I was the guest of a book club earlier this week. They were very excited to meet “a real author”, so for the first little while, the conversation was all about how amazing it was that I’d written a whole book, and what a good story it was. Which is lovely, of course – everyone likes a little positive attention now and then. Eventually the topic turned to the book itself. Except for one, the ladies of the club weren’t fantasy readers, so Mad Kestrel was unknown territory for them. To my relief, they all said they’d enjoyed the story, and started asking the usual questions – how long did it take, how much did it cost to publish (ha ha!), and so on.
We eventually got to the subject of research. When I was working on the story, I read a great deal, and visited historic sites, even went on a couple of Pirate Walks in Charleston, SC. I spent time with pirate reenactors, to hear how they talked and what they talked about. I listened to shanties while I worked. I wasn’t trying to make my book historically accurate, just trying to capture a flavor. But that wasn’t the only kind of research I did. I also used my husband and son to help me visualize action scenes. For a while, fights were difficult for me to write, because I’d reach the climax of the conflict and realize, Hey, his elbow can’t be bending that way! or She’d need three legs to kick him like that. So I’d ask my husband and my son to slowly block out the scene as I read it. I could see where the blows were landing (or not) and what I needed to change. Just last week I acted out a scene myself with him, because I needed to know how much freedom of movement Kestrel might have if her arm was pulled up behind her back. I’m a visual learner, so this method works for me like nothing else can.
One day during the writing of Mad Kestrel, I was absolutely failing to make sense of a scene. Kestrel was running from soldiers, had an injured shoulder, and needed to jump down from a low roof (with a sword at her side) to make good her escape. Having suffered plenty of ankle injuries in my time, I knew she shouldn’t jump straight-legged. But for the life of me I couldn’t imagine how it would look if she leaped and rolled. Once again, here came the husband to help. He strapped one of our replica swords on his belt, climbed onto the roof of my Chevy Blazer, and leaped off four or five times, hitting the ground rolling. We learned that it would be better to let Kestrel drop the sword down first, but tucking into a roll position that protected the bad shoulder was easily accomplished. And once he’d let me see how it looked, I could write it.
So what crazy things have you done (or thought about doing, or strong-armed your family into doing for you) in order to rev up what you’re writing?