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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation...

It's summer. The road beckons. You really need a vacation. But you have this idea for a book, too, that needs a bit of research.

So which will it be? That well-deserved vacation, or a research trip?
Why not combine the two? You can save some money, and you can take at least part of the trip off of your taxes (if you're earning at least some income from your writing, anyway.)

Or maybe you travel for work, as my husband and I often do. Again, you can combine the day job with some research if you plan ahead. There are a few things you'll need to pack to make the most of your trip: a camera, a journal, a good map, and a sturdy pair of walking shoes.

Recently my husband and I had to make a trip to California. I'm working on a book that centers around a Native American tribe that descended from the ancient Pueblo dwellers, and I really needed to do some research. We left a few days early for the trip and took a detour through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. Our first stop was Durango, Colorado, where I've decided my heroine will live and own her business. One night in Durango was all I needed to soak up the atmosphere, get a feel for the town and the type of business she might have there, and to get details such as street names, local hang outs, restaurants, etc.

Thirty minutes down the road took us to Mesa Verde National Park. Oh, the ideas I got there! I figured out where her tribe lives now, where they fled to when threatened by outside enemies. We spent a full day exploring the park, took hundreds of pictures, and challenged ourselves by hiking down to one of the cliff dwellings for a tour. The experience was something I couldn't get by reading a book, searching online, or even from talking to someone who had been there. I had to experience the breathtaking heights, the heat, the grueling hike for myself. I needed to sit and imagine my characters in this place.

From there we took a short fifteen minute side trip to the Anasazi Cultural Center where I learned so much about my characters' ancestors and how they lived. I even got to see a restored Kiva, where these people gathered for their religious ceremonies.

The rest of the trip was a drive to the Four Corners, which took us through Indian reservations, and then it was on to California. On the way, I got to see and feel the desolation and isolation (as well as growing furious with our government for what they did to such a proud people by banishing them to lands no one else would want).

Now I had motivation, I had conflict, I had emotion to go in my story, as well as details. All for a total cost of about $250, including gas, food, and lodging. To me, it was a priceless experience.

I hope everyone gets to take a vacation this summer. You need it. You deserve it. But try to include some research on your trip, or at least take notes on your destination in case you want to use it in a future book. It will be well worth the effort.

Have any of you taken memorable research trips? Tell us about them!

Happy Travels!




At 11:53 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

I love research trips! I took one a few months back to Corpus Christi and the King Ranch in Texas. The story I'm writing is actually set in Wyoming, but I needed to get the feel of a big, really big ranch, and I was already coming to Texas for another reason. Plus, there was a PRCA rodeo in Corpus that weekend, and my book is set around rodeo. So fun and research in one shot.

I also visit places about which I don't already have a story idea, but I come away with one or more.

Would love to visit Mesa Verde someday. I love that area of the country.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Tori Scott said...

The King ranch is pretty awesome.

And you're right. Even when I'm not visiting places for research, sometimes they inspire their own ideas.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Tori Scott said...

Oh, forgot to mention...

If you do ever make it up to Mesa Verde, allow at least two days to explore the park. There's a lot of ancient history there.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger MJFredrick said...

Over Spring Break I went to Galveston, Bolivar Point and San Felipe because I was writing an historical set in the early days of Texas. My poor step-dad drove us all those places in a day.

I went with Trish on her King Ranch excursion. I'd never been, and it was really cool.

Next week I'm going to Austin to research some sites for my WIP. LOVE research trips.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Thanks for the tip on Mesa Verde. I've been to Bandolier National Mounument before, where they also have cliff dwellings, but it's not on the scope of Mesa Verde.

At 7:57 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

We did a nice tour of Colorado a few years back. Great scenery.

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Tori Scott said...

Colorado is beautiful. I wish I could live there in the non-snow seasons. I'm not a fan of snow, except for pictures. LOL.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

What great photographs! I agree, being in the place you plan to write about gives you so much sensory and emotional information that you can then use in your stories. Loved the list of what a writer should take. I plan to use it on my next vacation!


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