The research behind the writing

Have you ever read a story that is so immersive in the time, place, and setting, that you could swear the author must have lived through what they were writing about?

First off, that’s the sign of a good writer. And secondly, that means the writer did such a fantastic job of researching their subject and setting that nothing ever jarred you out of the story because it felt out of place. In fact, it felt natural.

Honestly, as an unpublished writer, research is something I both love and hate.

I love it because, hey, I love to read! I love to learn new things! I will happily spend an hour diving down a rabbit hole about Henry VIII’s wives, and emerge on the other side knowing far more than I ever needed to about cleaning practices in the 16th century.

But I also hate it because it takes time away from the actual writing of a story, making that dream of publication seem even further out of my grasp.

However, if I want that dream to become reality, I have to make sure my story won’t be picked apart by a well-meaning editor just doing their job.

A lot of people think that historical writers are the only ones who need to research. And while, yes, historical fiction writers bear the brunt of research, since the setting of their stories is critical before they even put one word on the page, almost any kind of writer benefits from a helpful librarian, a good search engine, and free time to browse Wikipedia.

mistletow-webFor example, I’m working on a Christmas romance novella that takes place in the Mt. Hood area of Oregon. I wanted a specific landmark to be covered in mistletoe, but then I had to stop and think: Does mistletoe grow in Oregon? (Yes, it will grow pretty much anywhere.)  There is a snowstorm brewing that strands a few characters in my fictional town for several days. I had to do a quick search of typical winter weather in that area, because the last thing I need is for the whole thing that sets the story in motion to not be possible because Oregon only gets an average of two feet of snow a year (it doesn’t, by the way). Even the livelihood of one of the characters has to be researched: I want the hero to be an Iditarod competitor who trains dogs and takes tourists on dog sled excursions during the off-season. But wait– is that even a thing outside of Alaska? Thanks to Google, I now know that it does, and that I need to convince my husband that we need to take another trip to Oregon in winter so we can take a dog sled ride (all in the name of research, of course!).

violin-webAnd don’t get me started on my symphony murder mystery! A lot of the research in that story has taken the last four years, because it’s literally the job I do of a living every day. I’ve learned so much about my field, and I can channel that into my story. However, the only things I know about murder are what I’ve read in other murder mysteries and seen on TV, so that part of the story definitely requires some research. (You all will vouch for me if the FBI confiscates my computer for disturbing web searches, right?)

So, the next time you fall down a rabbit hole in the name of research, just tell yourself: it will make your story better in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for all of our bloggers and readers here at Inspirational Messages!



There’s No Place Like Home!

It’s exciting to travel to unfamiliar places and soak up the history and ambience, but I like to take a cue from Dorothy Gale…there’s no place like home especially if you are writing a historical book set in the area or state you live in.

A few years ago, I decided I had to be more diligent about visiting museums and area attractions close to home to help me find ideas or tidbits to use in my writing. My current release, The Widow’s Suitor, is a prairie romance. When I first saw the hero on my cover, I thought “Pa Ingalls”. I hadn’t written the story with Laura Ingalls Wilder in mind, but she was the first author who introduced me to prairie life. I’m sorry to say that I live about ninety minutes away from DeSmet, SD, home of Little House of the Prairie and I have never visited the town or museum. I think I’d better get this attraction on my list of places to visit!

I have visited Historic Prairie Village in Madison, SD, another close to home attraction. As the name tells you, they moved in buildings to replicate a prairie town. It seems once you’ve seen one attraction like this you’ve seen them all. It’s not true with this Prairie Village. They house two hard to find attractions, a working Hershell Spellman steam powered carousel (now converted to gas) and the chapel car, Emanuel. Did you know there were railroad churches? They were designed to bring the word of God to people on the prairie.

Little House on the PrairieA few hours visiting attractions like this can help you add authenticity to your historical writing. On a tour of the Adams House in Deadwood, SD I learned wealthy people kept their table silver in a safe in their home to avoid theft. A mansion in my home town area which has always been a private residence, gave tours for a fund raising effort and I saw a smoker built into the fireplace chimney in the attic. That’s right, they heated their home and smoked their meat at the same time. It made me wonder did they use special wood when they smoked the meat. What did the house smell like while this process was taking place? A historical society in Yankton, SD is in the process of refurbishing a historic building, the Meade Building, which was a sanitarium. There is beauty in the structural aspects of this building. Gliding down the elegant marble staircase you’d never guess what was housed directly behind it. When you get further into the building and see the closet sized patient sleeping rooms and the area where you see where treatments were done, it is eerie, scary, and eye opening.

