Okay – I’ll be honest. Part of the reason I write contemporary romantic suspense as opposed to historical is that I don’t have the time or inclination to do research. It’s not that I don’t enjoy history or investigating the past. And it’s not that I’m lazy – really. It’s simply that I’m already stretched so thin that I simply don’t have time. I own and operate a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn, and I’m a pastor’s wife in a different town, 85 miles away. I play the piano at church with a traveling band of musicians, and I’m very involved in the lives of my family. I write on the run whenever I have a spare second, often with my laptop propped on the door of the glove compartment while my husband drives us between our two homes. If I had to stop and do extensive research on a specific time period or worry about maintaining historical accuracy, I’m convinced I’d never finish anything.

BBI - Spring 2012  Zion 2013 Sunset shadows

To keep things simple, I try to write about locations I’ve been to or lived in, and occupations or fields I’ve worked in or been trained to do. I’m less likely to make silly mistakes that way. I’ve had characters who are Realtors (I’m licensed in the state of Colorado), interior designers, quilters, farmers, pastors, home renovators, and business owners in Minnesota, Iowa, California and Colorado – all things and places that are intimately familiar to me. No matter – it still takes an immense amount of time to research and validate facts, even for familiar scenarios.

Iowa - sunset 2010

Part of the problem is that my characters somehow seem to acquire minds of their own. Tommy Love giving up on building his dream house in northern Minnesota and buying a beachfront property in central California in “Love Notes” is one good example of a character who went traipsing off in different directions, pulling “my” story and stretching “my” plotline to include things that I never would have thought of on my own, and attempting actions and activities I’d never dare try. What could I do? I was invariably forced to follow his lead, searching for those tidbits of knowledge I was lacking to keep the story grounded and authentic.

Cal - Rachel SS

When I started writing “Blue Belle”, I had never been to Tobermory or the Isle of Mull, or even Scotland. When I finally set foot on the island, I had a strange sense of déjà vu because I was already so well acquainted with the place via the internet. One night, while I was sitting on a bench near the harbor, a woman walked by that looked exactly like I’d always envisioned Isabelle, my main character. It was eerie! I also had to change an entire scene that had Isabelle blithely scooting around Mull on her bicycle when I discovered how hilly the island is. It’s a very steep climb from the harbor street to the top of the hill where our B&B was!

67 Scotland - Tobermory 5

Scoping out a location is only the beginning. I spent almost an entire day researching European chocolates for Blue Belle. When I was in Mull, I even had to go to Tobermory Chocolates to taste their famous Rose and Violet Cream Chocolates. You know, so I could describe them accurately. I had to take tea at the Willow Tea Room in Glasgow, try Victoria Sponge with buttercream and berries and Mini-Battenbergs layered with almond paste, moist cake, and apricot jam, and sample Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce.  Not that it stops with the sweets. I had to taste pub grub – things like Cumberland Mash and Cottage Pie with  Thatched Roof  and Smoked Haddock Pie with Mashed Potatoes – at locations all over Scotland. And, I had to stay at several B&B’s so I could experience an authentic Scottish breakfast. Yes, we authors are forced to spend our time laboring over many such unsavory tasks. I spent a huge amount of time looking for Scottish slang, phrases, and speech idioms that would define and give depth and reality to my characters and their conversations, yet be understandable to the average American reader. I researched castles and keeps, Cromwell’s practice of slighting, and the art of building with stones in both Scotland and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

73 Scotland - Tobermory Chocolate

Isabelle is a journalist, so part of my research involved investigating the facts behind each of the stories she was working on in the book, from Mad Cow and hoof and mouth to puffins and vultures, a Celtic bathing pool, and the centuries-old gold some people believe is still buried on a sunken Spanish galleon in Tobermory Bay.

82 Scotland Bathing Pool

The thing I like least about research is that I’ve already learned some things the hard way, which, sadly, means I already know everything I need to know about them without doing a single Google search. The thing I love most about researching is that once you start looking for specific answers to certain questions, you discover amazing things that lead you in completely new directions that then become fodder for your plot, and on and on in an explosive chain reaction of knowledge. It’s fascinating!

WI2 - Thistle

One of the things I’ve always loved about reading books is the new worlds that are opened up to me as I see a place or situation through the eyes of each character. Being an author has stretched me even more. Research can seem like a necessary evil at times, and a thrill at others. But no matter how hectic my schedule is or how bad my attitude about having to jump out of the story and take the time to chase down facts and figures, research is a great opportunity to learn more things, broaden your perspective, and see the world in a different light.

117 Scotland Castle Statue

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