Research in the Trenches


By Betty Thomason Owens

Research is not limited to bookwork or Google searches. Sometimes, it’s hands-on. There are times when you need to go there. Choose an exotic locale for your next book, and you can write off a vacation in Bali. Okay, maybe not.

Research is not only necessary when writing historicals. And your setting is not the only reason to research. If your protagonist is a clerk at Walmart, or an associate at the Apple Store, this may require research, unless you or someone close to you has the experience. Maybe your main character wants to be a great chef. She needs the best schools and internship, a post-grad job in a world-famous restaurant. Research.

RoyaltyFreeImage-OrangutanA friend of mine used a zoo as a setting. Her MC inherited the zoo upon the death of her estranged mother. For her preliminary research, she worked alongside a zookeeper (or technician) for a day, scooping manure, preparing food, and whatever other chores were the daily requirement. Her careful research continued as she wrote. Questions arose and she jotted them down. These required a personal phone call to her contacts at the zoo. She made good friends along the way who later became readers and marketers of her book. Win-win!

Brainstorming can release ideas. Think of the coolest professions and locales (places you can go). Now, pinpoint one, and construct your story around it. Then launch out to do your research, answering all your questions. Remember to make connections on the job or at the locale so you can do follow-up as questions arise. This is research.

Research may be watching movies. It could require listening to music or going to a ballet, or visiting a historical site, such as a battleground or national park. Don’t just walk around and observe, take photographs, talk to the park rangers.

I made a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest and traveled down the West coast on Highway 101. I took dozens of photos and talked to people along the way. I don’t have a story with this setting yet, but it’s a possibility. I now have research to fall back on. I just have to go through the photos and look at my notes.

You can do research any time, even while waiting at the doctor’s office. Try listening to the conversations around you. Jot down the humorous or goofy things you hear. Sometimes you see things that amaze you. People leave their children unattended or have what should be a private conversation on their cellphone. These are definitely going into my notebook for later use.

Most important of all, be aware of your surroundings. You can drop a story anywhere, in any situation. You’ll bump into some wonderfully weird people out in the world, quirky characters to populate your novel. You never know when your next great idea will show up. Research is everywhere.

Leave a comment to be entered in this month’s contest. You can win a $10 Amazon gift card.

photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict) via photopin cc

photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

Jodie Bailey


Today we welcome Jodie Bailey, avid reader and life-long writer, to 3 Questions Wednesday.



(1) Do you watch reality television? Why or why  not?

Jodie: I’m not a fan of the crazy “drama” of reality TV, but I do love me
some Shark Tank and some Amazing Race. My family got hooked on
Duck Dynasty this summer. For the most part, though, I’m not a fan
of reality TV. It pretends to be reality when a lot of it is
editing and contrived situations. It gives kids a kind of twisted
view of reality that I don’t think straight up fictional TV does.
Can you tell I’m a teacher? 🙂

(2) What are your thoughts on  e-publishing?

Jodie: I’m of two minds. I will never, ever let go of physical books.
That’s a full on experience, touching and feeling and smelling a
book. But I love the convenience of my Kindle too. I think the
challenge of e-publishing is going to be maintaining quality
across the board.

 (3) Which do you prefer? Facebook or Twitter?

Jodie: It’s so much more of a social interaction. I LOVE seeing
what everyone is up to!

freefallcrossfireThank you, Jodie, for joining us on 3 Questions Wednesday! Jodie is offering a “win it before you can buy it” giveaway of Crossfire, which comes out 1/1/14 and a copy of Freefall in a drawing from comments given. So stop by and say hello!

Jodie Bailey is an avid reader and a life-long writer. When not tapping at the keyboard, she teaches middle schoolers how to love the written word. Jodie is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter.

A New Winner and a Correction

winner2We have a new winner on 3 Questions Wednesday. Drum roll please..Anita! You’ve won Bonnie Doran’s new book, Dark Biology! Congratulations…

Now for the correction. Jodie Bailey is joining us on 3 Questions Wednesday tomorrow and due to a glich in our blog [or possibly the administrator] I sent out the wrong post today. It’s been removed from the blog and the true post with the right questions will be here in the morning.

So please join us tomorrow as Jodie Bailey discusses e-publishing, reality television and her latest book and giveaway.


Jennie_JeromeSince forever I can remember my grandmothers telling stories about their families. As a child I was fascinated, as an adult I acquired a thirst for truth. Mainly because one of my grandmother’s stories seemed totally off the wall. Like our connection to Sir Winston Churchill. I mean seriously, how many people claim a connection to the Marlborough House? Just in case you don’t know, there are a lot of people. A lot.

So, I started digging. Researching, really. I started off with high hopes, and as I found pictures of Jennie Jerome, Churchill’s mother, and Celia Sandys, Churchill’s granddaughter, my hopes soared. There was a very strong resemblance between my aunt and Jennie and my mother and Celia. But as hard as I tried I couldn’t find the connection.

There were other stories. Like the one where my great great grandfather spent most of his adult life in an asylum because he was the son of a white man and an Indian princess. Or what about the one where my 3rd great grandfather killed King Strang, the one and only professed king in America. Strang actually believed he was to be Joseph Smith’s successor of the Mormon church, when Brigham Young won out, Strang broke from the church and set up a colony on Beaver Island, Michigan.

Harrison 'Tip' Miller and grandson

Harrison ‘Tip’ Miller and grandson

From all of my research, Strang was killed, supposedly because he had two young girls horsewhipped for wearing their skirts too long, now was it my great, great, great grandfather? Who knows, but I can tell you that he, a Mormon, married my Irish Catholic 3rd great grandmother. Their marriage caused her to disowned, so it makes one wonder if those rumors are true.

There was another story of my great great grandfather being killed by the mayor because he called the good man out for cheating at a game of cards. My grandmother told this story with such vehemence that it was hard not to believe. And if you ask my mother and her siblings they’ll all probably tell you that most likely the story is true, especially given a deck of cards weren’t allowed. Period!

After connecting with a distant cousin, she was able to send my a slew of newspaper articles from 1925 concerning the investigation. Seth Coleman Gates was a prominent figure in Ludington, Michigan. His parents, yes even his mother, had been sheriffs up in Benzie County, so to have their son involved with nefarious deeds had to have been an embarrassment, but  I’m sure they wanted to know the truth, which I don’t think anyone ever truly discovered. According to the articles, my great great grandfather died of an accident, but there were too many fishy things left unresolved, and parts of the investigation had been tampered with and eventually disappeared.

The neatest stories, which my grandmother did not tell, were the ones of my great, great grandmother’s tales of being the first female sheriff in Michigan as well as in Oklahoma. I was able to find articles on Google about some of her feats, even taking down a few river rats.

I’m sure you’re wondering how all this relates to writing and research. Well, I’ve discovered a lot of things while researching my ancestry. Like the occupations of my ancestors in certain western towns, the number of people living in their household or if they were boarders. When researching the Jeromes out of New York, I discovered a lifestyle of the rich and famous of the mid 1800s. When researching Harrison Miller, I discovered much about Irish immigrants in Michigan, as well as the first life saving station there in the mid 1800s, as well as lighthouse life, since Harrison was a lighthouse keeper.  Outside of the stories I’ve found war records, death pensions, Civil War diaries from both the North and the South.

The in depth research gives me a very rich and colorful insight into another life, one that I can use when it comes to writing historical fiction. You don’t have to research your own ancestors to discover a treasure trove, you can just do random searches on or

But I’ll warn you, it’s addicting. 😉

Leave a comment, one commenter this month will be entered in a drawing for a 10.00 Amazon gift card.