The book I'm working on now is set in WWII-era Iowa City. Yep, Iowa.
I have a good grasp of 20th C. history, but I nearly googled myself to death trying to get the setting right. There's not a lot out there, but, I thought, what I found was enough. Through the University of Iowa photo archives I saw where my character might live, where she'd do her grocery shopping, and where she'd stop for a cup of tea or a beer, depending on her preference. Their collection is wonderful.
Still, I had to make some assumptions based on more general historical facts. For example, small-town USO functions were typically held in YMCAs or YWCAs, so when my gal went to roll bandages for the guys overseas, she skipped on down to the Y.
Those assumptions started to bother me. What if I was wrong? You might think, who the heck is going to know the difference? Well, I would. Someone who was around back then might.
So I called the Johnson County Historical Society. The woman who picked up, Sue Foster, patiently listened to my questions. "You need to talk to Bob Hibbs," she said when I finished. "He's our local historian and he knows everything. Let me see if I can find his number..."
She did find it, and next thing I knew I was asking Mr. Bob Hibbs where I might go if I attended a USO function in 1943 if I lived in Iowa City.
"All the USO activities were held in the American Legion Building," he said without even pausing to think. "The old YMCA building burned down."
Okay, then. I would have been wrong.
This might not seem like a big deal to you. But the more I learn about the brave, industrious souls who inhabited Iowa during the war, the more I want to do right by them. It seems an insult to assume now. I want to know.
The closest you can get to that knowledge is through real, live human beings. Thanks, Sue. Thanks, Bob. My book is better thanks to both of you.