It had been awhile since I’d spent time with my friend, Suz. She fractured her shoulder three weeks ago, but I thought maybe she’d like to get out of her apartment. My fingers tapped out a message to her—”Hey, I’m thinking of attending an author’s panel. Elaine sent out an invite, she’s on it. Do you feel like going?”
Suz—”I’d love to! But I need to see if my driver’s in town. I think she’s gone this Saturday.”
Me—”Is your shoulder healed enough to take a long ride in the car? If so, I can pick you up.”
Suz—”Yeah, I have a sling. That would be great!”
Me—”I have one question that I really need answered. I’m a novel novice. I need help.” Twelve of my short stories are published, but my challenge with writing a novel is how to pull a plot together, how to be cohesive, consistent…okay, everything feels difficult. Then, my novel will be historical. Much harder due to research and accuracy.
And so we made our plans. I’ve been writing since 2015, and Suz is new to our critique group. No matter how long you’ve been wielding the written word, there’s more to learn.
We arrived at a community library, where an employee ushered us into a classroom. We greeted our author friend, Elaine Faber, a Cozy Mystery author. Someone had set up a snack and drink table. I selected a red velvet cupcake for me and a chocolate oatmeal cookie for Suz.
The authors displayed their books, and we had a minute to chat with them. Three authors, all wrote in different genres. Author Gini Grossenbacher, historical fiction writer and Author Margaret Van Steyn Duarte, who writes visionary fiction.
Benefit number one. Contact with other writers.
Benefit number two is time to ask the authors about their work. They tell you about themselves, their ideas, and their thoughts. Good conversation.
“It’s time to begin, if you’ll take your seats,” a library employee announced. “Grab a goodie or a drink if you’d like.” First thing I did.
All the authors encouraged the audience, shared their hearts and vision, and gave us a variety of tips. They graciously gave us jewels of wisdom. A few examples from my notes—
Elaine—My characters just appear. Watch and listen. They are always with me.
Margaret—Every author’s road to publication is different. Don’t go by someone else’s journey.
Gini—Victory is when a reader asks the author, “When does the next book come out?”
The panel’s two hours ended. Our host stood as we clapped. “It’s time for questions. Anyone?”
“I have one.” My hand jerked up, for the one brain-burning question. “I think it’s for Gini? I need to know how to do research. My novel begins in 1846 and I don’t know much about that era. I have family photos, documents, letters, and even stories, but I need facts.”
Gini smiled. “You do need to be accurate about the era’s social and religious customs, and even politics. I teach a class, and I can send you my list of questions to ask about the era. Just email me.”
It was that simple, the one question about what tools to use for research, and she gave me the answer. Remember, always ask your question or you won’t ever get an answer.