I referenced Dorothy Gale because L. Frank Baum lived in South Dakota and I’m sorry to say I’ve never visited the Aberdeen area where he first started writing the Oz books. Although we can’t click our ruby slippers heels together to get to our destinations, if you want to know what it was like to live a hundred years ago, there is no place like home to get started!

Do you visit area attractions around the settings of your books? What are some small tidbits you’ve found?widows_suitor


Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Widow’s Suitor.


CORA ANDERSON ISN’T LOOKING FOR LOVE The young widow is just trying to make a life on the prairie for herself and her newborn son. When handsome newcomer Luke Dow shows up at her cabin door, she soon relies on the man’s help with her homestead…and dares to dream of the future. Luke came to the small South Dakota town to build a hotel and make his fortune. But he never expected to care for anyone, let alone the beautiful Cora and her baby boy. When Cora’s land claim is challenged by a neighbor, Luke will do all he can to protect her and her home—and claim her heart.

The Best Laid Plans

Our Christmas season is even more stressful and hectic than usual this year. My husband is transitioning from bi-vocational pastor to full time pastor. This transition affects our finances, our lifestyle, and his mental peace. It’s scary to put your finances in the control of a hundred people. Christians are just people. Humans. Our finances are in the control of a hundred humans. Yes, I earn a little with my books now, but publishing is very inconsistent. My income would get us on food stamps fast.

This was our plan. We had some spendable money in savings. Grant needed time off after leaving the dental lab where he’s been a technician for 26 years. We planned for him to have two weeks between his last day at the lab and his first day at the church. Two weeks with spendable money. At the time, since Heartsong Presents was ending in December, I didn’t have any deadlines. We were going to relax, spend some time together, and enjoy ourselves.

We planned a trip to Texas for Thanksgiving. In Rodeo Dust, my hero’s ranch is in Aubrey and he rodeos at the Fort Worth Stockyards. We decided to stop in both places for book signings. It was perfect timing since Aubrey was having Christmas on Main—a festival with booths, crafts, and lots of people milling about. Aubrey’s city secretary got all excited and put my signing in several newspapers. It was during the day, so I could be at Fort Worth that night. Then we’d go on to San Antonio to see family. We wouldn’t have to worry about funds and we’d do some Christmas shopping when we got back.

Reality turned into a mixture of good and bad:

  • Heartsong Presents extended the line.
  • My car went kaput. The bill $1200.00.
  • The booksigning in Fort Worth didn’t come together.
  • Grant ended up with three checkless weeks off instead of two.

I’d cried over my two seemingly dead books, so miraculously having them resurrected was a blessing. Suddenly, I had a deadline, plus edits. But I had to work during Grant’s time off.

Our spendable money had dwindled. At least we had the money to get my car fixed, but we had to limp to Aubrey since it had already been in several newspapers that I was coming. We couldn’t afford to go on to San Antonio.

In the two weeks after we got back, we couldn’t Christmas shop or even eat out much.

How it turned out:

elf at Moms on Main in front of my poster

It was an awesome day in Aubrey. Nancy Downes, the city secretary had outdone herself with a 4′ by 8′ poster of me and the book. It was much bigger than it looks in the picture. The people treated me like royalty. My signing was in Moms on Main, the restaurant where my characters eat after church in books 2 and 3 of the rodeo series. I got to eat a yummy Philly Cheese Steak sandwich there and see where the peanut festival is held, which is in all three books.

For Rodeo Dust, I’d written blindly, since I’d never been to Aubrey, so Nancy critiqued my scenes to make sure I had Aubrey right. It was great meeting her and the Murrays who own Moms. They bought 30 copies of Rodeo Dust to sell in their restaurant and a small Christian bookstore bought copies also. In the end, I sold 58 books, some at full price and some for resale.

Though I sold books, the trip cost way more than I made. But the research was priceless. Actually being in Aubrey was so worth the trip. I can capture so much more for book 2 and 3 since I’ve actually been there. The Christmas tree decorated with American flags at the top of this post was in Moms. It’s definitely going in book 3.

The family member we were going to see in San Antonio ended up in the hospital during the very time we’d planned to be there for our visit. It would have been nice to be with her in the hospital, but it wouldn’t have been a very good visit. She’s fine, but still tired and sore, so having company would have been an added stress once she got home.

My contact from the Stockyards e-mailed me the week we got back. She’s missed my e-mail, but said I was welcome any time. Oh the irony.

