You’ve a story brewing in your head or you’re busy putting it to paper, but how far would you go to research? The middle of the ocean? The moon? The ends of the earth?
The question is perhaps better phrased though as: What crazy things would you do all in the name of research?
Some years ago I did an author interview for ICFW with two-time Christy Award winner for Historical Fiction, Tracy Groot. Dr. R. de Rosset, Moody Bible Institute said of her, “Once again, Groot has done her homework.” During my interview with her, I was fascinated by the lengths Tracy goes in order to carry out her research. At that time she was working on a novel based on the life of Jonah. I asked her the following question—you’ll love her answer:
MARION: Tracy, you confess to being obsessively compulsive about research. Tell us about the crazy research you did for Jonah.
TRACY: I wanted to know what it was like to be thrown off a ship at full sail into the Mediterranean. So I went and did it. The salt was a surprise, since I live in Michigan near the Great Lakes and I’m used to fresh water. It cleared my sinuses in a most distracting way, when I’m trying my best to simulate drowning and take mental notes like a court stenographer hopped up on caffeine and Krispy Kremes. Yes, it was quite an adventure, and the captain I hired thought I was nuts. So did his crew. It was great. Not that it gave Americans a great name, they think we’re all insane writers who want to throw ourselves off full-sail ships.
Now I must admit that I would never throw myself off a ship in the middle of the ocean, however, I did go and dunk in an ice hole in the middle of winter, in the middle of Finland. In the name of research? Partly...
This past December and January, my husband, Noel, and I had the most amazing holiday in Budapest and Finland. While in Finland we drove all the way up to Lapland from Helsinki (one side of Finland to the other) just because I had planned to write a Lapland story for submission to my publisher’s Christmas Extravaganza line. Poles Apart birthed after our Lapland experience and I’m hoping to finish writing it this coming month. We met Santa Claus at his village in his home town, Rovaneimi—all in the name of research (and because we’d never done something like that before).
|The Ueckermanns with Santa: Kyle, Tiia, Santa Clause, Marion and Noel|
We built snowmen because it was fun, I was certain I’d need the experience for my Lapland story, and we’d never done something like that before. As you can see, we became quite the experts by our third (and very creative) snowman. The snow was also just right by that time (which in itself begs for a blog of its own).
And finally, we jumped in the avanto—that’s Finnish for ‘Hole in the Ice’—and rolled in the snow…in our bathing suits, although I was told when my husband went on his own with the men, the ritual was conducted in their birthday suits. So glad I stayed at home. Snow rolling and avanto happen right after heating up in a eighty degree celcius sauna. And you guessed it, all because I might need the experience in my Lapland story, and because we’d never done something like that before. I also knew that if I returned home to South Africa without having faced the avanto, I would never forgive myself for I may never pass that way again, never get the opportunity to do something that crazy and blame it on research.
|Distance from sauna to lake and avanto|
|Dipping in the avanto|
|Rolling in the snow|
Anything we experience can be turned into ‘research’. Years ago, Noel and I were fortunate enough to experience riding an African elephant while in Zambia. Now, more than a decade later, I have used that experience in a novella, Orphaned Hearts, set in the same country. This story that I have just completed writing is part of a boxed set collaboration with an awesome group of international authors. The boxed set is due to release later this year and I am so excited to be dipping my feet into the Indie pond in this way.
|Noel and I riding Danny, the biggest elephant there|
and the smallest elephant there, 11 weeks old, playing in a drop of mud
|The Invisible Exhibition|
We should have guessed by the tell-tale signs on the way—the cow wearing the darkest of shades, and the braille on the signage outside our destination. Even the stories of Ray Charles, Hungarian-born pianist Tamás Érdi, and the likes didn’t quite prepare us for what lay ahead with this invisible exhibition. It was only when our blind guide told us to leave behind our cellphones and our spectacles—if we wore them, because we wouldn’t need them—that it started to dawn on us what we were about to see.
For the next hour we were plunged into total darkness, needing to rely on our senses of touch, sound and scent as we experienced life as a blind person. All the while as I walked through this black maze consisting of an apartment, a market, a road, a forest, a woodcutter’s cottage, a museum and a bar, I was taking mental notes, wishing I had a pen and paper (not that it would have helped as I could see nothing). This was research. I could use this experience in a book one day, and in fact, I vowed that I would.
Finally, I’ve a story developing which I plan to pen after I return from the ACFW conference in Dallas, Texas in September. My return trip has a seven-and-a-half-hour stop-over in Madrid, and I intend using some of those hours to research the city where my blind flamenco dancer will come to life for the next Passport to Romance novella I intend writing.
So tell me, what experiences have you been able to use in your writing? Or are there some that you intend to use? I would love to hear your stories.
MARION UECKERMANN's passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles and stories in Winners, The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter (Tyndale House Publishers), Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven, and her debut novella, Helsinki Sunrise (White Rose Publishing, a Pelican Book Group imprint, Passport to Romance series). Her second Passport to Romance novella, Oslo Overtures, will be published in 2015. Marion blogs for International Christian Fiction Writers, Beauty for Ashes and Inspy Romance. She belongs to Christian Writers of South Africa and American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.