Research

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Do you do research for your books/stories?  Since I spent many years doing scientific research, I found it natural to see a need for at least some research in my writing. Writing a mystery book with a completely imaginary setting somehow didn’t resonate; I needed some real places to ground it.  Previously I have spent time with a lobsterman, pulling traps on his boat, and interviewed a famous sail maker.  Last week, in order to check out some details in my second book, my husband and I once again set out for Maine, in the midst of one of the worst winters ever.  Maybe we needed to have our head examined, but setting a book in Maine in the winter needs some real life experience and mine only extended to Massachusetts.

photo-3We drove from Boston to Caribou the first day, admiring the change from hardwoods and firs to stands of white birch scattered among the green of the firs. The vast spaces covered with untrodden snow were stunning and often tested our perspective.  Snow blown high against the sides of barns and the thickness of snow on roofs, some

Snow Over The Eaves

Snow Over The Eaves

curling over the eaves, was testimony to the harsh weather.  We were lucky to take our trip in between snow storms, but it wasn’t warm: in the teens during the day and single digits overnight.  Still, we missed the worst of it, because it’s -16 there today.

The next day I had a wonderful Irish lunch with the John Dennis, the Cultural Director of the Aroostook band of the MicMaks.  He grew up in Cape Breton, where apparently a boiled dinner (corned beef with boiled potatoes, cabbage, and root vegetables), a staple of New England, became one of his favorites. And there is an Irish restaurant in Caribou that serves this.  Since I consulted with Mr. Dennis as an elder of his tribe, I brought him a gift of tobacco to be used in MicMac ceremonies.  Mr. Dennis is a deep well of information about the history of the MicMacs, their spiritual beliefs and customs, their problems and needs – our time together went by in the blink of an eye.

Swan Island Ferry

Swan Island Ferry

We then drove from Caribou to Bar Harbor, in order to be near Bass Harbor for the next day’s adventure.  That was a ferry trip to one of Maine’s Islands, Swan Island.  We got to Bass Harbor early and that was lucky, because the line of cars waiting to drive onto the ferry grew.  You travel to Swan Island in your car; there is no saloon on this ferry. As the car grew colder and icy salt spray coated the windows, we wrapped ourselves in our coats and watched the islands slip by, surrounded by white caps, car gently rocking with the big ferry.  Once on Swan Island, we drove around, noting the neat

Ice in a Cove, Swan Island

Ice in a Cove, Swan Island

stacks of lobster traps on virtually every front lawn of the mostly white or gray houses.  Houses there range from normal, one or two story New England boxes to multimillion dollar mansions, where the owners only live for a few weeks a year. Small coves were iced up with some of the ice piled up by the tides.  And it was really windy and really cold! We visited the small store on the

Store on Swan Island

Store on Swan Island

island, where stocks were clearly depleted by the winter, and learned that with the small winter population, everyone knows everything about everyone, and the gossip is rampant.  I left some bookmarks with information about my first book at the store and figured by that night, everyone on the island would know a writer had visited!

After Swan Island, we had to head south, in order to overnight within driving distance of Boston.  Along the way, we visited an independent bookstore in Bangor and another in Bath.  I’ve come to believe that Independent bookstore owners are characters. The owner of the Bath Book Shop was running around in a tall red and white striped hat, in celebration of Dr. Suess’s birthday.

We arrived home after another long day of travel. For those of you who know Boston, the Callahan Tunnel is closed and that required some re-routing in order to get to Logan Airport. Thank heaven we brought our Garmin and left plenty of time to get there.  So research this time was a bit of an adventure. Hope you have as much fun doing yours!

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8 thoughts on “Research

  1. Scriblet

    I’ve always shied away from research for my writing because I find it so intimidating. How much research is too much? Where do I go to find the answers I’m looking for? How do I justify a research trip when I’m still unpublished and this is “just for fun?”

    With my current story, I can’t get away from doing research, and lots of it. Luckily it’s set close to home (just a 5-minute chartered ferry ride across the harbour) and the public archives are literally down the street and around the corner from me (10 minute walk). I hope this is the perfect project to practice my novel-research skills and become more comfortable with this process.

    How did you manage your research needs before becoming published?

  2. What happened is that as I wrote my first and second books, I found scenes and information that needed to be included to move the story along. Since traveling to Maine is usually a once a year event, I went ahead with writing and after my research trips, came back and filled in, changed, or added to the manuscript. Usually I make a list of what I need to see or experience and people I need to talk to and then arrange the trip around my list. Along the way, I’ve gotten new ideas for the third book! Plus friends of mine who live in Maine send me articles and newspapers. It’s almost like living there!
    I think you have the ideal situation for what you are writing now – with a ferry ride to boot!
    I do have a book in the “thinking about it” stage, where I will have to spend some time in New ngland – possibly a month or so. There I will have to rely on the kindness of friends, but there are quite a few research grants out there for writers that might be good for you. Check out Hope Clark and Funds for Writers!

  3. I do a lot of research. Although I don’t write historical fiction, I like to link the facts with reality, especially when it comes to location. So, yes, love, love research. Problem is there’s never enough time to research as much as I’d like, so that’s a tough balance.
    I really enjoyed reading your post today. You certainly have several stories in here. Such beautiful places.

  4. Jemima Pett

    I’ve been writing about what I know, including trips to the cities of the Rhine where the new book’s main action takes place. I think I ought to set the next adventure in Hawaii since I ought to do some proper research there 🙂

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