Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Fun Take on Research! by Laura Conner Kestner

Like most authors, my days are filled with writing, rewriting, research, rewriting, more research, and lots of prayers. But unlike some writers, I really enjoy the research. 

I’m not talking about Google searches, YouTube videos and library collections, although I do enjoy all those as well. I’m talking about the equivalent of a school field trip. 

My favorite such destinations are small museum. Those facilities don’t just provide the answers to my research questions—sometimes they inspire a new character, a new scene, or a new book. And since I write in multiple genres, none of it is wasted. I jot it all down in my research/inspiration notebook (or more truthfully, on an envelope, receipt, or fast food napkin) for future use.

Even though I live in a tiny town in a rural area of Texas, there are a surprisingly large number of historical museums within an hour or two of my home—and several really good ones closer than that.

Since these are mostly history museums, the exhibits are varied. Some of my favorite finds include a late-1800s spinning wheel, an 1800s printing press, a hand-crafted miniature three-ring circus, log cabins (real ones), jail cells (including a steel cage that was created to fit on a wagon so the sheriff could haul prisoners to the state capitol), weapons, clothing, wood cook stoves, rope beds, barbed-wire collections, branding irons, a stuffed and mounted panther (also known as a mountain lion) that was shot many years ago by a rancher during a fierce battle near the Brazos River (I was able to talk to the man’s now-elderly daughter for details), medical equipment, blacksmith equipment…well, I could go on and on. 

There are also several old military forts close enough for occasional research expeditions, as well as regularly scheduled “living history” events nearby.  

I often write about these finds for my Facebook author page, and enjoy sharing the photos and information with others. But it’s a bit more complicated when writing fiction. I don’t want to use the real story—that belongs to someone else. So when something sparks my imagination, I ask myself two questions: What if? and What now?

What if a man who occupied that cage was innocent? What if he managed to escape but injured the sheriff in the process? Now he’s alone, on foot, with no food…and he’s no longer innocent. So then I try to answer the “What now?” question. That’s harder. And it often takes the story in a direction I didn’t anticipate. That’s where the fun really begins.

Of course, you don’t have to go to museums to find inspiration. Story ideas are everywhere. 

I once discovered an old shopping list tucked away in a pocket of a vintage handbag I purchased at an estate sale. 

I immediately started speculating on what event this woman—the purse’s owner from a bygone era—had been planning. It was mostly food items she’d jotted down. But some of it was pretty fancy. Was she planning a holiday party? 

There was no date on the penciled list but judging from the purse itself, I could imagine her dressed in her mid-century best—high heels, navy blue dress with a pleated skirt and white collar, pearls, and a bouffant hairdo—strolling the aisles of a grocery store where a freckled-faced boy with a crew cut would bag her groceries when she finished, and then carry them to the car. 

Of course, this first scene is just a beginning. You can’t just build her wardrobe—you have to build her world. 

What about her car? A nice sedan, I think. No, wait. A cherry red convertible. Because no one should be entirely predictable.       

Later, in the kitchen of a modern brick home with colorful appliances, she empties the bag, humming a little tune as she works. I recognize that song. Frank Sinatra? Dean Martin? No, it’s Bing Crosby. White Christmas. So it is a holiday party. 

But so much depends on the genre. If it’s a romance book, she might be making this special meal in hopes of impressing Mr. Right. If it’s women’s fiction, she may have found Mr. Right years ago and is now wondering how she can get rid of him (haha).     

What about suspense? Maybe the list was a clue. Perhaps there was one item on the list that didn’t go with the others. 

But, wait. What’s that last item she’s taking from the shopping bag? Rat poison. Well, that wasn’t on the list. Oh, my. It seems we have a murder mystery on our hands. I did not see that coming. Better start researching poisons.   

So, do any of you ever look at an old house, classic car, or vintage anything, and wonder about the people who’ve gone before? Do you enjoy visiting museums? I would love to hear about it. 

REMEMBER TEXAS

Abigail Horton’s life is turned upside down during the last night of a week-long revival when her father—believed dead—shows up in the custody of a Texas Ranger. Abby is thrilled to see him, and equally devastated to learn he’s been living the life of an outlaw.           

Texas Ranger Caleb Calhoun stops in Moccasin Rock to let his prisoner, Bob Horton, visit briefly with family before transporting him to Austin for trial. Caleb takes a room at the family’s boarding house, planning to be in and out of the small town by morning. But within hours he’s kissed Abby Horton, made an enemy of her naïve suitor, and let his prisoner escape. 

