The Joys of Hands-On Research

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal 44 Comments

Amanda Cabot

Amanda Cabot

You’re in for a treat with this post. I’ve not met Amanda Cabot face to face, but we’ve become internet friends. So I invited her over to visit One Writer’s Journal. As you will find out, Amanda is a writer who gets it right in her stories because of how she researches everything. She shares some of those research techniques with us here. Now, here’s Amanda.

The Joys of Hands-On Research

Love it or hate it.  When it comes to research, few authors are neutral.  Either they consider it a necessary but unpleasant part of writing a book or they believe it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the whole writing process.  I’m firmly in the “love it” camp.

Why?  There are several reasons. One is that I enjoy traveling, and – while there’s no denying the value of the Internet – much of my research has involved traveling. More important is the fact that I love learning new things and being able to share what I’ve learned with readers. And, for me, more often than not, that involves hands-on research.

Let me give you a couple examples. Many years ago when I was writing a story set in the Middle Ages, even though I’d read countless books and studied dozens of pictures, I realized that while I knew what chain mail looked like, I had no idea what it felt like or what sound it made when a knight was wearing it. This may not sound like a reason for writer’s block, and it wasn’t, but I was stymied. How was I going to describe what my hero felt when he donned his coat of chain mail when I hadn’t experienced it? What’s an author to do?

A little research revealed that one of the best places to see chain mail and other medieval armor was the Higgins Armory in Worcester, Massachusetts. Yes, it was 200 miles from where I lived at the time, but what are a few hours in the car compared with authentic details?  Besides, I’ve already told you that I enjoy traveling, so it was no hardship to head to the armory. (Unfortunately, the armory closed in late 2013, but many of the exhibits are now housed at the Worcester Art Museum.)

AC chainmailLike most museums, the armory had a firm “do not touch” policy, but they also had a hands-on table where visitors could actually touch chain mail. Of course I did.

There was more to this trip than just the experience of feeling those links of iron that served as the medieval knight’s version of Kevlar. One of the docents gave a lecture in which he mentioned the hazards of helmets. Not only did the knights have a very limited field of vision because they were looking through narrow slits, but the helmets themselves retained body heat. Remember the adage, “If your feet are cold, put on a hat.”? It’s because our heads serve as radiators, dissipating heat. With helmets firmly in place, knights did not lose much body heat. To the contrary. What I discovered that day was that dehydration and heat prostration were as dangerous to a knight as an opponent’s sword.AC helmet

I was fascinated and couldn’t wait to share those details with my readers. But before I did that, I wanted to experience wearing a helmet. After the lecture, I stayed behind and asked the docent if I could possibly wear the helmet he’d been using. He agreed.

What an adventure that was! Even though I’d listened to his lecture and knew that I would be hot and could see only a small portion of my surroundings once I buckled on the helmet, actually wearing it was even more confining than I’d expected. I was almost claustrophobic with that iron helmet on my head. And when he tapped my head with the sword that I hadn’t been able to see coming because of my limited field of vision, well … Let’s just say that my respect for those knights of yore increased exponentially.

My experience with museums has been that I always learn more than I expect. That was true at the armory and again when I caught an incurable case of carousel Carousel horsefever and visited the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Connecticut. My primary goal was to see some of the most elaborate carousel horses, including some by famous carver Marcus Illions, and I accomplished that.

“One Little Word,” my novella in the Sincerely Yours collection, includes details that I learned that day.  But, as they say on those TV infomercials, there’s more. One of the other exhibits showed how a horse was carved and pointed out that although the horse may appear to be solid, its middle is actually hollow.  I wish I had Ann’s talent for crafting a mystery, because I think it would be fun to have a treasure hidden inside a carousel horse.

Museums are wonderful places to do research, but they’re not the only places I go. When I started writing my Texas-set books, I wanted authentic details about the Hill Country. I’d lived in Texas as a young child and had visited the Hill Country several times, but I needed a refresher course if I was going to make those books as realistic as possible. Time to pack a suitcase and load the carAC texas.

