Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Guest Blogger ~ Tricia Goyer

Tricia is the author of 20+ books and has published over 300 articles for national publications such as Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian Woman and HomeLife Magazine. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion Book Award in 2005.

Tips To Maximize Research

Whenever I talk about my novels I can't help but think about those who helped to make them possible--the men and women I interviewed. In writing my most recent novel, my co-writer Ocieanna Fleiss and I traveled to Lonesome Prairie, Montana and there we met 91-year-old Keith Edwards. Keith has lived in the area his whole life. In fact, his parents were some of the first settlers there, placing them there during the time frame when Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie was written! Keith told us some great stories, many of which made them into a book. Through the years, interviewing has become one of my favorite parts of writing.

In researching for my six WWII novels, I've interviewed veterans and Holocaust survivors--some of whom had never talked about their experiences, even with their spouses. I conducted some of these first interviews in person at WWII reunions.

I first connected with the veterans after hearing about the experiences of a specific recon unit, who liberated two concentration camps in Austria. I contacted them through letters, and soon received responses from six men from this unit willing to be interviewed. They invited me to their yearly reunion, and I jumped at the chance. I was amazed by how open the men were to sharing their story. I think they were thrilled that someone cared about their experiences.

At the reunion I made appointments. A writer friend went with me, and we filled our schedule. It was my first experience with interviewing, but I use the same procedure today for my novel or article research.

Tricia's office overlooking her own prairie


• When it comes to the interviews, I set up my handheld recorder that records MP3s which can be transferred on my computer. After getting the recording started, I turned my full attention to the person. I don't jot notes or read questions. Instead, I maintain eye contact and ask questions.

• I start by asking easy stuff such as their childhood memories, when they joined their military, about basic training, friendships, etc.

• I make sure I have a basic knowledge of their role so I can ask knowledgeable questions. For example, "Did you ever visit in McGully's general store?" or "What type of emotions did you feel when your tank crossed the border into Germany?"

• After the person has covered the basics I ask, "What memories still replay in your mind even 60 years later?" This is the question that brings the most emotion--especially WWII veterans. Many, many men have broken down sobbing. Some apologize and tell me that cannot share their memory. Others do so, but it takes a while for them to warm up.

• Which leads to the most important thing I do...sit and listen. I don't try to fill the silence with my words. Nine times out of ten, the men (or women) open up, and they share things with me that they've never shared before. And many tell me it's a sort of healing for them.

I've been privileged to talk with Holocaust survivors, too. Most of these men and women have told their stories many times--and it's easy for them to open up. My most amazing interview was with a survivor who was in his early teens when he was in a number of concentration camps. He had not spoken to many people about this experience, and when we shared his experiences he literally jumped from his seat and started “acting” out how they marched, how they stood at attention, how the guards beat him, etc. I felt like I was there, and it greatly impacted me.

I’ve continued to interview other people for other situations, and being genuinely interested and caring is key. I offer tissue or hold hands for someone having a hard time. I don’t rush. I also let the person know later how much their story impacted me.

Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana

Julia Cavanaugh has never left New York. But in 1889, the young woman rides the orphan train west to deliver the girls in her care to new families. After Julia's final stop in Montana, she plans to kick he dust off her heels and head straight back east.

But upon arriving in the remote town of Lonesome Prairie, she learns to her horror that she is also suppose to be delivered--into the hands of an uncouth miner who carries a bill of purchase for his new "bride."

Julia turns to a respected circuit preacher to protect her from the marriage, but with no return fare, no home, and few friends, her options are bleak. What is God's plan for a lonely woman stranded in the middle of the vast Montana prairie?


Johnnie said...

Tricia, I've been immersed in World War II history for the past year or so as I've worked on what I hope and pray will be my debut novel. I started reading The Swiss Courier just yesterday since it will be one of the comparable titles for my manuscript proposal. It's so fun to watch a program on the History or Military Channel and say, "I already knew that!"

Thank you for sharing your experiences with interviewing survivors of those sad and dreadful days. My best to you.

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Tricia Goyer said...

Johnnie, yeah! That sounds exciting. Keep writing because it sounds like something I'll want to read!

Yes, I love having the history in my head. I've had guy's jaws drop when I start naming places, battles, and weapons. Ha!


Tim Geore said...

Tricia - wish I could have read this before doing my first face-to-face interview. Did an interview with Jeff Shaara about his newest WWII historical fiction along with a WWII B-17 pilot. It went great. The advice you give here is perfect.