When in the midst of writing a new story, I tend to do what I call ‘live-action’ research to make the settings seem very real. This is where I get to live a little piece of the story, just to make sure I’m getting things right. It’s my favorite part of ‘research’!
In the case of my first book in September 2014 (I write for kids ages 6-9), Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch, we visited a local pumpkin patch, and found our way through the dizzying corn maze, just as the characters do in the book. It was harder than it looked! I had already written and published this story by the time I did that particular ‘research’, so the timing was a bit off. But the setting was easy to conjure in my head because I based the story on a similar pumpkin patch that we’ve visited since the kids were very little. Year after year, my husband found us a giant pumpkin at the farm there, (80-120 pounds!) just as in the book. Some years he even threw out his back. Every year we tried out the petting zoo, the scavenger hunt, and the hayride, just as the kids (and Rosco, the dog) do in the book. So my memories served easily without the mid-writing research.
Finalizing my next book, Rosco the Rascal In the Land of Snow, we booked a cabin in the mountains for a weekend stay in January. We were going to take a ski trip anyway, so it just made good sense as far as I was concerned. We traipsed around in the snow, enjoyed the wintertime scenery, built a snowman, even visited an animal sanctuary where there were coyotes like I’d written about in the book. (We also taught the kids to ski, but that’s another story). Another successful ‘live-action’ research trip! I knew I’d gotten my details right, including the long, winding drive up the mountain.
My latest Rosco the Rascal adventure (still in progress but coming in summer 2015) takes place at a summer camp. So this past weekend the family and I packed up the sleeping bags and pillows and headed to a beautiful camp in the mountains nearby that hosts several Family Camps throughout the year. This one had a Mother’s Day theme, complete with a beautiful Sunday brunch and a gift-craft for the kids to make. Entire families get to stay in the cabins (in their own rooms), eat at the cafeteria style dining hall, sing the goofy camp songs, row the canoes, roast the marshmallows around the fire, and play like a kid again. (What a great idea, these family camps sweeping the country in the past several years, especially for those of us who refuse to accept our age!) We found ourselves shooting archery; playing a team quiz game that involved not just answering trivia but also my son in a contest as to who could chew up a cracker and be the first to whistle – he didn’t win, and it’s harder than it sounds, but that story won’t make it into the book; taking a counselor-led night hike, in the rain, sleeping in a bunk bed in a squeaky, old cabin, and hiking over squeaky wooden bridges alongside stunning scenery. My kids fell in love with the place and can’t wait to go there for sleep-away camp. What could be more fun for an ex-camp counselor, after all? I was in my glory. ‘Research’ is never better than this!