Research Methods and The Trails of Reba Cahill – Interview by Connie Sue Larson
Connie Sue: What kinds of research methods did you use for Wind in the Wires?
Janet Chester Bly: Research methods for Wind in the Wires involved quite an adventure for me when I took a trip by car alone from the Camas Prairie in Idaho (where I live) to Goldfield, Nevada. Over 1,500 miles round trip. It’s the same trip a number of the characters took in a caravan of cool cars. This included a very dusty side trip down an unpaved, little used road from Goldfield to Silver Peak. Goldfield, Nevada was also the setting for hubby Stephen Bly’s Skinners of Goldfield series. Descriptions of the landscape and especially the desert scenes in the book Wind in the Wires come straight from my first-hand notes. I appreciated readers comments about how real it seemed in their minds, though they had never been there. And though I didn’t experience a flash flood myself, I heard from others along the trail what it was like in a flash flood in a Nevada desert canyon.
Additional research methods …
— made a list of the chronology of events in 1991, including politics, science, music, movies, famous people antics, etc. So handy for knowing the climate of the times and
for those moments in the story when your characters add a tidbit to the conversation or need something to do.
— studied the Nez Perce Indian war for background on the Thomas Hawk family characters and how to sing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” in the Nez Perce language.
— looked up history and value of squash blossom necklaces.
— found out how to drive a Ford Model T. Went to a car show. Watched videos on the internet. Interviewed owners, one of whom said, “You need to get a T of your own, now that you know so much.”
— watched a lot of Cold Case TV shows about cold case murders.
— made crude reference drawings of town layouts, street names, lakes and rivers, etc.
— blueprints of houses used most often, including key furnishings.
Connie Sue: Did you use more research methods for Book 2, Down Squash Blossom Road?
Janet Chester Bly: I was able to use quite a bit of material from the research in Book 1, Wind in the Wires.
More research methods included …
— printed out pictures of what the characters look like and tacked them to a board. Sometimes use known people for this, such as actors or singers.
— more detail about ranch life, coyotes, and cows getting slaughtered, which included interview with a local rancher and finding out a typical daily routine.
— study of bi-polar issues.
— more squash blossom necklace detail, including the squash blossoms on living plants.
— study of culture of Greeks in America, their family life and business issues, as Reba enters into her best friend Ginny George’s world.
— talked with my hair stylist about developing a new product for Reba to make her hair curly instead of straight without a perm. Called it “Curly Cue” and Reba agrees in a weak moment to become a test case user. Presents some humorous moments in the story.
— researched geography and atmosphere of Santa Barbara and Carpenteria, California which are the coastal settings for the fictional towns of Santo Domingo and Casa Tierra. Though I have been to the California coast many times, wanted to rely on more than memory for when Reba eventually travels there. Made chalk drawings of the coastline and city landmarks and the location of main character’s houses and businesses.
— found out best self-defense measures for a woman being attacked.
— looked up examples of wedding ceremonies and vows to use for an elderly couple.
— wanted to know how to fly a small plane, which I found out by reading magazines for plane owners.
— most unusual research this time had to do with a large oil slick buster that appears in the ocean for several scenes. Found the design for it in a 1990 Popular Mechanics magazine, which I purchased online.
Note: research methods for all three books in the series involved a study of Camperdown Elm trees, mutants first discovered in Dundee, Scotland. A few hundred trees
exist worldwide, some of which are at the University of Idaho campus, an hour from my home. Only a brief mention is made of the Camperdown Elm on the Cahill Ranch property in the first two books, but plays a big part in Book 3, which I plan to title, Beneath a Camperdown Elm.
Have you been to any of these places?
Done any of these things yourself?
Leave a comment and let me know ….