When most people think of doing book research, they immediately think of historical research. Those who write historicals have my deepest admiration. But contemporary authors have to do research for their stories as well. That’s what I’d like to share with you today.
Every novelist must “jump” into their characters’ skins, and that often means we must learn things we don’t already know. How do we do this? The Internet is an invaluable tool, as is your local library or bookstore. Sometimes, though, your questions can’t be answered that way and you have to go to your “source.” Often that means interviewing someone by email, by phone, or in person. For an introvert writer who spends the majority of her time in front of a computer, this can be terrifying. Believe me, I know, as I still fight my fear of admitting to someone that I’m an author. After all, they might look at me like I’m an alien, or worse, they might try to bite off my nose, or laugh at me . . . or sneer.
Okay, so what sort of research might a contempory author need to do? Below are a few things I did for the books in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series, published by Zondervan.
In my first book, Snow Melts in Spring, the opening scene is one where a horse is terribly injured. Right off, I had to know technical terminology, and not only that, but I had to create a scene that was accurate and believable, not just something that looked good on paper. To get it right, I contacted a handful of veterinarians, asked them a bunch of detailed questions all the way down to possible accident scenarios, which would create the type of injuries needed for the story. I even shadowed one small animal vet for a day in order to get a feel for what a “day in the life” might look like for my character who was also a vet.
I also needed to know something about football. Again, not my specialty. For this research, I went to the children’s section of the library and checked out an armload of books. Here’s a good tip to know: Children’s books are easy to read and they are chock full of valuable information. I also watched a lot of football games on television and asked my football loving friends and family hundreds of questions–all so I could write two or three scenes with authenticity.
For my second book, Seeds of Summer, which releases the end of May, I needed to learn about the Miss Rodeo America competition because my main character, Natalie Adams is a former Miss Rodeo Kansas and first runner up Miss Rodeo America. My research for this story included visiting with those at the Miss Rodeo America headquarters, as well as interviewing and questioning the current MRA at that time, Miss Amy Wilson, Miss Rodeo America 2008.
The highlight of this research culminated when I met and visited Amy at her home in Colby, KS. Amy was a joy to work with and is such a lovely person. My visit to her home was an unexpected blessing, as she shared some special moments from her time as Miss Rodeo Kansas and then as Miss Rodeo America.
I learned that Miss Rodeo America has a host of sponsors who shower their queen with lovely gifts, some of which include: a wardrobe of Wrangler Jeans, Justin Boots, Bailey Hats , fully tooled Court’s Saddle with custom Miss Rodeo America conchos and an official Miss Rodeo America trophy buckle from Montana Silversmiths. Accompanying the perpetual Miss Rodeo America tiara made by Landstrom’s Original Black Hills Gold Creations, Amy was given a wardrobe of matching jewelry. These items, along with other prizes were presented to her throughout her reign. To see some pictures of these items, please visit my blog post here.
For my current project, book #3 – Blades of Autumn, I’m having to learn about running a cafe. So guess what? I’ve been visiting small town cafes and asking the owners lots of questions. Research such as this never ends, but taking the time to do this for your stories might mean the difference between someone loving your book or tossing it against the wall because it wasn’t accurate. Sure, you’ll never please everyone, but by doing the necessary groundwork, you’ll at least know you did everything within your means to bring accuracy to the story.
Again, it’s important. Your readers will thank you for it.
Blurb for Seeds of Summer: When opposites attract, sparks fly–like an electrical malfunction. That’s what happens when former rodeo queen Natalie Adams meets the new pastor in Diamond Falls.
A heart-warming contemporary romance set in the Flint Hills of Kansas where a former rodeo queen abandons her dreams in order to care for her deceased father’s ranch and her two half-siblings, only to realize with the help of a young new pastor that God can turn even the most dire circumstances into seeds of hope. Spanning the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each story in this series reveals the struggle of the people who live there and the dreams they have for the land until they come full-circle in a never-ending cycle, just as man comes full-circle in his understanding of God.
If you’d like to read a snippet from Seeds of Summer, I invite you to visit Country magazine, which recently did a feature interview with me for their April/May issue. While there, you may also enter your chance to win one of my books. This book giveaway ends May 31.
Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing this series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there.
by Lisa Lipkind Leibow, Author of Smart Women’s Fiction
I can barely form words to express my excitement over celebrating the birthday of one of my favorite authors of all times. John Irving is the king of quirky characters. I read The Hotel New Hampshire when I was a teen, and giggled at the stinky dog named Sorrow, marveled at the odd family, and related to the familiar New England setting. I had that sweet-but-empty feeling at the last page when I don’t want a fantastic book to end. He’s the first author I ever set out to read everything he ever wrote – just for fun, not because a teacher had assigned it. To this day, when he has something new in the works, I rush out to buy it. My favorites of the bunch are The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Cider House Rules.
