Historical accuracy in novel writing. How important is it?

Very important!  Get your facts straight and stick to them.  But is there wiggle room?

Sometimes.

Oh, no!  Someone just hissed at me!  Seriously.

When can you fudge the facts?  When they aren’t known of course.

I write about Native American’s.  My newest piece is about 9,000 years ago in the desert Southwest, near the Four Corners. A time-travel novel in the Bowman’s Inn Anthology, (book 5).

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Originally, to show the time-shift, I put in Passenger Pigeons, which went extinct in the early 20th century.  At one time, millions lived in the Americans and their flight was something to see. Some accounts say that they darkened the sky during their migrations. Along with Bison and wild turkeys, they were abundant animals in the millions.

But, no one got the reference when I described their beautiful teal plumage.

So, I had to find an animal that everyone knew was extinct a long time ago.

My choices for the extinction of known animals was a ‘minor’ one that occurred around 10,000 BC.  Mastodon, mammoth, short-faced bear, American cheetah, ground sloth, giant beaver, camel, (yes, we had camels), horse (yes, horses too before the Spaniards) and the saber-toothed Tiger among others.

If I used a giant beaver people would think I made it up.  If I used a camel or a horse, they would be confused.  Short-faced bear?  Who would know the difference?

Sloth? Cheetah?  Naw.

I knew if I used mastodons or mammoths, people would say… ‘you’re in a desert! Those are ‘cold climate animals'”  But, info from the Wikipedia (and other sites) that “…the northern part of North America during the last ice age. It was similar to the grassy steppes of modern Russia, but the flora was more diverse, abundant, and grew faster. Grasses, sedges, shrubs, and herbaceous plants were present, and scattered trees were mainly found in southern regions. This habitat was not dominated by ice and snow, as is popularly believed since these regions are thought to have been high-pressure areas at the time. The habitat of the woolly mammoth also supported other grazing herbivores such as the woolly rhinoceros, wild horses and bison.”

I didn’t want to explain all of that! I had a word-count max!

So, I decided on the saber-toothed tiger!

Now, is when things get a little ‘iffy’.  Supposedly, the people who lived when the saber-toothed tigers roamed built structures (almost like tipis) and lived on the land but stored food in ledges.

paleoindian_housing

Great, but wouldn’t they go to the ledges when trouble was around?  I would. Can you imagine a better place?

According to the archeological evidence… (Wiki again) “In the summer, campsites were made at high elevations: on the top of mesas or ridges. They also had temporary campsites in the mountains, low mesas and ponds formed by spring runoff. Structures, built in the later part of this period, were built at lower elevations. The shallow-basined lodgings are considered a precursor to the Basketmaker pit-houses.[15]

A light primer… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaco_Culture_National_Historical_Park

Yes, they did live on the ridges… in the summer. But, not in the type of structures as the later more famous cliff dwellers.

So, I put my characters in the ledges.  With saber-toothed tigers around and a herd of bison barreling down on you, plus a warring tribe… the ledges were the best place for defense.

Basketmakers.  My characters are basketmakers and the Pueblo Indians were one of the best!  Problem is, there is no evidence that they made baskets until about 7000 B.C, about 3000 years after the last trace of a saber-toothed tiger.

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This is where I fudged the facts. The Archaic–Early Basketmaker Era (7000 – 1500 BC).  A few thousand years off from the saber-tooths.  Yikes.  But, they had to carry food somehow!  Where’s the nuts?  In utters?  Wouldn’t they spoil quickly?  Carved wood?  Uh, how do you carry all of that?

From Wikipedia… “Less is known about the Paleo Indians than future civilizations because fewer of their artifacts have been uncovered.”

So, maybe they had baskets and we just haven’t found any yet.

So, I took a wee bit of a time jump with my facts.  Ekks, I admited it.  To make it factual, the basketmakers and cliff dwelling people wouldn’t have known the tigers.  Unless a couple survived… somehow. Or archeologist just haven’t found any. I’ll go with that one.

Yep, and Sasquatch is still out there, hiding.  Are they actually Neanderthals that have been hiding for thousands of years?  Oh… yeah, not going there.

One of my favorite facts?  Paleo Indians had dogs AND turkeys as pets!  There is no evidence as yet that they ate the cuties.

NEVER fudge the facts when they are laid in stone… don’t do it.  Research and back it up. Don’t even try unless you post a disclaimer! But, be prepared for the backlash!

 

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