Tag Archives: research

Vacation Inspiration

A common question asked of writers is where we get our ideas for our stories. Some will say it’s the ‘Muse”. Others might say ideas are born from snapshots of characters who speak to us or a seed of inspiration that drops in from the aethers. Both are probably true, but as for me, I believe ideas are born from life experiences.

PJ Sharon here, coming to you fresh (or a little less than fresh) off a twelve day road trip up the West Coast. Call it a much needed and long overdue vacation, a visit to celebrate with my eldest son who just turned 33 (Holy cow! How did that happen? I turned 33 only yesterday!), or call it what it was…research. Since my last big vacation–a Mediterranean cruise with my mother-in-law back in 2011 that led me to write PIECES of LOVE, hubby and I were happy to splurge on some time away from our daily rat race.

Despite suffering the usual vacation mishaps, such as a missed flight, the dreaded airplane flu three days in with a side trip to the ER in San Rafael, and a questionable hotel stay or two, we had loads of fun and saw some amazing sights! And yes, I took copious notes and tons of pictures. I’d like to share some of my experiences and how they might serve to inspire me and my books.

The trip started in San Francisco with a lovely four day visit with my son who lives in wine country out there–the perfect backdrop for a romance novel. We did the usual touristy things like wine tasting in Napa Valley and a ride out to Bodega Bay to cruise the coast. In the city, we took a  trolley up to the cable car museum, then ate at Neptune’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and watched street performers on the Embarcadero. GhirardelliAnd I couldn’t visit San Francisco without stopping by Ghirardelli’s.doing time in alcatraz

When a tour of Alcatraz landed me behind bars, I imagined the desperate souls who were once imprisoned behind those walls, looking out at the world beyond, the distant voices from the city by the bay a  constant reminder of an untouchable freedom.

After a sad farewell to my boy, we headed up the coast, through the rolling green and gold hills of wine country, and beyond to the Redwood Forests. I hugged some magnificent trees, connecting to their ancient life energy. Trees that have stood since the time of Christ and seen generations pass their way. I imagined a native hugging this same tree some five hundred years ago and felt the spirits deep in my soul. Massive creatures 300 feet tall and 30 feet around, whose roots interconnect with one another in a web of underground life. It sounds crazy to people who aren’t sensitive to such things (or creative enough to imagine), but in my minds eye, I see limbs that come alive and faces in every knot and outgrowth. Elementals perhaps? I can totally see this being the setting for a paranormal series, fey romance or historical Native American romance…oooh…maybe a time travel story.Hugging the grandfather treecrater lake oregon

We said goodbye to the giant Redwoods and continued our journey. Next came a detour inland to Crater Lake, Oregon–a sight not to be missed! Formed from a volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, the collapse created a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. Over time, the bed filled with crystal clear rain water and centuries of ice cold snow melt. Through checks and balances of seepage and evaporation, the lake has found its way. The story possibilities boggle the mind!

Winding our way back to the coast led us to the quaint town of Florence, up through the seal caves, and along the twists and turns of route 101 until we reached Cannon Beach in norther Oregon. This was on my darling husband’s bucket list, so we splurged on a beautiful hotel room right on the Pacific coastline with Haystack Rock outside our door. Every romance includes long walks on a beach and golden sunsets, a glass of good wine, and two people who would lay down their lives for one another. I’m not sure if I could write romance if i didn’t have that in my life.

Not to be underestimated, the power of alone time is also necessary. haystack rock cannon beach. oregonWaking to the mammoth rock, a cool, dry breeze, and the sound of the Puffins nesting high up on the “haystack” shaped stone, I enjoyed my morning meditation and a much needed yoga practice before we walked around the touristy little town, admiring the glass blown art and lovely beachfront properties.

Then it was up through the small fishing village of Astoria, site of fun and famous movies such as Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. We ate yummy seafood and visited the Maritime Museum–another of hubby’s “must do’s”.

