Researching the Contemporary Novel:
Write What You Know, and Then Learn Enough to Get ‘er Done
by Deborah Vogts
When most people think of doing book research, they immediately think of historical research. Those who write historicals have my deepest admiration. But contemporary authors have to do research for their stories as well. That’s what I’d like to share with you today.
Every novelist must “jump” into their characters’ skins, and that often means we must learn things we don’t already know. How do we do this? The Internet is an invaluable tool, as is your local library or bookstore. Sometimes, though, your questions can’t be answered that way and you have to go to your “source.” Often that means interviewing someone by email, by phone, or in person. For an introvert writer who spends the majority of her time in front of a computer, this can be terrifying. Believe me, I know, as I still fight my fear of admitting to someone that I’m an author. After all, they might look at me like I’m an alien, or worse, they might try to bite off my nose, or laugh at me . . . or sneer.
Okay, so what sort of research might a contemporary author need to do? Below are a few things I did for the books in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series, published by Zondervan.
In my first book, Snow Melts in Spring, the opening scene is one where a horse is terribly injured. Right off, I had to know technical terminology, and not only that, but I had to create a scene that was accurate and believable, not just something that looked good on paper. To get it right, I contacted a handful of veterinarians, asked them a bunch of detailed questions all the way down to possible accident scenarios, which would create the type of injuries needed for the story. I even shadowed one small animal vet for a day in order to get a feel for what a “day in the life” might look like for my character who was also a vet.
I also needed to know something about football. Again, not my specialty. For this research, I went to the children’s section of the library and checked out an armload of books. Here’s a good tip to know: Children’s books are easy to read and they are chock full of valuable information. I also watched a lot of football games on television and asked my football loving friends and family hundreds of questions–all so I could write two or three scenes with authenticity.
For my second book, Seeds of Summer, which releases the end of May, I needed to learn about the Miss Rodeo America competition because my main character, Natalie Adams, is a former Miss Rodeo Kansas and first runner up Miss Rodeo America. My research for this story included visiting with those at the Miss Rodeo America headquarters, as well as interviewing and questioning the current MRA at that time, Miss Amy Wilson, Miss Rodeo America 2008.
The highlight of this research culminated when I met and visited Amy at her home in Colby, KS. Amy was a joy to work with and is such a lovely person. My visit to her home was an unexpected blessing, as she shared some special moments from her time as Miss Rodeo Kansas and then as Miss Rodeo America.
I learned that Miss Rodeo America has a host of sponsors who shower their queen with lovely gifts, some of which include: a wardrobe of Wrangler Jeans, Justin Boots, Bailey Hats , fully tooled Court’s Saddle with custom Miss Rodeo America conchos and an official Miss Rodeo America trophy buckle from Montana Silversmiths. Accompanying the perpetual Miss Rodeo America tiara made by Landstrom’s Original Black Hills Gold Creations, Amy was given a wardrobe of matching jewelry. These items, along with other prizes were presented to her throughout her reign. To see some pictures of these items, please visit my blog post here.
For my current project, book #3 – Blades of Autumn, I’m having to learn about running a cafe. So guess what? I’ve been visiting small town cafes and asking the owners lots of questions. Research such as this never ends, but taking the time to do this for your stories might mean the difference between someone loving your book or tossing it against the wall because it wasn’t accurate. Sure, you’ll never please everyone, but by doing the necessary groundwork, you’ll at least know you did everything within your means to bring accuracy to the story.
Again, it’s important. Your readers will thank you for it.
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Blurb for Seeds of Summer: When opposites attract, sparks fly–like an electrical malfunction. That’s what happens when former rodeo queen Natalie Adams meets the new pastor in Diamond Falls.
A heart-warming contemporary romance set in the Flint Hills of Kansas where a former rodeo queen abandons her dreams in order to care for her deceased father’s ranch and her two half-siblings, only to realize with the help of a young new pastor that God can turn even the most dire circumstances into seeds of hope. Spanning the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each story in this series reveals the struggle of the people who live there and the dreams they have for the land until they come full-circle in a never-ending cycle, just as man comes full-circle in his understanding of God.
If you’d like to read a snippet from Seeds of Summer, I invite you to visit Country magazine, which recently did a feature interview with me for their April/May issue. While there, you may also enter your chance to win one of my books. This book giveaway ends May 31.
Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing this series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there.
It’s great to have you back at Romance Writers on the Journey, Deborah. Thanks for your informative article. I’m eager to read Seeds of Summer and enjoy the results of your research.
Feel free to leave a comment for Deborah. She’ll be dropping by to answer your questions about research on May 27.