We spent the two and a half weeks after the Texas trip with me working and Grant bored. But every year, our son gets a week out at Thanksgiving. With Grant off work, we got to share it as a family this year. And I worked after they were in bed at night, so I enjoyed the week with them both.

An added bonus, Saturday was the annual Christmas parade where we live. Our church always enters a float.

Jesus' throne in Heaven from our church float

In 2009, our huge, 8′ by 16′ King James Bible won second place. In 2010, our blue lit city of Bethlehem won 1st place. This year, we had a live nativity in blue lights on one end. An empty cross, Roman soldiers and mourners in the middle with red spotlights. Then a red carpet leading up golden stairs guarded by sword wielding angels at the foot of the throne where Jesus sat. We won first place again. Our prayer is always that we touched souls with our message. The banner along the side of the float said, “Believest thou this?”

Our horizon isn’t any less hectic. Grant went to the church today for his first week as full time pastor. I still have half a book to write by January 16th. I’m trying to get the first draft done by the 20th when our son gets out of school for Christmas break.

  • Tonight is our church association pastors and wives dinner.
  • Tomorrow night is our ladie’s prayer group Christmas party.
  • Wednesday night is church.
  • Thursday night, we’re loading up in the church van to drive 45 miles and see a live nativity and city of Bethlehem.
  • Friday, my family is going to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas concert. Our 7 year tradition.
  • Saturday, my guys are going with the church to Branson to see The Miracle of Christmas. I’m going 45 miles to a book signing I’d already committed to before the church trip came up.

So things aren’t perfect in Arkansas this year. But life is good. We’ve prayed for Grant to go full time at the church for several years and never dreamed it would happen this soon. I have two more books coming out in 2012. We should have more family time since Grant only has one job. And in the end, we have to put our finances, stresses, and peace on God’s shoulders and trust Him to handle it all for us.


The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense. ~ Tom Clancy

As a novice writer, I naively thought that if you write fiction—especially contemporary fiction—you didn’t have to bother with all that silly research.

Boy was I wrong.

Maybe on the first draft. But after that? Then you start thinking about those people who actually ARE in law enforcement or government if you’re writing a political thriller. Or maybe those who have actually LIVED in the places you’ve used for setting in your story.

When I started writing fanfic surrounding a show that featured a team of FBI agents, I found out that even having been to Washington, D.C., I needed more information. Not about the characters. All that had been done by the creators of the show. I was able to use some of the touristy places and descriptions, but one of my first steps in building the case and logistics was to download a PDF of a street map of DC. I still have that. I was able to plug in some of the places I’d seen and actually accurate descriptions of whether they needed to “turn left,” or “turn right” at M Street.

cruiseThen there was the cruise ship/jewel heist story. THAT was fun. My favorite writing buddy and I wrote this one together. We opened up that chat program (we live 4 hours apart), and downloaded schematics of cruise ships AND perused the FBI’s Jewelry And Gem division on their website. Then there was the discussion of how to injure our hero. That was fun…. We learned a lot about dislocated shoulders, but I digress.

Yes, all this was online. It was fun, and it was fairly easy.

Then it came time to write a book. A real, living, breathing book. I set it in a place I had been to on vacation, and then in pieces in a conglomeration of the town where I live, the town where I grew up, and most any small town. The conglomeration I gave a fictitious name. The real place? I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. When it came time to plan a vacation, I knew where I wanted to go.

litchfieldAnd it was amazing. After that, I was able to include sounds, smells, and even tastes of the area. I saw the flora and fauna, saw how the sun hit at different times of day, experienced a thunderstorm coming in from the ocean, and got some of the locations correct that had gotten a bit fuzzy over the years. Part of the area I had to fictionalize, but I was able to base it on an actual place and the history of that area.

So is there a “way” to do research? No. Not really. As Clancy so aptly put it, the main thing is that it makes sense. Readers appreciate the research we do. They may not understand all that goes into it, or even notice that we found the correct treatment for dislocated limbs, but they’ll know if it’s wrong.

Yes, I thought steering clear of historical fiction, I could simply let my imagination take flight. Now I’m finding myself in a quandary . . . anybody ever lived through an East Coast hurricane? That’s next on the docket . . .

Author’s note: Special thanks to my friends with the Marshall County Public Library system in Kentucky for posting this quote on Facebook on Wednesday!!

The Fun and the Funny

Now I don’t profess to have any special wisdom when it comes to research, and any tips I may have had have already been discussed. What that means, then, is that I get to have a little fun today; rather, I get to tell you about the Fun and the Funny of research.