Our final stay was in my new favorite city, Seattle! An entertaining duck boat tour gave us great views of the sky line and a city tour that helped orient us for the short stay so we could decide what we wanted to see most.seattle skyline Pike Street Market Place and the famous Space Needle were highlights as was the people watching in Westlake Center.Pike street market

space needle 2

Mount St. Helens made for a fabulous day trip despite the deep bowl being shrouded in clouds the day we visited. We didn’t have to imagine what the 1981 eruption might have looked like since there were dozens of pictures taken that fateful day in May over thirty years ago. The twenty minute movie that takes you up close and personal with the destructive force of the event was surreal. Nearly every sign of life in over 200 square miles was destroyed that day, leaving a path of destruction and magma that turned the surface of the Earth to a moonlike desolation.mt. St. helens lava flow Acres of trees were flattened or swept away, the nearby Spirit Lake filling with lumber and wiping out much of the water life below. But as with all stories, there came a happy ending when life began to emerge from beneath the ground and under the snow covered mountainside. The current state of new life, growth, and natural beauty give hope for a bright future, made possible by the conservationists committed to preserving the land–a labor of true love if I’ve ever seen it.

Our final adventure occurred on our return trip home. It seemed silly to spend a three hour lay-over in the Las Vegas airport when we could take a shuttle over to the Vegas strip and have breakfast while checking out the scene.mgm 2 I’ve never been to Vegas before but did a ton of research for WESTERN DESERT, book two  in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I wished I’d been able to take this trip BEFORE I wrote the second book. It was fun to see the MGM Grand,  but somehow, I imagined the whole strip to be bigger. All the same, Google didn’t do it justice.

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to take a road trip.

Have you ever written about a place you’ve traveled to? Where do you find your inspiration?

Docendo Discimus: We Learn by Teaching by Katy Lee

Salve, it’s me, Katy Lee, and today I’m practicing my Latin on you. My kids think it’s only fair if they have to learn it, then so should I. But I have to say even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be a good teacher for them if I didn’t learn right along beside them. How would I inspire them when they struggled? How could I help them if I, myself didn’t understand? The truth is I couldn’t.

Home educating my children was not something I entered into lightly. I knew it would be a commitment that would stake claim to the nume unus place in my life. Their education isn’t something to let slide like the laundry. They are depending on me for their preparation into the world. They are counting on me for the knowledge needed to make good decisions in regards to their lives.

So…Quo vadis? Where am I going with this? What would happen if I provided them with untruths? Facts made up because I was too lazy to do the research.

I might be able to get away with it for a little while, but honestly, my daughter would take so much delight in proving me wrong that in the end I would be the one with ovum on my face. (That’s an egg, BTW) And I know she’s not the only one. This world is full of people itching to catch someone in an untruth.

As writers we cannot be caught flubbing it. (Sorry, I couldn’t find the Latin word for flubbing) The fact is we need to do the research. We need to take our commitment in teaching the reader seriously. Because isn’t that what a writer is? A magister, or magistra in my feminine case?

Writers are teachers. Whether your main character in your story is a medical examiner or a horse trainer, whether your story carries a moral or aims only to entertain you still have research to do for your reader to get a full understanding. For your reader to learn something. And I can guarantee there will be at least one reader out there itching to catch you in a flub.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be an expert on something before you can write about it. But you have to be willing to invest the time needed to become the go-to person on a particular subject. That means shadowing a professional or interviewing experienced people in your field of interest. Get it from the horse’s mouth. (equus for all you Latin lovers.) The internet is great, and you can get a wealth of knowledge from it, but firsthand experience will be best if you can find it. No one can catch you in a flub if it’s the truth.

The Unlocked Secret: Vincit omnia veritas. Truth conquers all. When your work is backed by truth, you are golden. And not only that, but you, yourself, will be smarter for it because if you can teach it, you know you’ve learned it.

Question: What are your favorite ways to get your facts straight? Who have you had the pleasure of interviewing, and what did you learn?

Voila tout! That’s all!

Sex and Zero-G

Happy Friday everyone! Casey here!

One of fun parts of writing is research. Normally, I don’t do very much research other than getting a feel for a geographic location (thank you, Google Earth) or learning more about a specific process (tattooing) or a particular bit of history (like naming conventions for Chinese males).

