10/06/2010 09:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: Cultural Fact-Finding

Some of the action of my new novel takes place in 1948, 1955 and 1961. I know the broad strokes of history for those period of time (and if I don't, my go-to book to learn them is The Timetables of History, which sits on my desk), but in order to get a sense of what life was really like for my characters, I like to look at certain cultural facts. Here are some of the websites I've visited to do this work:

    • Google images: I love looking at the covers of magazines and advertisements from the era. Seeing what was on the cover of Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post and Life helps me understand the sweep of a year, or what was happening in a particular month.
    • The New York Times Archives: you can search for articles from a particular day or month to find out what the headlines and concerns were.
    • has a wide range of tools, including lists of bestselling books from any given year. 1961? It was The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, with To Kill a Mockingbird Close behind.
    • is a good place to go to find out what music was playing on the radio.
    • Amazing information about food habits and food prices.
    • Individual blogs: you can find blogs on almost any topic! It's so much fun to stumble across a blog about '40s lipstick cases, for example, and to use that information in a scene.