Perhaps the research I enjoy most is what I call “Being There.” While the internet, books, and television have opened the world to us, and have made it easy for us to “know” France even when we’ve never been there, I still prefer researching settings in person. I love a multi-sensory experience when I write and I’ve found the best way to achieve that is through being there.

SN850868And that research is made even more enjoyable when I have family with me. This past spring I needed to check out a few locations in Minneapolis for a couple different books. My wonderful husband Marvin took the day off to accompany me. It doesn’t get any more fun than that. So, today, for the “fun” part of my research, I’m inviting you to come along with Marvin and me as we explore Minneapolis.

SN850836First we checked out the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a place where imagination roams free. Even if you haven’t been to Minnesota, you’ve probably seen pictures of the Spoonbridge and Cherry. As you can tell by the picture to the right, Marvin and I had a little fun with that sculpture.

We roamed around a diversity of sculptures, through an arbor that summer covers with flowers, and past a conservatory that houses a giant glass fish.

SN850809Then we crossed the  Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, a bridge that spans the width of I-94 and connects the garden to downtown Minneapolis. The bridge itself is a work of art with its intersecting white and blue arches; an original poem by John Ashbery is inked across its beams. We could have spent all day in this garden, but further research called us.

I wanted to check out a townhome development a main character lived in, so we drove eastward where ornate townhomes front the Mississippi River. Although we’d driven past the homes many times, I’d never stopped to look around, to take in the sounds and scents from the water, to notice the rough texture of the home’s stucco and brick. I even took a picture of a park bench where one character proposes.

In one scene I have characters walking from the townhome to our major league baseball stadium, Target Field. I had mapped out the walk but maps couldn’t show the treasure we found. We walked through an old warehouse area that is being revitalized with an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, and businesses, affirming that this was the ideal location for my character. It fit her personality perfectly.

On our way to the stadium we stopped at a quaint bar/restaurant, Bar 508, that had recently opened in a century old building, and I realized we had just stepped into the beginning setting for another book. Hardwood floors and high tables and chairs crowded the narrow main floor that had a bar spanning the length of the room. A place brimming with character. Then we walked down a flight of stairs into a wide open dance floor area. I know I’ll be going back later when I begin that story.

Our research for the day ended at the brand new stadium that had not yet seen a baseball game. As avid baseball fans, we were thrilled to see the building up close and touch its limestone exterior.

It was truly a fun day of learning and discovery. Research doesn’t get better than that.


On a completely different note, I thought you’d enjoy this example of research gone awry.

A few years back, in the book I was working on, the female protagonist was pregnant. I needed to follow her pregnancy from day one so I decided to print out a pregnancy calendar. The problem was, all the calendars I found on the internet required me to join their site first. So, I began the process of signing up. Naturally, the first thing you need to tell them is your name.

Uh, no way was I going to put my real name. My youngest was a preteen at the time and I had no intention of letting people think I was pregnant again, even strangers, so I put in my character’s name, Sheila Peterson. Then I filled out the rest of the form with her information, but my address. Problem solved. I was able to print off the perfect calendar to track Sheila’s pregnancy.

But it wasn’t long before mail started arriving for Sheila Peterson. Formula. Diapers. Coupons. Insurance solicitations. The very thing I wanted to avoid now poured like an avalanche into our mailbox and kept coming for over two years. Well, at least it didn’t have my name.

What about you? What type of research do you enjoy? Has your research ever led to any embarrassing moments? I’d love to know.

Funny Thing, Research

I’ve been working on another historical novel. I had an idea I liked, so I sketched out an outline and began fleshing it out a bit until I wound up with a fairly detailed five-page plot summary. One scene required my heroine, who is of the early 18th century French nobility, to be secretive about her means and appear as a commoner. I had this great plan for her to hide money by sewing it in her clothes or sticking it into her shoes. Problem is, I started doing research and found that due to the crash of the French economy just a few years before the date I’d picked, the use of paper money had ceased during that period.

Back to the drawing board…

I’d remembered studying about France’s economic woes before their time of recovery…before the revolution. However I didn’t realize they had no paper currency. But I’m sure many world history buffs or those who are drawn to stories set in pre-revolution France (i.e. my audience) would have known, and had I not discovered this tidbit of information, my writing would have been totally discredited to many readers. Which is one reason we research.