The goal of this trip was to experience the countryside, to learn what kinds of plants and trees my characters would encounter, to see whether the air was dry or humid, to listen to the birds – in other words, to immerse myself in the Hill Country itself. Here’s one of the scenes I discovered in historic Castroville. Not only was I able to see the type of construction that had been used when the town was founded, but I could see what kinds of grasses and trees the early settlers might have encountered. Mission accomplished! I could now give readers a realistic description of the Hill Country.

Could I have learned all this from a book or from searching the Internet? I doubt it. That’s why I’m such a fan of hands-on research. The question is, have I convinced you?

Thanks, Amanda, for a look at how you do research. You’ve convinced me. I think you need to come research for me! Very impressive! Now here’s some information about Amanda’s latest release, On Lone Star Trail. You can imagine Amanda with a campfire and marshmallows to get it all just right.

 

On Lone Star TrailOn Lone Star Trail

A woman without a future. A man running from the past.

One enchanting place where broken dreams are mended.

If there’s one thing Gillian Hodge never wants to see again, it’s a man on a motorcycle. Her last encounter with one left her right hand crushed, ending her promising career as a concert pianist. Unsure about the next phase in her life, she heads to Rainbow’s End Resort for some R&R when a sudden thunderstorm causes a motorcycle to crash right in front of her.

When TJ Benjamin’s wife died, he lost more than his best friend; he lost his faith. He has spent the past year wandering the country on his motorcycle, trying not to think about the future. When he finds himself stranded with a busted bike and a reluctant rescuer, he has to wonder about God’s sense of humor.

As these broken people collide, they find that a bright future is still ahead—it just might not be the one they imagined for themselves.

Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of more than thirty novels including the Texas Dreams trilogy, the Westward Winds series, the Texas Crossroad trilogy and Christmas Roses. A former director of Information Technology, she has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages.  Amanda is delighted to now be a fulltime writer of Christian romances, living happily ever after with her husband in Wyoming.

Find out more about Amanda and her books at Amanda’s website. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or check out her blog.

Giveaway – Sincerely Yours

Sincerely YoursAmanda has graciously offered to give away a print copy of Sincerely Yours, that includes Amanda’s story with the carousel horse background. To enter the drawing leave a comment on her post here. For fun, tell us about when and/or if you rode a carousel. The last time I was close to a carousel, I didn’t ride on the pretty horses, but I bought tickets for my two granddaughters to ride. They had never been on a merry-go-round. Grammy couldn’t let them miss that experience! Deadline for entries is midnight EST May 7, 2016. You must be 18 to enter. USA entrants only.

As always, thanks for reading.

Comments 44

  1. Dave Barkey

    Thanks Amanda for the nudge on research. I do enjoy discovering information essential to developing a novel. But it can seem like a delay to getting on with the story. Patience is indeed a virtue when it comes to crafting the story correctly while engaging the reader effectively.

    In regard to carousel horses, at the stage I am in life, the carousel is about the only ride I can survive without getting dizzy. I recall a few years ago going through Buffalo, Wyoming, there was a studio where carousel horses thrived. Are you familiar with the place?

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      Ann H Gabhart

      I’m with you, Dave, on sticking with the carousel rides. A few years back I went to the fair with some church kids and they talked me into one of those spinning rides. Big mistake!!

      Amanda does set a high standard for research. Actually right now I’m writing a book and I keep thinking I need to learn more. But then I need to write the book too. There does come a time when you have to do the writing. Amanda manages that just fine.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Dave — There’s no denying that research takes time, and there are times when writers use research as an excuse for not actually writing. Like most things in life, it’s a balancing act.

      As for the carousel in Buffalo, it was closed when I tried to visit it a few years ago. I’ve heard that it might be reopening, but as far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet.

  2. Bonnie Rubio

    Thank you Ann and Amanda for this delightful, informative article! My husband and I love to travel and learn new things along the way. Even if we visit an area numerous times, we learn new things every time. We also lived in New England for a number of years; so your article brought back many wonderful memories! I feel as though I’ve been on vacation today, Thanks!

