Research Tips ~ Tricia Goyer

TRICIA GOYER is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels. She lives with her husband and three children in Arkansas.

Tim Cahill once said, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Of course, the BEST journey is when you can take a good friend over the miles with you … and research novels in the process!
My friend and co-writer Ocieanna and I have researched and written two novels together over the last few years. Both novels started with a glimmer of an idea, two packed suitcases, and a desire to make history come to life within the pages of our novels.
Our first novel, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana took us to Lonesome Prairie, of course, which is near Fort Benton, Montana. A month prior to our visit, we contacted the Fort Benton historical society.
TIP: Whether you travel to your research destination or not, a local historical society is a great place to find eager volunteers and great information about your novel’s setting.
When we arrived at Fort Benton, we met a great volunteer, Hank, who provided information about Lonesome Prairie and helped us make copies out of research books. Hank also told us about an elderly gentleman Keith Edwards whose parents were some of the first settlers in Lonesome Prairie. We decided to give Keith a call to see if he was available to talk.
TIP: Follow up on leads. It may seem strange calling someone out of the blue, but most of the time people love talking about their lives and sharing information.
Our interview with Keith turned out to be the highlight of the trip! At 93-years-old his mind was sharp and he told story after story about his growing up years. Many of his stories made it into the pages of our novel.
After interviewing him, we loaded Keith up in the car and drove to the former homestead site where Lonesome Prairie took place.
TIP: When researching go on-site if possible and take everything in, not only the sights but also the scents, the sounds, and the feel of the place All this will help you bring the place to life in the pages of your novel.
Because we had such a great time on our first trip Ocieanna and I were excited when we got to do it again. For Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington we traveled to Seattle to research Rosie the Riveters during WWII. We interviewed five women who had been former riveters. We also travelled to the Boeing Air and Space Museum where we received help from their research librarians.
TIP: One of the best places to find information is in periodicals of the day. Look in magazines, ads, and read advice columns from the time your book is set. Remember, it’s the little details that make a big difference.
Speaking of the little details, one last benefit of researching with a co-writer is that you both come away with unique insights and perspectives. Teamwork brought our books to life … and made the journey double the fun!

Following Jesus

Anita Mellott homeschools and blogs “Words of Encouragement and Hope” at
From the Mango Tree. Her book of devotionals for homeschooling parents will be released by Judson Press in late summer 2011.

“But Peter followed him at a distance…” Matthew 26:58

The rush hour traffic inched along bumper to bumper. Though I had factored in enough time, I couldn’t help glancing at the clock on the dashboard every few minutes.

After allowing a couple of cars to enter the stream of traffic at a McDonald’s entrance, I moved in to close the gap. The nose of a beaten-up, once grey Honda Civic shot out of McDonald’s and began to edge its way between our van and the SUV in front of us—space I didn’t think existed.

“What’s he doing?” I gasped as I hit the brakes and my tween screamed.

Trapped, I held my breath waiting for the sickening crunch of metal on metal. My grip on the steering wheel relaxed as the car squeezed through and made a sharp turn into the next lane. I exhaled.

“That was close, Mom.” My tween’s voice broke the heavy silence.

I nodded and glanced at her in the rear view mirror.

We drove on, my mind still on the incident. “Didn’t I close up the gap? Yet, it was large enough to let a car, even a tiny one sneak in.” After a few minutes, Matthew 26:58 flashed through my mind, “But Peter followed him at a distance….” New thoughts probed. “Is there a distance between Jesus and me? If I followed Him closer, would there be room for doubts and fears? How would my life—my writing and my homeschooling change—if I followed close behind?”

Life’s currents often sweep me along. Schedules, deadlines, and to-do-lists drive me, at times against my will. I begin to fall further behind my Lord. Before I know it, there’s a glaring chasm. Yet, the Master bids me to abide in Him (John 15:4). That implies a deep communion, a closeness of relationship—one that leaves no space for distance to develop.

“Lord, help me follow so close behind You that when You stop, we collide.”

Which is Better, the Author or the Book?

Two weeks ago my husband and I were having dinner with another couple when the four of us decided we should read each other’s top ten books. Before we knew it, we were making lists of books, trying to decide what book truly deserved a spot on our individual lists and what book didn’t.

We made an interesting discovery. Most of our favorite books weren’t written by our favorite authors. That fact shocked us. Apparently there are some authors (like Corrie Ten Boom) who I’ll purchase every book of theirs that I can find, and yet not one of there books is on my top ten list—and then there are authors who wrote amazing books (like Peace Like a River or The Lovely Bones) but I’ve never followed up on the author’s next work.

Was this just a strange phenomenon for us, or is this true for you?

Guest Blog ~ Andy Meisenheimer

What are you doing to develop your writing craft?

by Andy Meisenheimer

Hi, I’m Andy Meisenheimer. Some of you may remember me from such careers as “Acquisitions Editor at Zondervan” or writing conference appearances such as “Editor Willing to Look at Speculative Fiction”. Now you might know me as a freelance editor and writing coach, working with publishers and writers everywhere.