So, how does one get started researching a historical novel? I found a good article by Shelly Thacker Meinhardt on this topic. I don’t know Shelly and I’ve never read any of her fiction, but I found her article on research very helpful. In addition to a number of tips and insights into research, she gives a laundry list of general items to check on as you develop your story:

  • Clothing & Hairstyles
  • Crime & Law Enforcement
  • Entertainment
  • Food
  • Furniture
  • History (politics, wars, kings & queens, etc.)
  • Housing
  • Maps
  • Medicine
  • Money
  • Religion
  • Shops & Towns
  • Transportation
  • Travel & Inns
  • Weapons
  • Women & Marriage
  • Words and Names common to your setting

She went on to say “list every source used” in your notes. This is excellent advice in case you need to delve deeper into a particular area or to prove a point to your copy-editor.

So, my research efforts sent one idea to the cutting room floor. However, the good part is that I’ve come up with many more ideas to replace it!

Have you ever had to change something in your plot because, after researching it, you learned you couldn’t use it?

Three Special Guests

With Marlene traveling more than the Travelocity gnome these days, she asked me to make sure her day to blog was covered. She feared not having reliable internet service wherever she found herself on this fine Thursday.

I gladly accepted the challenge myself given the subject of research because I wanted to share how three authors I know approach their research. If you are a reader, I think you will grow to appreciate their books even more. If you are a writer, I think you’ll admire their devotion to the craft. If you’re both, like me, I think you will enjoy hearing their stories.

Judith Miller

More than WordsJudy’s book More than Words just made #17 on the ECPA Bestseller list! More than Words is the second book in the Daughters of Amana series. When I think of commitment to research, Judy always comes to mind. Recently, I traveled with Judy to Amana for Oktoberfest where we were both signing books. I got to see firsthand the respect of the people of Amana there for her work. We walked into the museum and the curator greeted her by name. That alone says volumes.

I met Judy in April of 2008. She was returning from a trip to Amana for research and it was already her second trip there. She did not begin writing her first book in the series, Somewhere to Belong, until Not only has she made several trips there, she has crate of books and a host of personal sources.

Judy’s attention to details makes her work come to life. She has told me she works hard to get things “right” out of respect for the people who live in the area and the history. “History is a funny thing,” she said. “People in an area feel like they ‘own’ it. If I’m sharing it with the world, I want to treat their history with respect and make sure the details are correct.”

And whether she is writing about the Pullman company, carousel painters, or the Amana colonies, her attention to detail makes the time period come alive.

Click here to learn more about More than Words and all of Judy’s other books. 

Laura Frantz

Morrow LittleI asked Laura to tell us a little about the research she does. Since her first two books are set in the 1700’s, research for these earlier time periods is especially difficult. Laura’s newest book, Courting Morrow Little, released in   Here is her response:

“The very word research involves work . To me it’s like a treasure hunt, unearthing just the right character name in census records for your time period (Ann or Martha, not Daniella or Mystique), uncovering the right medicinal herbs and treatments (ginseng for stamina, sassafras for purifying the blood), digging up archaic fashions (clocked stockings and pudding caps) and exploring old recipes (apple tansy, coffin pie, spoonbread).

My favorite way to research beyond looking things up in books or online is to spend time in the actual setting of my novel. For my purposes, it’s Kentucky, frontier forts, and the hills and hollows there. I’ve discovered that the best research books are often sold at these historic places and they’re often not available anywhere else. I rely heavily on the Draper Manuscript Collection (considered the Bible of frontier fiction for Kentucky and Ohio, etc.) and publications from the Kentucky Historical Society.

All in all, I love research almost as much as writing so it’s really not work to me. If I hadn’t majored in English in college I would have chosen history. A happy day is one that’s half filled with research and half filled with writing (not editing) – and a few Lindt chocolates and Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry!”

Laura’s next book, The Colonel’s Lady, releases in August 2011.  Click here to learn more about Laura’s books.

Sarah Sundin

A Memory Between UsI asked Sarah if she’d share a little about her WWII research for her Wings of Glory series. A Distant Melody was book 1 in that series and  book 2,  A Memory Between Us released in September.  Because Sarah is writing in a more recent time period, she has to be extra careful. There are still people around who lived through these experiences. Sarah gladly sent this:

“I started off with some basic texts on World War II to remind myself of everything I’d forgotten since high school. Man, that was a lot! First I read everything pertinent on the shelves of my local library. I found bibliographies helpful to point me to great resources—some appeared in multiple bibliographies or just had intriguing titles. For free, my local library can obtain books from other libraries in the county, and for a small fee, they’ll locate books throughout the nation—one of my favorite books came from the Library of Congress. Very cool. And some of my favorite books (including a reprint of the B-17 flight manual) came from online historic aviation sites.

