Back in 2009, I set out to write a novelette set in the early 1900s in Venice but, to make some plot elements fit better, I blithely switched the location to Porto, Portugal.
Now I know there are things that I got wrong. There are some that I intentionally changed to make the books more readable to an English-speaking audience. But I have spent the last three years immersed in Iberia's history and came out of this experience with some hints I'd like to share about picking a historical setting:
1) The more familiar a place is, the more research materials will be available…
One advantage of 1900 Portugal is that most English-speakers don't know much about the setting. My early readers missed mistakes I'd made simply because they had limited familiarity with the place and the culture. My general guideline is that if I can't find a fact after an hour's diligent searching on the internet, it's unlikely that the average reader will know the fact either…and I can safely extrapolate an answer from what I do know.
3) Be aware that you may hit a language barrier.
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen's Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella "Iron Shoes" was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist and PRISM Finalist. Her debut novel, "The Golden City" will come out from Penguin, November 5, 2013.
Her website can be found at www.jkathleencheney.com