Hello! Thank you so much to Charlie for hosting me today! My blog tour for my novella Homespun is in full swing (’til Oct. 8), and today I’m going to talk about doing research. First, though, I’m doing a kinda nifty giveaway for my blog tour — if you comment on any of my blog tour posts, you’ll be entered to win a handmade scarf, knit or crocheted by me specially for you, in a style and yarn color that you get to pick! (This would also be a great holiday gift for someone else!) More details here: http://laylawier.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/scarf-giveaway/
Okay, that said … let’s talk about research, the writer’s bane! Or … in theory, it’s supposed to be. I remember a time, years ago, when I found research scary and intimidating. I hate to admit it, but it’s become one of my favorite aspects of writing.
… well, okay, I admit there are still times when research is a giant pain in the butt or scares the pants off me, but that’s usually when I have to talk to someone about their real-life experiences with the lurking fear in the back of my mind that they’re going to laugh at me for asking stupid (fiction-oriented) questions.
But! Research! It’s an excuse to buy shiny new books on topics you’re interested in, and read them and call it WORK! How awesome is that?
Above: a sampling of the books I bought to write Homespun. (At the time, I thought I was going to need a lot more resource material on sheep than I actually ended up needing. Well, now I have a lot of books on sheep.) And this is not including quite a few library books and some other books I bought for social flavor and character details — memoirs on the gay scene in late 80s/early 90s New York City and that kind of thing.
Besides reading a bunch of books, my research for Homespun also included a road trip across central New York state with my sister (which I talked about last week at Charley Descoteaux’s blog – http://cdescoteauxwrites.com/), a couple of guidebooks on New York, an atlas, blogs and websites of people who run actual sheep farms and knitting-supply companies in New York state … and more!
I am one of those people who goes slightly nuts about getting all the details right. There’s a very brief scene in Homespun in which Owen, one-half of the main pairing, gathers late-season wildflowers to create a romantic setting for his wedding proposal:
Owen knelt alongside the driveway, gathering asters, fleabane, and goldenrod from the late-blooming wildflowers around the edges of the yard. The kitchen windows faced the east pasture; Kerry shouldn’t be able to see him as long as he stayed on this side of the house.
… and yes, those are authentically wildflowers that would be blooming in late September/early October in open sunny fields in New York state. I Googled around until I found a website that listed blooming times for New York flowers, and later (when I was actually in Ithaca at my sister’s place) was able to obtain a guidebook at the Cornell university bookstore that had common New York plants with their blooming times.
(And if you happen to know that fleabane only blooms until mid-September in the Utica area, for God’s sake please don’t tell me. I may go mad, or drive my editor to distraction asking for a revision. *g*)
Here’s a descriptive paragraph near the beginning of the story:
Farm stands selling apples and grapes, pumpkins and cider and fall mums lined the rural highways of central New York state. The air smelled fresh, with hints of wood smoke and hay. As the sun sank toward the rolling hills, the day’s balmy warmth gave way to a sharp and biting chill, the first breath of oncoming winter. Kerry was a city boy to the core, but he had been coming back to this place for two decades—his entire adult life, give or take a few years—and it surprised him how many of the smells he recognized, how many of the crops in the fields he could name along with the colors he might use to paint them.
One of the things I did when I was visiting my sister was carefully note what was in season at the farm stands in early October. This is 100% accurate, at least for the Ithaca area.
I like to think I’m reasonably sane about it — that is, there’s a point beyond which I am aware that no one cares about details (I expect this is far past the point to which I actually research them), and a reader who is swept away in the story is not likely to be wondering things like, “If you crossbreed a Jacob sheep with a Border Leicester sheep, do you actually get a spotted crossbreed, or is she LYING TO ME?!”
On the other hand, one reason why I’m a fan of exhaustive research (besides obsessiveness *g*) is because you can often find some really cool details that add depth and authenticity to your writing — stuff you’d never have thought of looking up on your own — that makes it seem more real. For example, one thing I came across in my sheep-farm reading is the interesting little factoid that sheep farmers often keep a couple of aggressive herbivores like llamas and donkeys with their sheep in lieu of sheepdogs, to drive off potential predators like coyotes or stray dogs. How cool is that? So I ended up giving the Fortescues a guard donkey named Shasta rather than a sheepdog.