Of course the internet was vital. I found great historic maps of Riverside and Bedford, complete combat chronologies of the Eighth Air Force, and oral histories of flight nurses.

For atmosphere, nothing beats being there. Every time the B-17s come to our local airport, I stroll through to smell the oil, feel the metal, and realize just how cramped those men were. I was also blessed with an opportunity to visit England and Germany, and to walk the ground my characters walked.

I have to confess, I have over two hundred books and websites in my bibliography for this series. Yes, that’s sick. I started with basic texts on World War II, then got more detailed. Bibliographies are a great resource—when a book is mentioned in multiple bibliographies, it warrants attention. On the internet I found a company that sells copies of the actual B-17 pilot’s manual and the training film, which were pure gold! For A Memory Between Us, I did lots of research into nursing during World War II, flight nursing, and Army hospitals.” 

Click here to learn more about  A Memory Between Us and Sarah’s next book. 

I want to thank all three of these talented authors for sharing today. What a treat to have you! 

Leave a comment today to be entered in a drawing for a copy of Sarah Sundin’s A Memory Between Us. I just happen to have an extra on my shelf.

Vanilla—More Than A Flavor

Do you know the national flower of Brazil? Where does vanilla come from? Can certain smells really affect moods thus creating unexpected reactions from people? Is there a difference between white and black magick?

These questions were just a small part of the research I did for my current WIP. How in the world do they fit together? Very carefully. I have spent hours researching details regarding the setting for Brazil, which is the setting for my MS. Why wouldn’t I set my story in the U.S? Many reasons. I began writing this story first for my son Austin and niece Heather. Austin had been to Brazil on a mission trip for college and I loved his stories about it. Heather is a fan of the current YA books that includes paranormal and supernatural. Put them together and you have my initial motivation.

But motivation does not a story make. You have to have details. Lots and lots of them. I started with the idea for the story being a struggle of good and evil. My evil began as a vampire and has ended up being a demon. (I have several books on the history of vampires, if anyone should happen to need them…) Next I wanted to add a rich ingredient from Brazil’s own culture—Spiritism. This Spiritism as I see it is close to Witchcraft. So, I Smoresbought a used book, Essential Wicca, a guide book on the ‘craft’ and magick (not to be confused with the Houdini type of magic, with only a ‘c’.). You’d be amazed how many of their ideas come from the bible, seriously! I plan on burning the book once I’m done writing this story, if you care to join in the bon-fire. I’m bringing the marshmallows.

Next I needed to research how moods can be altered since my demon is trying to seduce the protagonist for a dark and mysterious reason. Come to find out the national flower of Brazil happens to be the orchid. Did you know vanilla is derived from an orchid plant? Vanilla is used in the aromatherapy and perfume industry. Did you also know that vanilla is an aphrodisiac? My demon uses the beauty and scent of the orchid to tempt my protagonist. And that’s only one piece to the allurment puzzle.

BTW, I have a wonderful inkster interpretor for my demon’s French language needs as well! (What seductive demon wouldn’t speak the language of love?) Shout out to Marlene!!

I’ve already started to research my next project. After travelling to the Vacation 2010 Virginia 454Luray Caverns in Virginia an idea hatched in my mind. The Luray Caverns have two very interesting features to them. First, the owners of the caverns ran air vents into a house above the caves. The vents send clean air into the home and is said to have a healing effect on its residents. Second, the stalacpipes have rubber mallets hooked to them which, when tapped, “plays” notes on an attached organ. It’s pretty amazing. See their website here:

So far it’s only an idea floating around in my head, along with a few lists I’ve created so far. It has to do with a bomb shelter and a girl escaping a cataclysmic event to said shelter, which by chance is close to a cave in a nearby mountain. For this story I need to know the depth and measurements of shelters, what equipment is needed to survive, and which supplies can last for an extended length of time underground. Also, what type of event would be realistic to have someone hide for their life? Sounds like I have lots of research ahead of me.

Romancing Research

The White Rose trilogy for Heartsong Presents is set in the Arkansas towns of Romance (population 1700) and Rose Bud (population 2000). The two towns are seven miles apart. Romance is known for the re-mailing program and weddings. Romantics send stamped/addressed Valentine’s cards and wedding invitations in manila envelopes to get them mailed with the hand-stamped Romance, AR postmark. Couples come to get married in Romance at the post office, local churches or the Romance Waterfalls. Last spring, my mother, my eight-year-old son, and I took a research trip.