A few things are different when you’re working freelance—and I don’t just mean that now I have a corner office with a window and and I don’t have to beg an IT department to let me have a Mac instead of a PC. I mean: I used to have authority to speak into a writer’s work because I could also turn around and try to publish them; now I am just a guy with an opinion who might know what he’s talking about.

But one thing hasn’t changed since I joined the outside: Everyone needs an editor.

What an editor does

Once I saw on an author’s blog “everyone faces an editor”—which is like saying “everyone faces exercise” or “everyone faces vitamins and minerals” because everyone needs an editor. Not just a copyeditor, either, to keep you from homophones and missing quotation marks. Everyone needs an editor who will help them take a step back and see the manuscript from the reader’s perspective. The job I do is just as important as it was before, even if I am not a part of the acquisitions process anymore.

In fact, I am more free now than ever to help writers become the best writers they can be, and shape their manuscript into the best manuscript it can be. I’m no longer tied to the certain needs or styles or genres that defined the house I was working for. I won’t ever say “that’s brilliant, but I can’t help you.”

Now I get to help writers develop themselves toward a new publishing future. Today’s publishing world is changing—and it’s becoming harder as a new novelist to break your way into traditional publishing. Editors aren’t looking for writers they can develop, they are looking for writers who have already developed themselves. So the question I have for you today is: what are you doing to develop yourself as a writer?

Maybe you haven’t considered professional editorial feedback—maybe because you aren’t quite sure how something like that works. But it does work; even New York Times bestselling authors have their coaches and editors they continue to work with. To get noticed in the increasingly competitive world of publishing, you have to make sure you’re presenting the best product you can. And many aspiring writers are moving past the peer critique level, the writer’s groups and online forums, and on to professional feedback.

Working with an editor

So how exactly does one work with an editor (or writing coach or manuscript consultant)—especially when you’ve hired this editor to coach you on your own dime? It turns out the dynamics aren’t all that different, as long as both have the same goal: making the manuscript the best manuscript it can be.

The editor’s goal is to help the writer see the effect of their words on the reader. The best editors, in my opinion, are there only to alert the writer—not to solve, or to suggest, or to do the creative work for the writer—but to say “this is off” or “you can do better”. Sometimes I pose a solution or suggest something, but I am always doing it as a form of “editorial surprise”—so that the writer is inspired not necessarily to use my idea but to synthesize the two, discover a new idea, a third way which is often even better than I could have imagined.

My job is to coax the best out of you.

Which can be difficult for the writer to embrace. It’s not easy to look at something you’ve crafted through so much sweat and tears and see it differently. See it for how the reader will see it. But that’s the editor’s job—to kick you in the pants and say “that’s not how it looks from out here!”

One of my authors says that when I point something out as weak, he either cuts it (knowing I’m right) or re-doubles his efforts to make it work. I think that’s a great response to editorial feedback. If your editor says “this isn’t right” then maybe it’s time to really dig in and make that thing work. Ask questions. Find out more details on what exactly it is that your editor feels isn’t quite right. The other day my four-year-old son was riding his bike in circles in the garage when I asked him to stop for a moment. He refused, riding faster and faster, and when I asked him to stop again, he begged to keep riding. Finally I said, “did you forget how to brake?” and he cried, “Yes!” Sometimes when authors press me for details, it helps us both pinpoint the problem more accurately and come up with solutions.

And don’t be afraid to push back—not stubbornly, but with curiosity. I find myself at times saying “you know what, you’re right, forget that note” when my writers, realizing that I’m on their side, counter something I say with their perspective on the topic. Because everyone, even an editor, needs an editor.

Final thoughts

Because the editor-writer relationship is so important, make sure you get a chance to sample the work that will be done on your manuscript—kind of like ice cream samples at your local creamery. Except they probably won’t be free. The editorial firm I work with has a $35 introductory critique where one of our editors reads through your first few pages—the pages that have to be good if you want to hook an agent, acquiring editor, or reader—and gives you candid, objective feedback. This way you get a taste of the editorial style of the editor you’d be working with before you make any commitments.

One of our clients recently discovered a strange phenomenon—when asked what she was doing next for her writing career, she said “I’ve hired a freelance editor.” No one could understand why she would do something like that, until she started answering, “I’ve hired a writing coach.” Suddenly: “wow, what’s a writing coach do?” She explained the editorial process on her manuscript and everyone was in awe. When I was growing up, I took piano lessons, and no one was surprised when my parents hired a piano teacher instead of a freelance musical performance consultant.

There may be small differences in titles, but the goal is the same—improving your writing and your manuscript so that you have the best chance of catching the eye of an agent, a publisher, and most importantly, a whole bunch of readers.

Andy Meisenheimer is a freelance editor, writing coach, and manuscript consultant. He is on staff at The Editorial Department, an editorial firm founded in 1980 by Renni Browne, co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. He lives in Michigan with his best friends: namely, his wife, kid, and two dogs.