How Do Writers Research?

One year ago, my friend and I drove to Santa Fe, NM. We planned it as a research / vacation trip in the wonderful Southwest, with side trips to Taos and Red River.santa fe

Why Santa Fe? Because I knew that my main character, Reverend G, loved the Southwest and particularly Santa Fe. I also knew that I wanted to include something about that region in the third Reverend G book – which is still in its first draft stage.

So we drove to Santa Fe, enjoying the mountain scenery and the warmer weather. After a hard Kansas winter, we needed to soak up the sun as well as to soak in the culture.

Writers can, of course, do research on the internet. In fact, that’s where I started – looking up the main sites of Santa Fe. But the internet can only provide facts and stats for a region.

If you want to write credibly and make your stories real – you have to actually experience a region.

The writer needs to know how people communicate in a particular area, how characters dress and talk, what it feels like to stand in line at the Georgia O’Keefe museum and then spend several hours drinking in the colors and textures of her paintings.

The writer needs to discover new artists who craft incredible sculptures out of metal, pictures of women on horses that seem to fly through the studio, textiles that flap their colors in the wind.

The writer keeps a journal of the trip and gathers brochures, maps, postcards, photos wherever she goes. But the writer also records the emotions she feels, touring a particular city.

I wrote about our tour of the Plaza: “Native Americans spread out their creativity: jewelry on black mats, shining silver and bountiful turquoise, coral, copper bracelets, earrings, necklaces – nothing that Reverend G would buy but all of it – she would enjoy. The pottery – some with colors of the earth, some with the brightness of primary colors.”

We talked with tourists, but also with the locals – interesting blends of Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American and some Asians. Reverend G and I both loved the diversity of the Southwest.

These friendly people, women in broomstick skirts of various colors. Men with tanned and wrinkled faces. They seem to live an idyllic life where they have the freedom to leave workplaces and spend time with a writer from Kansas, to tell her how long they’ve lived in Santa Fe and why they moved out of corporate America to operate a coffee shop in New Mexico.

We ate at a little café with different colors painted on each wall – purple blended into orange, yellow beside red. Small salads with walnuts, salmon and bleu cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. Iced chai tea in tall glasses – spicy yet sweet and so refreshing.

So many variations of wildflowers, splayed in gardens along with buckets of pansies and Indian blanket daisies. A momentary wrong turn and we were lost, but then found in a rose garden at the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bathing our hot faces in the fountain that promised health. Snapping my promo picture while surrounded by lavender roses.

Statues of Mary everywhere and the creativity of God surrounding us. Worship all around us and in us as my friend played a Native American flute, and I wrote in my journal and savored the day.

The Loretto Chapel, famous for its spiral staircase. You can’t imagine what happens to Reverend G in the chapel, but you’ll have to wait for the third book to find out.

Although we smelled smoke from mountain wildfires, the resulting atmospheric change brought us colorful sunsets – a sacred end to a busy day.

We left a few sites for the next trip – whenever that will be. But I found enough material and soaked in enough of the Southwest to add to my book and make it credible.

How do writers research? They live in the area for a while. They let every one of their senses open fully to the people and the places where they exist. They look for the inner soul and the textures and colors around them. They listen for dialects and observe relationships. They take time to literally smell roses and meld new friendships. Then they come home, organize their notes and write about it.

And a year later – they wish they could return.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”