Saturday, January 13, 2007

The 3 R's -- Research, Reading and (W)riting

It's funny when I think back to my school days and the teacher would stand at the front of the room, getting ready to deliver the dreaded assignment...

Research Paper

Oh no! Anything but that! For me, however, it was exciting, because I knew I'd get to learn something I never knew before and get to explore the pages of the books I'd be using. All right, so I was weird and far from "average" as students go. Still, school never really challenged me, and I made the best of what they assigned. Earning high marks came easy, and I confess that I too often took it for granted.

With just a little bit of information, I could let my creative juices go to work and craft the details of a story without ever having set foot anywhere near the setting of the story I'm writing. Readers would often comment on how "real" I made it feel, how they felt like there were right there. Even those readers who had actually been to the places I described asked me if I'd ever visited.

For my books, however, the reality didn't come so easily. :) Stories could be crafted without all the detail. A book requires to much more. Depth and development of the big picture as well as the little pieces that pull it all together meant I had to spend a lot more time digging into the background, the culture, the day-to-day lives of those who lived during the setting of my books, etc. And for that, I needed resources.

With this set of books, that meant a trip to the Historical Society of Delaware and the Research Library next door. It meant multiple visits to the town that was, at the time, the capital of Delaware, to take pictures, walk the cobblestone streets, gain a perspective of life as it might have been lived during Colonial times. It meant attending what's called "Colonial Days" where the town comes alive with reenactors and guides, and the homes/shops open their doors to give you a glimpse of life 250 years ago. It also meant spending time with the research librarians and coordinators, asking questions, seeking information, and recording what I'd learned.

By far, the most fun I had was writing a letter to the current owners of the house I used as the setting for the 3 books in this series. The home is what inspired me to write the first book and the idea caught the attention of the editor who ended up reviewing my manuscript and giving it the recommendation that led to the sale. This home has a sign by the driveway (circa 1740). I drive by this house several times a week. One day, I saw that and stopped. The ideas started flowing, and wouldn't let me brush them aside.

When I received a reply and an invitation to visit, I had to be pulled down from the clouds. The tour, the information, the ambiance. All of it transported me back to 1740 when the home was first built, wondering at all that had happened in almost 300 years. The phrase "if these walls could speak" took on new meaning for me. Oh, the stories they could tell.

From that day on, I was determined to tell that story...even if I had to take a little creative license to do it. *winks* Along with this house came the desire to shine the light on Delaware's significance during Colonial times and give Colonial Williamsburg a run for its money. :) They think they're such hot stuff, they've even used the "history.org" domain, as if they're the be-all and end-all of history.

Seriously, though, that's a fantastic resource for everything and anything Colonial -- from teacher and student resources, to books, to activities, to planning a visit and so much more.

Have you been there? If so, share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Thanks so much for sticking with us this week and sharing your comments as well as your time. I hope Kaye and I managed to broaden your minds a bit and entice you to look at things from all sides before forming an assumption...especially when it comes to history.

3 comments:

Becky said...

Research papers as fun??? Yes. I'm right there with you! Not only did I have fun doing research and writing my own papers for high school and college (undergraduate and two master's degrees), but I loved reading my older sister's books. When she'd get assigned a paper--sometimes but not every time if I'm being 100% honest--I'd read her books that she'd check out from the library just for the fun of learning something new. I was interested in such a wide range of topics, that I almost always got caught up reading them for pleasure.

Kaye Dacus said...

Sign me up for the weirdos club, too. Writing research papers was one of the few assignments in school I actually enjoyed. I even wrote a few on my own time, believe it or not, when I ran across a historical subject that interested me but not necessarily inspired me to write a story about it.

Tiff/Amber Miller said...

Looks like we're all in good company here. :) Glad we like writing, or we'd be in big trouble for our call to write!