Williamsburg, written by Kris and the staff of the Pasteur & Galt Apothecary, which I recommend to anyone researching the topic. (Wish I'd had it two years earlier.)