The heroine in White Roses (which releases to bookstores November 1) owns a fictional floral shop in Romance and the hero is a pastor in Rose Bud. I used a real church in Rose Bud as a model. When the Heartsong Presents cover artist asked me for detailed information and pictures for the cover, I realized I hadn’t taken any of the church. I described it to her and with fictional liberty added a few stained-glass windows. I was amazed at how much the cover looks like the real church.


The second book, White Doves is set at the post office in Romance, with a Postmaster heroine and mail carrier hero. Postal relief, June Sullivan at the Romance Post Office gave me insight and info into the daily workings. I learned how the mail is sorted by route and some postal lingo. Postmaster Angie Davis gave me the scoop on the weddings. They have three or four weddings a year on Valentine’s Day at the post office. Couples exchange vows in the lobby or outside the office, where someone carved a heart in the parking lot declaring it the Heart of Romance.

Next stop: The Romance Waterfalls. Owner James (Buck) Weatherly took us on an impromptu tour of his privately owned property, he and his wife open to the public for weddings and events. We walked underneath a wisteria-draped archway into a landscaped garden with a heart-shaped flower bed, numerous blossoms and flowering bushes. A wooden walkway leads down to the waterfalls, surrounded by jutting rock/steps with railing all the way down. We could hear the waterfall long before we got there.

Mr. Weatherly built two gazebos and balconies overlooking the waterfalls. Couples get married on the largest balcony and the Weatherly’s open their home for receptions and family reunions. I couldn’t help but include the waterfalls in all three books of my series and the owners let me have my book launch party there. It was hot, so the party ended up in their reception room, but we’re going to try again in April when the 2nd book releases to stores. Hopefully, the weather will be tamer then. Teaser: a realization of true love, a proposal, and a wedding take place at the waterfall in my series.

Last stop: The Rambler Cafe’ in Rose Bud, famous for their steaks. Owner Cheri Limon gave me permission to use her restaurant in a pivotal scene. The rustic restaurant’s plank walls, shelves above each window lined with plants, antique books, and plates was the perfect setting for my hero/pastor to interview a potential associate pastor. Besides hometown friendliness, they have great food and the pie—oh, the pie. Turtle, coconut, pecan, the list goes on.

I’ve made half a dozen visits to the Romance/Rose Bud area and learned something new each time. The series has been fun to write and I’ve enjoyed meeting the local people while researching the rich detail and flavor of the area.

Besides researching setting, since my heroine is a florist, she notices flowers and knows them by name. I don’t, so I turned to my mother.  An avid gardener, if she doesn’t know the flower, she has a book where I can find it. I also visited a local florist to learn about arranging flowers and how they’re transported. Lorna, a wedding planner, helped me with describing hand-tied bouquets. I often give my heroines a career that seems interesting to me, so the research is fun to do.

The hero is a pastor. Since I live with one of those, I’ve researched that for the last ten years. And for book 3, the heroine is restoring a historical plantation house. My dad was a carpenter for a good 20 years. That came in handy on getting the order of restoration right. I had no idea if they’d tackle the roof or the siding first, but Daddy knew just how to whip the house into its former glory. Since I’d already done all that flower and plant research, and the hero and heroine needed to work together, the hero for book 3 became a landscaper.

So, even though Lorna’s research and all those historical details exhaust me, as a contemporary writer, there’s just no way of getting around research.  I’ve recently learned the art of including research in family vacations and have several new setting ideas stored up for the future. Got any ideas?

The Roller Coaster Ride of Research

I know it’s Monday and I’m pushing it, but I want you to put your thinking cap on and take the following quiz. (I’ll give you the answers in the first paragraph.)

1.  Which of the following phrases could you not use in a novel set in 1950?

          A.  Climb the walls (1970)

          B.  Down to earth (1930)

         C.  Knock the socks off (mid 1800’s)


2.  In 1881, how might a drowning victim be medically treated?

           A. Roll victim over a barrel to expel water from lungs. Give large dose of castor oil.

           B.  Hold victim up by his heels. Strike firmly on the back. Lie down. Raise and lower arms.

          C. Rub victim with flannels dipped in brandy and blow billows into one nostril. Brandy, water and salt, or peppermint may be injected.


3.  Which of the following would have some vampire readers screaming, “No way!”

           A. Count Dracula once quoted Deut. 12:23  “The blood is the life.”

            B. Sunlight always kills a vampire.

           C. The most popular vampire in children’s fiction is Bunnicula, a cute rabbit that lives a happy existence as a vegetarian vampire.


4. Which of the following would have a true crime, mystery reader up in arms?

          A. The DNA evidence being slipped into plastic bags.

          B. Photographs being taken with a digital camera.

          C. Many people involved in processing the crime scene.


So how do you think you did? Here are the answers.