As Caleb searches for the missing outlaw, and Abby struggles to keep the man’s whereabouts a secret, they also battle a growing attraction to each other.

Throw in a Calhoun family mystery, an elderly preacher on a mission, an old flame of Caleb’s, a secretive spinster, a team of surveyors, and Abby’s mother and brother—and you have a compelling story of faith, family and forgiveness.

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After 25 years in community journalism, Laura Conner Kestner embarked on a career in inspirational fiction. Laura is a proud seventh-generation Texan. Born in Fort Worth, she now lives in central Texas. She is happily married to the “boy next door” and they have two daughters, two wonderful sons-in-law, and five grandchildren. She’s thankful for God’s grace, her family, and an opportunity to do the work she loves.  Laura is a 2016 ACFW Genesis Award winner, 2016 ACFW First Impressions winner, 2016 SWFRW/RWA Joyce Henderson Contest winner, a 2016 NWH/RWA Lone Star Writer’s Contest finalist (second place), a 2016 SARA Emma Merritt contest winner, a winner in the RWA/KOD 2017 Daphne du Maurier award for excellence in mystery suspense, a 2017 Maggie finalist, and winner in the inspirational category of the 2017 RWA Southern Magic Linda Howard contest.  Laura was also a 2017 GOLDEN HEART® finalist, and a double finalist in 2018. Her novel Remember Texas was published in October.

12 comments:

  1. Just through reading this post, I can understand why you have so much fun with research, Laura! We have a small history museum in our town that I don't visit nearly enough. Now, I feel like taking a field trip. :)

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    1. Hi Sandra! Aren't those history museums fun? Never know what you might stumble across. I still haven't figured out a way to work the three-ring miniature circus into a story, but I'm so glad that I was able to see it. Thank you so much for commenting - hope you have a wonderful day!

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  2. Laura, your post is great! It’s always fascinating to learn how author minds work and how ideas are discovered. I especially liked your thought that characters should not be predictable. True!

    Like you, I find small town museums to be a wealth of ideas for historical novels. And walking through old forts.....you just FEEL the stories contained there. We’re on the same page, my friend! Blessings!

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    1. Yes, those forts are amazing, and "feeling" the stories is a perfect way to describe it, Sherida! Thank you so much for commenting. Hope you have a wonderful day!

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  3. Oh, wow! A shopping list found in an old handbag? Now, that's intriguing! I love field trips. I wish we lived closer so we could go on adventures together. I once visited an old train depot and got the idea of turning it into a dog shelter for my novel. So much fun! 😊

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    1. I love that shelter idea, Yvonne! And I love old train depots. I recently posted some pics on my author FB page of a train depot from a little "historical village" in Buffalo Gap, Texas. I visited there in December, and I didn't want to leave. They also had a courthouse/jail, barber shop, doctor's office, etc. And it wasn't overrun with people at that moment, and I just wanted to sit there in that depot, and the courthouse, and listen to the stories, or as Sherida said, "feel" them. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Hope you have a great day.

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  4. I avoided writing historicals for a long time because I thought the research would be daunting. But, when I came up with an idea for a series based on my own small hometown in the early 1900s, I found that I actually enjoyed researching and discovering little "gems" that I could include in my stories.

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    1. Hi, Dawn! I'm so glad you found your inspiration - and that you're enjoying the historical research. Love those "gems" too, and anything around the early 1900s is my kind of research and reading! Thank you for commenting - hope you have a great day!

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  5. I LOVED your post, Laura! I can certainly see why you enjoy the research - - you have fun with it. :)

    I had to smile at your comment about jotting research notes on receipts - - I've made writing-related notes so many times on receipts - - wanting to jot down something before I forget it, and a receipt from my purse is the quickest thing available!

    I enjoyed Remember Texas very much, and look forward to many more books by you. :)
    Hugs, Patti Jo

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    1. Hi, Patti Jo! So glad you enjoyed the post, and glad that I'm not the only person using receipts for notes :-) I appreciate the kind words about my book - and I can say the same to you! Thank you so much for commenting - hope your day was a great one!

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    2. Laura, I love this post! The image of the woman with her bouffant hairdo racing home from the grocery store in her red car and pulling out rat poison was so clear to me. I wanted to read more. Please, write that story!

      I used to hate research until I wrote a book about rock climbing and rafting. I loved the research aspect of that book and had a blast.

      Thank you so much for spending the day on Seriously Write. You're welcome back anytime!

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    3. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about two of my favorite subjects - writing and history. Love getting to visit with other writers. Thanks for everything, Terri!

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