I strive to make my settings real, to pull a reader into a time long gone. Research is necessary to achieve historical authenticity, but that doesn’t have to mean hours in a dusty reference room, digging white-gloved hands into accession folders. Research can be fun! Yes, I did my time in libraries and university collections, reading reference books and taking notes. But here are some of the other ways I conducted my research while I was writing CHASM CREEK:
◾MUSEUMS – One of my favorite museums is Cave Creek Museum, where I learned that in 1880 this small town north of Phoenix, Arizona, was a gold-mining camp located on the banks of the creek it’s named after. I began to envision a similar town where Esther, Morgan and Rubén could come to life.
◾HIKING – I hiked the Seven Springs trail, note pad in hand, along the portion of Cave Creek that still has water all year. Lots of hikes in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve as well. When I hiked, I stopped often to write down smells, sights, and sounds. Hiking also allowed me time with my thoughts and to let my imagination wander.
◾DRESS UP – I volunteered as an interpreter of Arizona history at the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum. For several years I dressed in 1880 clothing and spent weekends in one of the historic cabins. I hauled water. I swept wide plank floors. I bent over a fireplace to cook pots of beans and Dutch oven cornbread which I then served to lines of Civil War reenactors. I danced the Virginia Reel and I waltzed in the Opera House. I had a ball. I took notes.
◾TRAVEL – All of the settings in CHASM CREEK were within a day’s drive. Some are still visited frequently (because I love those places), and some only once. But every place opened my eyes to possibilities I might have missed otherwise. As Navajo guide Adam Teller drove me into the depths of Canyon del Muerto at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, I saw ravens fly from thousand-foot cliffs above us, and watched their shadows flutter down the sides of the rocks. I saw dull brown cottonwood trees turn to a blaze of gold when the sun penetrated the canyon walls. These little details, I believe, make all the difference.
And, speaking of making research fun, how does having a few drinks on Whiskey Row in Prescott sound? Sorry, no photo available – some activities call for discretion!
Are there certain countries, time periods, or settings (i.e. mountains, the ocean, deserts, forests) that appeal to you? What are they, where are they, and why do they draw you in? Do you think it helps if an author has lived in, or at least visited, the places he/she uses as settings? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.
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