My last post was about how it’s possible to get derailed by research. But for me, that’s actually rarer than finding out something inspiring, breakthrough, or just amazingly useful.

All novels require a degree of research, unless you’re writing about something you know inside and out to begin with. Even there, chances are you’ll have to check up on a few things. But historical novels provide their own, unique challenges.

To begin with, like fantasy, you have to be able to imagine a world you can’t possibly visit in real life. This is daunting to some, a candy store of inspiration to others. Unlike fantasy, however, there are records out there—sometimes more than it’s possible to conceive of—that will all have an angle on the topic or person or era or place you’re researching.

What’s so exciting about that, you ask? It’s in the controversy, the contradictions, the hazy areas that no one is sure about, where the stories often come from for me. Taking the limitations of certain known facts and knitting them into a cohesive, compelling narrative, bringing a person, a situation, or a place to life for a reader—these are the things that make me want to face the blank page.

Speaking of that, I just read something last night that gave me the arc of my whole novel about the 18th-century French painter, Elizabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun.

Now that’s thrilling.