I can remember when I first started this writing gig many moons ago, long before the sabbatical took me into the quiet months, I found inspiration all around me. Much of that inspiration came from the people close to me in the form of Marines and their families. When the advice came down the pipe, write what you know, I was all over that like bees on honey. If there was one thing I knew, it was the military life. In fact, that was one thing that most reviewers noted about my work: attention to detail and description through showing and not telling which enable them to immerse themselves into the story seamlessly.
My first novel was pounded out on an old Dell that had seen better days just after my nest had become freshly emptied, which was a rough experience to say the least. Let’s just say things did not go according to planned and leave it at that in regards to our little bird flying away. It was in the throes of my heart aching over that less that stellar experience and everything in my world being topsy-turvy between deployments and transitional moves that my first romance was birthed. The hero was of course a Marine. Well, he was a security guard who was a former Marine who decided by the end of the book to go back to being a Marine because that’s where his heart really lay. Well, there and with the woman who turned him on his ear and gave him twin girls only hours after they said “I do.” They literally went from the altar to the maternity ward.
The next three books, I turned to my husband’s hometown for three brothers who kept niggling at the back of my mind, but after that series took flight, it was back to military heroes and heroines.
One of my favorite places to go people watch back in those days was the Jacksonville mall where all the dependents went to spend their active duty sponsor’s hard-earned cash. While my own hero was out on the front lines serving the greater good, I was seated on a bench in front of Belk with pen and notebook in hand, watching and jotting down everything from people descriptions to what I believed people were thinking or why they were at the mall to what kind of spouse I though they’d make for my current main character. Sitting at the mall, however, didn’t answer all my questions nor do all my research for me. Some of my characters had questionable occupations and lifestyles and it was nothing for me to go all over town hunting down people who’d talk to me and answer my often times odd questions.
For instance, at the local car dealership, I once had a sales person type who was about the hero’s height stand next to a truck with the tailgate down so as to ascertain if certain activities were possible on that tailgate. He didn’t know why I was asking the odd questions and I didn’t offer an explanation. I also didn’t buy the truck. Once I went in search of answers at a strip club. I figured if I was going to write a stripper as a heroine, I needed to be able to live inside her head. That particular occupation also had me at a naughty store standing under some black lights to get a feel for what that might be like; odd lighting shining down and not being able to see the throngs of men gawking at you. Daunting. It was daunting. There is a smattering of other places I’ve frequented in Marinetown, USA in search of answers to often weird questions, but we’ll just let those lie in secret for now. Let it suffice that much of what’s in my books in based to some level on people, places, and things I’ve encountered in our many travels.
Now that I’ve re-entered the arena of writing, I’m rediscovering how much I used to enjoy the actual research portion of the writing journey. One of my favorite firefighter romance series is so dear to me because I know the writer took great pains in researching smoke-jumpers and firefighting, and as a result of all that attention to detail, her characters and settings leap off the page with realism. She really knows how to take you into the story and make you buy into the world she’s built and live there a while. It’s the authors who actually admit to doing no research other than a bit of internet reading (not that there’s not a plethora of information there, but it’s not the same as hand’s on experience and question asking and should never in my opinion be an author’s only source of research) or no research at all who lose me. I’ve even had other writers admit to me that they actually don’t even enjoy reading and don’t do much if any of it at all. How do you write if you don’t read? How do you become familiar with your chosen genre and therefore potential audience if you neglect to research and/or read? This has always and probably always will baffle me. I know this much. I don’t want to be lost to me readers as a result of lack of ground work on my part. I enjoy reading my genre and I enjoy just as much researching and learning. I’m rediscovering this and becoming reignited with the fire it can build within my creative center.
The latest thing I read about by chance while perusing the news, which just intrigued me wholly, was an article in the local paper about a couple who married recently over the mountain. They had no little gals in their immediate families and rather than do with flower girls, they did something extraordinary. They asked their grandmothers to fill in and be the flower gals. This idea is…awesome! They had four total flower gals, the three grandmothers and the one great-grandmother. I wish I could have seen their delight in being chosen for the job. I have now jotted this down as a potential story detail.
There are 11 days left until NaNoWriMo kicks off this year. I’m wondering just how much researching, detail noting, and planning I can get done for my project before the race for the words launches. I can’t wait for November! And I haven’t said that about anything to do with writing in a good long while.