I love history and learning about new cultures, places or people. But when it comes to writing, I tend to steer clear, otherwise I would never finish anything. And I don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many facts or details.

However, when the subject was vampires in space or more specifically, the undead on Mars, I couldn’t wait to dig in. In a few short weeks, my next book, The Undead Space Initiative is coming out. Before I wrote the book, I did some research on space travel and conditions on Mars. I visited NASA‘s website and Google Mars (yes, can you believe it? There is a such a thing!)

Aside from a lifetime’s worth of experience reading Sci-Fi novels, I also turned to a book byMary RoachPacking for Mars. I had a blast reading this book.

I learned many fun and fascinating facts such as:

  • NASA hired veterinarians to create the first meals for astronauts (and how they couldn’t understand why people didn’t want to eat food shaped like kibble).
  • There are studies out there, where you can be paid to not leave bed for a year at a time (literally – you can’t get off the bed – you must sleep, eat and do everything else in the bed). The purpose of this is to understand the long-term effects of zero-G.
  • A great deal of scientific know how and design went into making an actual toilet in space. The book goes into ridiculous detail so I will spare you.
  • Japanese astronauts are locked into small rooms with each and made to fold paper cranes for hours on end (to study personality and other behavioral dynamics).

There is so much more, but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out the rest.

Now, in case you’re wondering, and because I did bring it up in the title of this blog – can you have sex in space?

The books touches on the subject with a bit of thinly veiled frustration. While there have been no officially documented studies sanctioned by any space faring government, there are plenty of rumors in the space community, that it is possible. I came up with my own conclusions for purposes of storytelling.

So, what does any of this research have to do with my book?

Everything and nothing.

I’m a big believer in verisimilitude or the appearance of reality. Ms. Roach’s book helped solidify my belief that the undead, like vampires, zombies and revenants would do very well in space and on Mars.Here’s why:

They are dead.

They don’t need to breathe, eat or use the toilet.

Their bodies can stand extreme temperatures and they won’t get cancer from gamma ray bursts.

Quite simply, they are perfect recruits for settling Mars.

And while it was fun to learn about space toilets, and kibble, none of those things appear in my book. None of my characters break out into spontaneous bouts of paper crane folding either.

I did use facts as best I could. Yes, there are clouds in the Martian sky, dust storms that last for days, and scientists believe there is water in the Martian permafrost. But there are plenty of other things in the book that are my own invention.

And no, I won’t say what they are! You’ll have to read the story to find out how vampires travel in space and learn to live on Mars.

While we’re on the subject of research and sex – if you have a moment – please stop by and visit my blog today - 60 Inches of Glory where I talk about one of my favorite tools for research (and get your mind out of the gutter!).

How much research do you like to do before writing? And how do you use those facts? Or does the thought of research cause you to break out in hives?

Nothing Like the Real Thing

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. One of the things I love about my writing life is all of the fun new experiences I get to have while researching for my books. Last month, I took a day and drove the back roads to Albany so I could get a feel for the landscape, the drive time, and the city.
I’d never been to Albany, but it made sense for my dystopian story to have the main trading hub in the Northeast be located there with the Hudson River and the Erie Canal being so accessible. I had used tools like Google Earth, Google Maps, the Chamber of Commerce for Albany, and Wikipedia, but nothing gave me as much of a visceral experience as really being there. I wanted to feel what my characters might feel, see what they would see, and go where they would go. I wanted to know what the Hudson smelled like and how depressed the economy was. Overall, It was a great experience. I even got to meet the lovely ladies in the Tourist Information Bureau who asked me to make sure to contact them when the book is finished so they can schedule a book signing on site.

Along the same lines, I’ve thought about taking a gun safety course for quite some time. I’d taken one many years ago and done my share of shooting when I was younger, but at the time, with children in my house, I decided I wasn’t willing to take the risk of owning any firearms, so I never got licensed. Now that my kids are long past the age of living at home, and I’m writing about hill folk who own guns, I thought it was a good time to revisit firearms training.  

