Welcome to Writes of Passage, Connie! Thanks for filling in while Kim is out of pocket this week. Wonderful to have you with us!
Research trips make me swoon. The very thought of standing in the middle of the setting of a story I’m writing sends chill bumps skittering down my spine, and my imagination soars. I suck in a deep breath and savor the aroma of inspiration. Writers’ block melts away and my characters whisper in my ear.
My very first research trip took me to the New Echota Historical site near Calhoun, Georgia. After three hours of pouring over journals and historic ledgers, and picking the brain of the senior historian, I spent the remainder of the day walking the acreage that used to be the site of the town built by the Cherokee in north Georgia. I wandered through restored buildings and took hundreds of photos, hiked trails, and lingered beside a babbling stream. I sniffed the scent of honeysuckle and rhododendron, watched a woodpecker hunt for bark beetles, and studied the way the sunlight fell through the tree branches.
A pair of red-tail hawks circled lazily aloft, riding on the warm air currents, their eyes no doubt scanning the forest for some unsuspecting squirrel or chipmunk. Finally, I sat in the grass under a canopy of white oaks, closed my eyes, and listened. On the mournful wind through the cedars, I heard the cry of the Cherokee inhabitants of this place as they were forced from their land to relocation forts and later to the infamous Trail of Tears. And my heart wept to think of an entire nation of people torn from the place of their roots and compelled to travel far from their home to a location not of their choosing, burying loved ones along the way.
Online research and books are great, but there’s nothing like walking on the very ground where I’m placing my characters to kindle a fire within me.
Since that first trip, I made repeated trips through the north Georgia mountains as I wrote the second and third books in that series. Delight tickled my stomach when I found an old house nestled into the landscape and pictured my characters sitting on the front porch.
In an antique store, I gripped century-old tools my hero might have used. I discovered a lacy yellow parasol and immediately added it to my opening scene. Browsing through a museum in White County turned up hand-made bricks formed by slaves before the War Between the States. Evidence of dried grass crisscrossed the surface of some of the bricks, while others bore a unique stamp much like the brand on a steer. I placed my own fingers into fingerprints indented in the hardened clay and found a new ending to my story. I can’t do that perusing a website.
Recently, I spent a couple of days wandering through museums in the southwestern corner of Missouri in preparation for writing my next story. Imagine my delight when I uncovered dusty journals archived for the local historical society. They even showed the names of people who bought up parcels of land in the 19th century. One name recurred several times, and I couldn’t figure out why this man purchased acreage scattered over three counties. The separate parcels did not join together—they were miles apart. Then I found records of a railroad laying track through the state two years later, and the route taken by the railroad matched the man’s newly acquired land. Think that scenario will make it into a book?
Driving through the Ozark hills, I was struck by the similarities to the north Georgia mountains while retaining a special flavor all their own. Gentle, rolling hills hugged idyllic valleys, and low-hanging clouds crowned the steeper inclines, mimicking chimney smoke.
After brain-storming with my crit partners, Kim Sawyer, Eileen Key, Margie Vawter, and Darlene Wells, I discovered a deeper understanding of one of my secondary characters, and realized he would be the hero of the second book. Who knew this guy had developed and operated a hot mineral springs resort in North Carolina before coming to Missouri? Hmm, methinks I need to experience a soak in a hot mineral springs spa-ahhhh in the near future. If I don’t answer my cell phone, just leave a message. I’ll get back to you…eventually.