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      Ann H Gabhart

      What a nice thing to say, Bonnie. We can all use those vacation moments. I’m glad you enjoyed Amanda’s post. I think I need to start doing some museum hopping. It’s a great place to get ideas.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Bonnie — Isn’t it fun to learn new things even when you return to a familiar place? I find that’s one of the joys of travel. There’s always something new to discover.

  3. marilyn leach

    Amanda, I can just picture you in the helmet. I’m in your “court” when it comes to hands-on and being there for research. Thanks for an entertaining blog. Cheers

    1. Amanda Cabot

      Marilyn — The helmet was quite an experience! So, too, was visiting a cotton mill in Lowell, MA. Even though they had only one loom operating instead of the normal dozen or so, the noise was deafening. I’m so glad I didn’t work there.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Actually, Marilyn, I was gasping for breath just thinking about wearing that thing. I think I’m going to suffocate if the cover gets over my nose. LOL. But Amanda does know how to do that hands on research. Glad you enjoyed her post.

  4. peggy clayton

    Wow i remember being about 5 mo pregnant with my 2nd child and we went to Santa Cruz right after getting out of the hospital for pnemonia, Well i was sick all the way down and then we got there and it cheered me up right away. The we got to the carousal and the kids wanted to ride it. There were 3 other adults besides me and i just sat and watched all the pretty hand painted horses go around and it made me feel so good, it was also so much fun to see the kids throw the rings into the mouth as they went around they were having alot of fun and i was enjoying what was going on. It was a great day for all of us and i wish it could of lasted longer!

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      Ann H Gabhart

      I always love it when you share happy memories, Peggy. Glad you had that good day for you and the kids after your bout with pneumonia. There is just something special about carousels and sometimes we’re simply gifted with a really fun time.

  5. Grace

    I love the details that can be written into a story when the author has done “on site” research. It gives me, as a reader, the feel like I am there in the story. (Street names, landmarks, how things smell or feel, etc.) Thanks for sharing.

    1. Amanda Cabot

      Grace — Those details — what some authors call “telling details” — are what I love when I’m reading a book. That’s why I try to include them in my books.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      That’s what writers want to hear, Grace, that they felt like one of the family with the characters and like they where “there.” I’m sure you’ll feel that way with Amanda’s stories after all the research she does.

  6. Pam K.

    It has been long time since I rode a carousel. I’ve read a couple of Amanda’s books. I appreciate all the research she and other authors do to get the details right. Thanks for the giveaway.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Research can open up so many unexpected story lines for an author, Pam. That’s the extra bonus the writer gets from research. That and sort of tuning your mind into a different era. I missed the research when I wrote my contemporary novels, but then I had to do a different sort of research. More in depth into my character and what was happening in his or her life.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Oh, Pam, you need to get on a carousel again. Admittedly, they’re not the most comfortable things in the world to ride, but they’re so much fun!

  7. Shelia

    The carousels were my favorite as a child.
    The up and down of the horses going round and round were so fun. And the music that came from them sent my heart soaring.
    Its been over 45-50 years since I rode one last but I still think of them when remembering my happy childhood memories.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      That’s the way our good memories from childhood are suppose to be, Shelia. Something that makes us smile and relive that happy time in some way. You made me see you riding that merry-go-round. I know you were cute with that big smile.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Shelia —
      I think one of the reasons carousels are such an enduring part of American culture is that they remind us of our childhood. Did you know that the first horses were “standers,” meaning that they didn’t go up and down? That action was added later, as was the ring machine, where riders tried to catch the brass ring that would give them a free ride.

  8. Joy Hannabass

    Thank you Ann and Amanda! Two authors that’s on my ‘favorites’ list!
    I love carousels, in fact I have a unique one that my mom gave me for Christmas one year! I’ll always cherish it! Enjoyed hearing how you research your books, Amanda! Very interesting!
    And thanks for the giveaway. I would love to read Amanda’s story!

    Blessings. Joy
    ibjoy1953 at yahoo dot com

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Well, thanks, Joy. I like being on readers’ favorites lists. I’m assuming your carousel is a small one and not one you set up out in the yard for the kids. 🙂 My sister-in-law has one she puts out at Christmas that spins and lights up. Very pretty. Glad you enjoyed Amanda’s post.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Joy — Like Ann, I’m delighted to be on your favorites list, particularly since Ann is also on that list. She’s one of my favorite authors, because no matter what kind of book she writes — Shaker, mid-century American, mystery — she delivers a wonderful story.