  1. A  is correct.  “Climb the walls wasn’t popular until 1970.  “Down to earth” came to be in 1930, and “knock the socks off” in the mid 1800’s.
  2. C is correct in 1881, although A and B where things tried in earlier times.
  3. B is correct. The “fact” that sunlight can kill vampires is a modern invention, probably started in the 1950’s. In Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, sunlight kills vampires, but in the Twilight series it does not.
  4. All of the above would make a crime writer cringe. DNA evidence can deteriorate in plastic bags, digital photos can be altered and so are never used at crime scenes, and the number of people involved are always kept to a minimum.

Now that you are feeling much smarter, you probably want to know why I gave you this little impromptu quiz. All of these questions require research. Whether a person is writing a historical novel, a sci-fi novel, contemporary, or a mystery, research is a must.

Good research makes a story ring true and deepens the characters. For the next two weeks, the Inksters will be talking about research. We Inksters will discuss why good research is so important, how it applies to our writing, what research we have had to do, and some of our favorite resources.

As a historical fiction writer, I spend a great deal of time doing research. I love it. I can get lost in history books or old newspapers. I can spend half a day trying to find what kind of purse a lady would carry in 1901. But it becomes almost a treasure hunt for me and I truly love it.

roller coasterI end up looking up things like can you “make a made rush” in 1850? Or  “make a beeline for” the dessert table at the turn of the century? I look up how fast a horse can trot pulling a carriage, how fast a streetcar travels, and how long a journey takes by train. I spent a day discovering how high the pitchers mound was in 1901. Answer? As high as the pitcher wanted. Currently, I’m becoming an expert on early roller coasters.

Being a historical writer means you have to be a stickler for details. Here are a few of the areas I try to be extra cautious in:

Clothing:  Styles change a great deal from year to year. For women, this often is shown in sleeve styles and hats. Clothing also varies for social class and age. A study of old photographs show a younger woman will always try to be more contemporary and older women tend to wear styles a few years older. One of my favorite sources is actually a website that tries to date old photographs.

Words and phrases: Language is constantly changing. Phrases that weren’t around ten years ago are common place today. Think about these terms: Twitter, Facebook, Red Box, and iPad. Those same things occurred in decades before us. Sometimes these words and phrases are hard to catch. As I type and look them up, I put the date in brackets beside the word. Still, I’m always shocked at the ones my editor catches at the end!

In Making Waves, one of the words I missed was “tizzy.” Who would have thought “tizzy” wasn’t around until 1935?  I think I get in trouble most with words from the 20’s and 30’s. Because they sound old, and my grandma used them, I just don’t think to look them up.

My two main language sources are Merriam-Websters and The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

Locations: People know their cities, so if I use a street name or store, I work to make sure names are correct, directions are right, and the stores were around then. The same goes for the facts about an area. This was easier for Making Waves, because I live in the area. When I talk about black squirrels, I know we have them.

baseballDetails: This is probably the hardest to nail down. Details make or break a story. If a reader comes across something they know isn’t true, it stops them cold. In Making Waves, Marguerite learns to sail. I don’t sail, but I read several books on it including “Sailing for Dummies.” I also had a friend who does sail, read the manuscript to make sure I had the details correct. In A Great Catch, Carter is a baseball player. Brenda, who is an avid fan, made sure my innings were in order.

A favorite place to look up details of the day is at Chronicling of America. This is an online source from the Library of Congress. Over a hundred newspapers from across the country have been digitalized. If you start reading them, just be prepared to lose track of time.

Recently, I received my edits back on A Great Catch. Are you ready for one more quiz? Below are a few of the things I missed, but one of my wonderful editors, Jessica Miles, thankfully caught. Put your answers in the responses and we’ll see who guesses the most right.

1.  Which of the following words was around in 1901?

  1. Sourpuss
  2. Tagalong
  3. Klutz
  4. Oaf


2.  In 1901, people were most apt to use the King James version of the Bible. Which is not quoted from that translation?

  1.  “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
  2.  “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
  3.  “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.” 


3.   The year 1901 was Carrie Chapman Catt’s ____ year as president of the National Suffrage Association.

  1. First
  2. Second
  3. Third
  4. Fourth


4.  Which Biblical “H’ name has to do with the Israelites being too busy to rebuild the temple?

  1. Hezekiah
  2. Haggai
  3. Hannah
  4. Habakkuk

Now, no researching. Just guess this time.  I’ll post the answers later in the day.