RESEARCH TRIPS FOR WRITING
From traveling the dirt roads of the Appalachian hills to interview a Cherokee medicine man for Trail of Tears, to exploring the trenches along the World War I route of the 82nd Division in France for Phoenix Rising, to enjoying the beauty of Singapore’s Botanical Gardens, where the Japanese hid their bicycles prior to the invasion of Singapore in WWII, for To Face the Sun, I treasure each research trip that helped to shape my novels.
Each one was an adventure. Some were dangerous, while others were funny, uncanny, or even weird. My first experience driving a stick shift in downtown, rush hour Paris traffic could have become a book itself. My guide, so unnerved at my driving, forgot to speak English to me and in every little town where we stopped he went into the nearest cathedral to light a candle for our safety.
A few years ago I read a book entitled "Women Who Run With the Wolves." In it, the author spoke of "singing over the bones of a story." I have done my share of singing over the bare bones, attempting to resurrect the ghosts of the past, so that they could come alive in a certain time and place.
Historians tell us what happened, while novelists are more interested in why something happened. Why was Gen. Patton not able to get in touch with Gen. Bradley in WWII when the entire German army was escaping through the Falaise Gap? For me, that question started a new round of research, and the answer is found in the WWII novel, On Wings of Fire.
With that novel, I intended to end the saga of two generations, from WWI, to the period between the wars (From Love's Ashes) to the WWII On Wings of Fire. But my publisher, who said that so few women could write about love and war at the same time, asked me to write a fourth in the series, showing the war in the Pacific.( To Face the Sun.) Thus, another trip was born.
For a writer, primary research is extremely important. That's why I like to visit the places I'm writing about. What an experience to stand near the rail tracks in Toul, where the American army nurses waited for the trains bringing the wounded from the trenches at the front! Or to look out at the Java Sea where my hero was picked up by a hospital ship on the Lollipop Run to the various islands of the Pacific.
But even more important are the people I've met. At a dinner party in Atlanta, I met another guest who asked me about one of my war novels in progress. I told him that I was at a standstill. The trail had gone cold on a V-2 rocket that had gone down somewhere before it hit London. He responded, "Oh, yes. My mother in Montevideo is a good friend of the Swedish countess in whose field it landed." This happened over and over, and I'm so grateful for this strange phenomenon of bumping into people who seem to have the answers I'm looking for.
As each of my earlier novels goes into reprint and ebook form, I'll be writing about the trips, with pictures. And I'll be eager to hear from you, as we share these experiences.