A Personal Journey Disguised as “Doing Research” II: Do Crazy Things

Hello again! Welcome to part two of this four-week series on the ways plain ol’ research can enrich your life as well as your novel. You can find the first installment here: Brain-Dead Brainstorming. Today we’re going to talk about possibly the most fun aspect of research … an excuse to do crazy things.

Ever Drove a Civil War Ambulance Wagon Before?


I drove this barouche once, too.

I have.

I’ve been doing living history for many years. The military re-enactment group I belong to is in possession of an ambulance wagon that was used in the Civil War. I’ve ridden in the wagon many times. (Impressive in its own right.) One day, I was sitting in the wagon with the driver and another passenger, and a thought flitted through my head.

No, I told myself. He’d never let you. I’ve never handled horses before in my life.

I was going to let the opportunity slip by, even though I really, really wanted to drive that wagon.

But then I told myself, “It’s for research.” I work on historicals now and again, and one of my modern-day novels is about horses. First-hand experience driving an actual team of draft horses could prove useful.

So I asked. “Hey, would you teach me how to drive the wagon?”

The driver looked skyward and chewed his mustache. Finally he patted the empty spot beside him on the driver’s seat. “Get up here.”

I was thrilled. He proceeded to show me how split reigns work, where to hold them, and how to plant my feet so the horses wouldn’t pull me right off the bench. That latter was the biggest surprise. Despite the warning, I almost ended up flying over the horse’s heads.

So if you ever have your wisp of a corset-wearing heroine gallantly whip up a team of horses–remember to have her plant her feet.

Just Say Yes.

Ever since that experience–one of the most memorable things that ever happened to me in my life–I’ve taken the position of just saying yes. No matter how hesitant I may be, or even how far-out or frightening the proposed experience looks. I’ve never regretted trying something in the name of research.

I even worked at a family-owned restaurant for four years because I have a series set at a family-owned restaurant and resort.

Better yet, I’m gradually racking up experiences that not only make for good novels–they also make for awesome brag rights during conversations. (Have you ever bruised your knee tripping over a drug dog in a graveyard at midnight? I have.)

What Do You Wanna Be When You Grow Up?

That was an easy question for me when I was a kid. I simply decided to be a writer so I could be everything. I realized early on that research was going to be a big part of my life as a writer, and I was thrilled. I could be a military ambulance wagon driver one day. A resort owner the next. A K9 handler the day after that. A writer is truly the jack of all trades.

I’m also discovering that there’s nothing to be afraid of for showing interest in somebody else’s occupation or pastime. They’re usually delighted to talk or show you around. They find it exciting to be interviewed by an author!

Homework Assignment

This is gonna be fun. You ready?

  • What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t because you were afraid or thought there were too many obstacles? Okay, now go do it. In the name of research. Then come back here and tell us all about it!

Conversely, if you’ve already done something crazy in the name of research, share it in the comments! We’d love to hear about it.

Next week, we’re going to talk about ways to use research to supplement your income and boost your novel promotion. Hope to see you then!

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