Tim Cahill once said, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Of course, the BEST journey is when you can take a good friend over the miles with you … and research novels in the process!
My friend and co-writer Ocieanna and I have researched and written two novels together over the last few years. Both novels started with a glimmer of an idea, two packed suitcases, and a desire to make history come to life within the pages of our novels.
Our first novel, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana took us to Lonesome Prairie, of course, which is near Fort Benton, Montana. A month prior to our visit, we contacted the Fort Benton historical society.
TIP: Whether you travel to your research destination or not, a local historical society is a great place to find eager volunteers and great information about your novel's setting.
When we arrived at Fort Benton, we met a great volunteer, Hank, who provided information about Lonesome Prairie and helped us make copies out of research books. Hank also told us about an elderly gentleman Keith Edwards whose parents were some of the first settlers in Lonesome Prairie. We decided to give Keith a call to see if he was available to talk.
TIP: Follow up on leads. It may seem strange calling someone out of the blue, but most of the time people love talking about their lives and sharing information.
Our interview with Keith turned out to be the highlight of the trip! At 93-years-old his mind was sharp and he told story after story about his growing up years. Many of his stories made it into the pages of our novel.
After interviewing him, we loaded Keith up in the car and drove to the former homestead site where Lonesome Prairie took place.
TIP: When researching go on-site if possible and take everything in, not only the sights but also the scents, the sounds, and the feel of the place All this will help you bring the place to life in the pages of your novel.
Because we had such a great time on our first trip Ocieanna and I were excited when we got to do it again. For Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington we traveled to Seattle to research Rosie the Riveters during WWII. We interviewed five women who had been former riveters. We also travelled to the Boeing Air and Space Museum where we received help from their research librarians.
TIP: One of the best places to find information is in periodicals of the day. Look in magazines, ads, and read advice columns from the time your book is set. Remember, it's the little details that make a big difference.
Speaking of the little details, one last benefit of researching with a co-writer is that you both come away with unique insights and perspectives. Teamwork brought our books to life … and made the journey double the fun!