When I first began writing fiction and I needed to know some details about guns and how to use them, I turned once again to the internet. I began studying types of handguns to determine what size and firepower would best suit my characters, what type of holster they might wear to conceal their weapon, and most importantly, what it would feel like to fire a pistol. Hundreds of YouTube videos later, I had the information I needed, but I was missing the most important parts of the experience. The tactile, visceral experience I vaguely remembered from my youth. The anticipation as you focus the front sight of your pistol on the target down range, the adrenaline rush as you begin to squeeze the trigger, and the sensation of power that kicks back as the gun discharges. Or even the pride you feel when you reel in your target and see how well you did.
You can’t experience that sense of satisfaction from a YouTube video. Gun enthusiast or not, every writer who crafts stories about gun-toting heroes and heroines should try firing a handgun at least once…with supervision of course.

 In my effort to get some real hands on experience, my husband and I sat through a torturously steamy gun safety course this past weekend. That’s right, twenty-five people in a tiny room with no air conditioning for eight hours on a 96 degree day. Ick! It’s a miracle that the only shots fired were down range at the targets. Despite the less than comfortable conditions, I learned a lot about the law, (Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws in the country), and did quite a good job on both the written and practical exam, scoring 100% and making some nice tight groupings in the black on my target. Like any new skill though, I have a lot to learn, and since I plan to continue writing stories about kick butt heroes and heroines, I plan to continue my training. I’ll be taking the next level course in a few weeks and will be looking into getting certified as an NRA “Refuse to be a Victim” instructor where I’ll actually be able to teach courses in personal safety and crime prevention.  

Even though I started this new adventure as an adjunct to my research, I realized that I’m going to these lengths in part because I’m passionate about personal protection, but also because I believe that everyone should be informed and prepared. In case you missed my series on Self-Defense for Teens, Marian Lanouette has asked me to re-post it to her blog next week. Whether you are a fifteen-year-old girl or a fifty-year-old woman, it’s never too late to learn to defend yourself.

Aside from adding to my arsenal of personal experiences from which I can draw for my books, gun safety and personal protection have practical application that I hope never to have to use. But the reality is that there are dangers we all face every day.

If I can be a part of making the world a safer place for women by training them to be prepared to protect themselves, I’m all in.


And in response to Jamie Pope’s post yesterday about the steamy hunks of the big and small screen, I went home after seeing Magic Mike and gave my hubby a big smooch and told him how much I appreciate him. Because when it comes down to loving our heroes, don’t you agree? There’s nothing like the real thing.

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve done in the name of research?

Terry Spear – Research in Writing—How Do You Make Werewolves Real?

Happy Friday everyone! Casey Wyatt here.

Today we have a special guest blogger  – Terry Spear.Terry is an award-winning author of urban fantasy and medieval historical romantic suspense. Her novel, Heart of the Wolf, was named in Publishers Weekly’s BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR, NOR Reader Choice for BEST PARANORMAL ROMANCE.

And she’s also a USA Today bestselling author courtesy of A SEAL IN WOLF’S CLOTHING. Congratulations, Terry!

Let’s hear what Terry has to say:

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How Do You Make Werewolves Real?  

Or anything real, fantastical, imaginary, or real life real for that matter?

You must create the world that feels real. Then it needs to be populated with people, or other creatures, and they must seem real. So how can we do that with research?

Even if we’re writing about a real place, how will anyone “know” it unless we do research? The climate, the demographics, the buildings, the plant life.

When I wrote Ghostly Liaisons, a YA paranormal tale set in Florida, I lived in the house the heroine lives in as a teen. I explored the rattle snake-infested and alligator-filled swamp and jungle-like forest across the street. I swam in the water moccasin-infested canal until I knew better. I climbed the sand dunes out back of the canal. But even though I “knew” the place, I did research. I’d lived there as a teen and didn’t remember all the kinds of plants that existed in the jungle. I researched about ghost sightings in the vicinity, and about pirates and their pirating path in the area. Research then made the story more real, even though both teens have psychic abilities.