      Tell us more about your carousel.

  9. Margaret Nelson

    I enjoyed reading this. I can’t remember the last time I got to ride a merry-go-round. When I was growing up, there was one in a regional park we lived by, and the parents of one of my schoolmates ran it. The school friend had his birthday party there, and we all got unlimited rides!

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      Ann H Gabhart

      So everybody wanted to go to that kid’s birthday party, I’m guessing, Margaret. Sounds as if you might not have ridden one for a while, but that you have good memories of merry-go-rounds.

  10. Kate Jones

    The carousel has always been my favorite ride. I had many opportunities to ride them growing up. As an adult I would accompany my children when they were very young but only had an opportunity to ride a horse as an adult at the Cbildren’s Museum in Indianapolis a few years back when I was in my 60’s. The experience had not changed! I’m glad that Ann took this opportunity to introduce me to a new Christian author. I am looking forward to reading your books.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Great, Karen. I know you’ll enjoy Amanda’s stories. With all that great research, it’s no wonder she gets great reviews. I’m glad you got a chance to ride the carousel again and enjoyed it still. The carousel is so pretty with the horses and mirrors and lights and then there’s the music. It just sounds like county fair time.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Karen — Thanks for telling me about the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Although it’s been many years since I was a child, it sounds like a place I need to put on my “must see” list — maybe on my way to Kentucky to visit Ann.

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  11. Kirsten Rinehart

    Last time I was around a carousel was last summer. My favorite part of the carousel is the different types of horses. My favorite are the black ones

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      Ann H Gabhart

      I remember always rushing to get the horse I thought was prettiest when I was a kid on the carousel, Kirsten. I know I would have picked a black horse too because they’ve always been my favorites. Maybe because I loved the book, Black Beauty when I was young.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Kirsten — How interesting that the black ones were your favorites. One of the carousel operators I interviewed when I was doing research told me that children avoided them. I don’t know why, especially since, as Ann says, Black Beauty is a perennial favorite book.

  12. Britney Adams

    How interesting, Amanda! I certainly think hands-on research helps bring stories to life. My children love to ride the carousel , so it’s one of our first stops at the county fair each year. Thanks so much for the giveaway opportunity!

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Good luck in the giveaway, Britney. All that great research of Amanda’s shows up in her stories. I always encouraged my kids to ride the merry-go-round at least once. But when they got older they wanted the upside down roller coasters. Not me! 🙂

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Britney — I don’t remember carousels at the county fair when I was growing up, but I do remember them at firemen’s picnics. The great thing about the firemen’s picnics was that they were much closer to home. I could even walk there.

  13. Melanie Backus

    Thank you for this great post and wonderful giveaway. I think carousels are so pretty and use to love to ride them but as I have gotten older, the”go around” motion makes me very nauseous. In fact, my husband is the only one that can take it so he rides with the grands.

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      Ann H Gabhart

      Well the spin around might bother me too, Melanie. It’s been a while since I tried one. My granddaughters were old enough to ride by themselves last year. I just waved at them every round. They had fun.

    2. Amanda Cabot

      Melanie — You definitely don’t want to ride the carousel in the Little Rock zoo. It’s called “over the jumps” and in addition to going around, you go up and down as if you were climbing hills. I haven’t ridden that one, but a friend who did, said it was only for people with strong stomachs.

  14. Susan Wilson

    Amanda seems like a super interesting author! I can’t wait to read one of her books. I absolutely love carousel horses and I ride the brass ring carousel at a semi-local amusement park, called Knoebels, whenever we go there!

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      Ann H Gabhart

      The carousels were always fun for me too, Susan. I’m glad I got old enough to not think I was too old to ride the merry-go-round. Probably the only ride other than maybe the Ferris wheel I’d consider trying these days. I never caught the brass ring though. Have you? I hope you will give Amanda’s books a try. I think you’ll like her stories.

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