In honor of John Irving, I’m sharing one of my favorite first paragraph hooks, ever! And since it deals with what happens when the boys of the St. Cloud’s Orphanage are born, I thought it fitting to celebrate the birthday of John Irving, the first author I ever read who I immediately sought out everything he ever wrote. I love his quirky characters so much!
“In the hospital of the orphanage—the boys’ division at St. Cloud’s, Maine—town nurses were in charge of naming the new babies and checking htat their little penises were healing from the obligatory circumcision. In those days (in 192_), all boys born at St. Cloud’s were circumcised because the orphanage physician had experienced some difficulty in treating uncircumcised soldiers, for this and for that, in World War I. The doctor, who was also the director of the boys’ division, was not a religious man; circumcision was not a rite with him—it was a strictly medical act, performed for hygienic reasons. His name was Wilbur larch, which, except for the scent of ether that always accompanied him, reminded one of the nurses of the tough, durable wood of the coniferous tree of that name. She hated, however, the ridiculous name of Wilber, and took offense at the silliness of combining a word like Wilbur with something as substantial as a tree.” Excerpt, The Cider House Rules by John Irving.
Help me celebrate one of my favorite author’s special day by sharing something you love about his work. Check out his official site for more information about his novels, including his latest, Last Night in Twisted River. http://www.John-Irving.com
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN!
This month, so far, I have read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, You Are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslet, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, and Portrait Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’m in the middle of The Omnivore’s Dilemma — My Book Club chooses a non-fiction every once in a while.
As I mentioned in my New Year’s Resolutions for 2010, I hope to read at least 50 books in 2010. So far so good!
Share with me what you’ve read recently. Recommend a favorite. Let me know what’s on your to be read shelf.
One might think it cliché. Cliché or not, the weather sets the tone, mood, and can foreshadow what is to come. Even children know this. The other night while watching a movie with my family, I commented that the setting was Southern California and that it never rains in California, my son, Thing 1, pointed to the character on the screen and said, “Yes, but he’s sad now, it has to be raining.”
I guess I learned this at a young age, too. My days of reading the Sunday comics assisted with my education on the matter. When Charles Schultz’s Snoopy sat atop of his doghouse typing, “It was a dark and stormy night,” I knew something bad would happen next in the story he was writing.
The weather over the past two weeks has made me think of trying to use the change in weather as the framework for a story – only the opposite way I normally would. Often I think of the storm occurring during the greatest trouble – the story’s climax. However, two weeks ago, we had a blizzard – buried in 20 inches of snow. A few days later it warmed up and the rain fell, leaving us with nothing. This has my wheels turning. I’m not sure if the storm makes us start the story with trouble, or whether the snow will symbolize something clean, new, or abundant. But clearly, I could craft a plot that follows the fate of the snow. The protagonist will get played with, trampled on, pushed around, muddied, and then washed away to nothingness. It’s beginning to sound like a bleak tale.
Perhaps, instead, the blanket of snow can symbolize something hidden – a mystery, or a quest. As the frigid weather warms, our hero could discover additional clues or get closer to finding his treasure. The mud and dirty snow that the traffic, snow plows, and salt trucks carry can be in the background during some major obstacle the hero encounters while trying to solve his mystery or discover his fortune. Against the backdrop of snow all melted, roads and sidewalks clear of ice and slush, and bare ground revealed once again, our hero will solve the mystery or complete his quest.
As you see, I strive for ways to build a structure. I love to daydream, to ponder the world around me. There are ideas everywhere. So next time someone makes small talk and asks, “How’s the weather?” I’ll take special note of the current meteorological status. That rising barometric pressure could be the spark I need to write something great!
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction
This is the second year in a row I’m attending the Muse Online Writer’s Conference. This year is special because I’m attending as a published author.
Today is the second day of the weeklong conference and I’m already filled with great information, ideas, and inspiration.
My only complaint is I may have registered for too many classes!
Choosing was so difficult. I thought, okay, I’ll squeeze in that forum, too. In all, I’m taking seven Forum workshops and seven chat workshops. The forum workshops are weeklong courses, with assignments, discussions, questions, and answers all posted on an electronic list. It’s available 24/7, interactive, and intense.
The Chat workshops are one-hour events scheduled at a specific time. All participants meet in an electronic chat room and posts questions for an expert – one-by-one, as a moderator allows. The expert answers in a fast-paced give and take.
Some topics for the workshops I’m taking include craft-based courses such as 12 Stages of the Writer’s Adventure and Assaulting A Writer’s Thinking. Others focus on the business-side of publishing, such as Website Makeover Workshop and What Writers Need to Know About Book Distribution.
In addition to the way too many workshops I’m delving into this week, I earned on of ten coveted spots to pitch my new middle grade chapter book to a literary agent. I’m excited and nervous. I’ll let you what I learn from that experience later in the week. Wish me luck!
Off to do my homework!
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction