10 Tips for Effective Research Trips

Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of 24 books and
novellas. She is the author of the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse
Brides series from Barbour Publishing. Watch for her new books from Moody
Publishers, Texas Trails: A Morgan Family series, in which she partners with
Susan Page Davis and Darlene Franklin to write a 6-book series that spans 50
years of the Morgan family. The first three books release this fall. Also, next
year brings the release of another new series from Guidepost/Summerside,
Pioneer Promises, set in 1870s Kansas.

Leave a comment for Vickie and be entered in a drawing for
any book on her website. U.S. residents only, please.

Ten Tips for Effective Research Trips

I’ve just returned from my first cruise to the Caribbean. I
never dreamed a sunset could be so beautiful or the color of the water so
vivid. There was such an amazing difference in the houses of the poor, made
from tin or only partially built with people still living in them to the lavish
mansions of the wealthy with their beautiful flowers and fancy locked gates. 
When I visited Charleston several years ago, I was awed by the 300-year old
homes and buildings, especially when you consider I grew up in Oklahoma where
we just celebrated our centennial five years ago. The only thing we have that’s
300 years old is the land. 
In North Dakota, I was amazed by how the flat lands,
which seemed to go on for forever, suddenly turned into hilly mounds and then
the rugged, grassy Badlands.
Research trips are one of the best perks a writer enjoys.
Traveling to a place you want to write about makes your story more realistic
and alive. You’ll discover tidbits that you probably wouldn’t if you never
visited the area, and seeing it for yourself is so beneficial to learning the
lay of the land, the culture, flora and fauna of the area, and how the local
people of the speak and live. These this make your story authentic.
So, how do you prepare for a research trip?
11.     Know
what information you need and make a list. The last thing you want is to get
back home and realize you forgot to get info on something crucial to your
story.


22.     Research
the town or locale before you leave home.
            *View
online websites
            *Study
the history of the area
            *Decide
in advance which places you want to visit. Museums and tourist sites in small
towns are sometimes only open on certain days and for a few hours at a time,
because they are often staffed by volunteers. The last thing you want to do is
to make a trip somewhere and not be able to visit the sights you want to see.
Do I sound like the voice of experience here? Make a list of the sites you want
to visit, with addressees, phone numbers(so that you can call if you need
directions) and hours.
             *If
you’re a AAA member, get a tourbook of the state. They have some good
historical information as well as a listing of the main places to visit with contact
information, hours, and prices.
33.   Take
Good Notes. Document everything. Even though you think you’ll remember things,
once you get back home, minute details and impressions will slip your mind.
Most phones have a video recorder, which can be handy for places where you’re
not allowed to take photos, like some museums. If you tour a historical home,
you might want to record the tour guide, who usually gives lots of great info
about the family who lived there and the town’s history.
 
   4.   Be
sure to write down contact info and the names of the people you talked with
(get the correct spelling) in case you need to contact them again or want to
acknowledge them in your book when it comes out.          
  5.   Don’t
forget your camera. I take tons of pictures on research trips.(All the pictures
in this article are ones I’ve taken) Pictures of buildings, houses, waterways.
When I can take photos in a museum, I snap pictures of furniture, dishes, guns,
wagons—anything that represent the time period I plan to write about. Also take
pictures of the landscape, trees, birds, and flowers.


  6.   Talk
to the locals. They love to chat about their town and its history. Ask them
questions and ask if they can refer you to someone else in the know. If you
make a good connection with someone, you might also ask if they’d mind giving you
their email address is case you have questions later.              


  7.   Don’t
overlook college research centers. I visited the Carroll Library on the campus
of Baylor University in Waco to view part of The Texas Collection while
researching my books for the Texas Trails series. The workers their were
extremely helpful, and I found lots of fodder for my stories.


88.   Take
an envelope with you to keep all your receipts in. Those tiny buggers can
easily get lost and then you’ll lose a tax deduction. I also like to take a
letter size plastic envelop with a Velcro closure when I travel. I put all my
organizational papers, hotel reservation info, and maps in it so I can find
them easily.


99.   Visit
tourist information centers. You can find great maps there, information on
local sites, and sometimes historical info. The people who work in the centers
are often a wealth of information too.
 
110.  Have fun.
Take some time to do something just for fun. Don’t work your whole trip. Visit
a tourist site, see a local show, and enjoy yourself.
Did you know that if you’re actively working toward becoming
a published writer that you can deduct a chunk of your expenses when you take a
research trip? Be sure to check the laws in your state to know exactly what you
can and can’t deduct.
Long Trail Home
A weary soldier returns from the War Between the States to discover his parents dead, his family farm in shambles, and his fiancée married. A pretty, blind woman reaches through his scarred walls, but will the secret she holds ruin all chances for a future filled with love, faith, and family?