And there are also the things that you never thought to look up, or the things you never researched because you didn’t know that you didn’t know. One of my beta readers caught me in a really dumb mistake regarding the pitfalls Crisco as a personal lubricant. (Crisco, like all oil-based lubricants, dissolves condoms. THANK YOU ALLAN for saving me from looking like an idiot to anyone with the slightest modicum of safer-sex knowledge.)
Let’s throw the question out to the room! What are your thoughts on research — as a reader or as a writer? Are you the sort of person who is likely to notice that the writer put brass buttons in a Regency set in 1810 when “everyone” knows England didn’t have brass buttons until 1819 (example pulled entirely out of my ass; I would not have the first clue when brass buttons appeared in the historical record) or would you be unlikely to care if a B-52* bombs Queen Victoria’s coronation as long as the story is engaging?
*The airplane, I mean, not a member of the B-52s (the band). Although that would also be pretty interesting.
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novella/104 pages
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2013
For twenty years, Owen Fortescue, a down-to-earth farmer in upstate New York, has had an on-again, off-again relationship with volatile New York City artist Kerry Ruehling. Now that same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, Owen wants to tie the knot. But Kerry responds to the proposal with instant, angry withdrawal. Owen resolves to prove to Kerry that, regardless of the way his family of origin has treated him, family ties don’t necessarily tie a man down. With help from his grown daughter, Laura, who loves them both, Owen hopes to convince Kerry that his marriage proposal isn’t a trap, but a chance at real love.
Buy at Dreamspinner Press:
Layla M. Wier is the romance pen name of artist and writer Layla Lawlor. She was born in a log cabin in rural Alaska and grew up thirty miles from towns, roads, electricity, and cars. These days, she lives in Fox, a gold-rush mining town on the highway north of Fairbanks, Alaska, with her husband, dogs, and the occasional farm animal. Their house is a log cabin in a birch and aspen forest. Wolves, moose, and foxes wander through the front yard. During the short, bright Arctic summer, Layla enjoys gardening and hiking, and in the winter, she writes, paints, and draws.
Where to find Layla:
Stops and topics on the Homespun blog tour (Sept. 16-Oct. 8):
Monday, Sept. 16: Zahra Owens (http://zahraowens.com/) – autumn
Tuesday, Sept. 17: Tali Spencer (http://talismania-brilliantdisguise.blogspot.com/) – sharing passions
Wednesday, Sept. 18: RELEASE DAY! Party at the Dreamspinner Press blog!
Thursday, Sept. 19: Charley Descoteaux (http://cdescoteauxwrites.com/) – location scouting in central New York
Friday, Sept. 20: Chris T. Kat (http://christikat.blogspot.com/) – interview
Monday, Sept. 23: Charlie Cochet’s Purple Rose Tea House (http://purpleroseteahouse.charliecochet.com/) – doing research
Tuesday, Sept. 24: Helen Pattskyn (http://www.helenpattskyn.com/) – bisexuality in Homespun
Wednesday, Sept. 25: Garrett Leigh (http://garrettleigh.com/) – interview
Thursday, Sept. 26: Skylar Cates (http://skylarmcates.wordpress.com/) – rural life
Friday, Sept. 27: Madison Parker (http://madisonparklove.com/blog/) – interview + review
Monday, Sept. 30: Jessica Davies (http://jessicaskyedavies.blogspot.com/) – learning to spin, part 1
Tuesday, Oct. 1: Anne Barwell (http://anne-barwell.livejournal.com/) – learning to spin, part 2
Thursday, Oct. 3: Michael Rupured (http://rupured.com/) – writing respectfully from outside a subculture
Friday, Oct. 4: Jana Denardo (http://jana-denardo.livejournal.com/) – invading characters’ privacy
Monday, Oct. 7: SL Huang (http://slhuang.com/) – interview
Tuesday, Oct. 8: PD Singer (http://pdsinger.com/) – central NY photo tour