The same with when I wrote Seduced by the Wolf. I had lived in Oregon, but when I wrote the story, I hadn’t remembered how cold the lakes still were late into the year. Frozen in some areas! So I had to revise my idea based on that. One of the places my hero and heroine in Heart of the Wolf end up is at Wolf Mountain in Oregon. I actually printed out topographic maps to study the elevation of the terrain, where water was located, the vegetation, and the chances of sighting a bear in the area. I also used Google Earth to determine the layout of the wolf’s pen at the zoo in Seduced by the Wolf. I used the same zoo in Heart of the Wolf, but it had been renovated significantly since then.

I also researched how frequently wolves are spotted in Oregon. When I wrote Destiny of the Wolf, I learned that deer were destroying the forests, and wolves were needed to keep the impact down. That the new growth was beginning to make a slow come back. I love doing research because it can add realism and details to the stories to make them richer.

When I wrote Dreaming of the Wolf, I had the problem of the heroine turning wolf at a motel. Would a guest be allowed to have a wolf in a room, even if the hotel allowed dogs? What are the laws concerning wolf ownership? Also, I researched the qualifications of bounty hunters and read up on what bounty hunters have done while doing their jobs.

In Wolf Fever, I researched whether a wolf’s saliva would be different than a dog’s. I’ve researched werewolf lore also, and real werewolf trials and talked about them in some of my books. I also researched about passing viruses from one species to another, from humans to pets.

So wolves and werewolves are now real. What about places? They can be, or they can be made up. Silver Town, Colorado is run by a wolf pack. It’s not a real place. It’s based on Telluride, and some other old Colorado silver mining towns, and just a werewolfish kind of place.

In To Tempt the Wolf and A SEAL in Wolf’s Clothing, I researched different areas along the Oregon coast, where I visited a number of times when I lived in Tigard, Oregon and made up the cabin resort that Meara and Hunter Greymere inherited. But Finn’s home was a real house offered for sale on the coast, and I used the description of the forest, beach, patio, barbecue, vegetation, security system, and the interior of the home, only I changed the color scheme to make more of an impact and to have a deeper meaning for the hero.

In Seduced by the Wolf, I did the same thing, found a home, country ranch in Oregon, that was offered for sale, and it became my pack’s digs. There were several out buildings including a couple of extra homes for pack members, a bigger building like a barracks for bachelor males, and timber, cattle, a river, everything a pack could want. It even talked about other animals that often grazed in the area, great for hunting! The place was real, and it was fun turning it into a home for fantastical creatures!

Looking at pictures of people can help to give ideas for the story characters also. In the popular YA fae series, The Winged Fae came into being because of the whimsical picture of a winged fae drawing graffiti on a wall. She seemed perfect for the role of a mischievous fae.  I’m just starting to work on Dragon Fae—my daughter found her picture. She’s Goth looking, eyeing something in a treasure box, dragons love to hoard treasure, so it’s the start of a new character and book.

Of course, research is necessary for historical pieces also. In A Ghost of a Chance at Love, I emailed the Stagecoach Inn staff in Salado to learn if the hotel had a bathroom back in 1870. But they didn’t! Everyone had to use an outhouse. Ewww…

I visited Scotland and have used some of the research I’ve learned in my stories also in Winning the Highlander’s Heart and my other Highland stories.

If I get stuck on my story, I often will do some research. And often will come up with a new angle I had never thought of before!

Let research make your stories real!

Terry Spear

“Giving new meaning to the term alpha male where fantasy IS reality.”

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Spear has written a dozen paranormal romance novels and two medieval Highland historical romances. An award-winning author, Terry’s Heart of the Wolf  was named a Publishers Weekly’s Best Book of the Year in 2008. A retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry Spear is a librarian by day and spends every spare moment writing paranormal romance as well as historical and true life stories for both teen and adult audiences. Spear lives in Crawford, Texas, where she is working on new paranormal romances! For more information, please visit http://www.terryspear.com/.

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Thank you so much Terry!

Well, Scribes fans. Your turn – how do you use research to make your stories come alive. Or if you have a question about Terry’s books – ask away!