Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | March 2, 2012

The Real Thing

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Last weekend my sister and I happened into Langley, an artsy little town on Whidbey Island.  Tourists scurried about like cockroaches at a crumbfest, only in broad daylight.  A cheesy salesman draped with gold chains leaned over the counter of a jewelry store, talking too loudly.

“A bit over the top,” I thought.  And then, “This guy can’t be for real.”

Well, he wasn’t.  He turned out to be a suspect in an organized murder mystery, with town folk playing the suspects and tourists racing around town in search of clues, for which privilege they paid a lot of money.

I prefer self-directed treasure hunts, only I call it ‘research.’   I’ve always loved travel, but it was in England, searching for the perfect setting for The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, that I truly felt the thrill of the hunt.  Research lent a sense of purpose as I absorbed all I could of the Norman Conquest and life in Anglo-Saxon times.  At the Weald and Downland Museum, I learned the mechanics of charcoal burning, and which stone originated where throughout England, details I put to good use.  At a Dorset heritage breed farm I learned how shepherds were buried clutching a tuft of wool, so when they got to Heaven St. Peter would understand and forgive their long absences from church.  Of course our shepherd was buried with a tuft of wool in his hand!

My family has accompanied me to many destinations chosen for research purposes, others for pure pleasure.  But what do ancient streets of Pompeii, a grassy square in Prague, a dusty trail in Walnut Canyon, AZ, and the Hanseatic Old Town of Bergen, Norway hold in common?

As my kids and I took in the smells, colors, and unique histories of those places, each inspired group brainstorming that resulted in a rough outline of a novel.  Some were merely exercises in creativity, a fun way to internalize information. Others were keepers, and took their place in our Writer’s Egg Chain, where they will gestate until we are ready to return to Prague in search of more hidden story gems to lend light, color, meaning, and authenticity to our embryonic novel.

But your search needn’t involve expensive travel.  In fact, I just finished a manuscript and am ready to crack open the next egg on the chain.  It’s set in the funky Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, only minutes away.  Bea, co-author on this project, and I will explore Fremont’s streets, shops, dives, parks, events and hotspots—like the Fremont Troll, the nude Solstice Parade, and Theo’s chocolate factory.  I am sure that some of them will find a place and help breathe life into our story.

We won’t sign up in advance or pay to participate, and there’ll be no checklist of items to collect.  This treasure hunt will be of our own invention.  We aren’t even quite sure what we are looking for, but we’ll recognize it when we see it.  And when we do, I promise it will be the real thing.

Are there things you look for when you are doing your research?  Have you had an experience researching a project that you would like to share?

See what Bea’s blog post says about research and “Writing what you know.”

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Responses

  1. Your sense of adventure and openness to the delicious details around you are what make your storytelling and writing so wonder-full. I’m loving this blog!

    • Thank you, Cathryn. Takes one to know one! If folks want to read some great stories, they should look up your blogs, Catching Courage, and This Gives Me Hope.

  2. Very nice read!

  3. Take me with you!!

    • To Fremont? You bet. But I warn you, it’s going to take quite a few trips to get the lay of the land. Thanks for stopping by, Scarlett.

  4. I wish my research involved travel! I don’t have any real research stories, but I love that visiting someplace can spark a story. Though I’ve written more than one thing set in a town I’ve never been to before. This just makes me think that I need to increase my travel exponentially.

  5. Oh, definitely! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. What a great approach this would be to every day and everywhere!

  7. This made me think of English author Enid Blyton’s wonderful adventure stories for children. She wrote about a group of friends exploring places like an island, a castle, a cave, all of which seemed very exotic and exciting to a child growing up in bleak post-war England. What I try to hold everywhere I go is that feeling of adventure which those books inspired. Later came Treasure Island, and Rider Haggard’s great adventure stories. Every journey, even a mundane errand, is an adventure if you come to it like a child. Like the puppy being walked in the park yesterday. He was absolutely fascinated by absolutely EVERYTHING because everything was new to him! Oh, what a blissful state of mind!

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It was on my first overseas trip that I realized travel was the closest thing to being a virgin again! Then I had kids and got to look at the world through their eyes. As writers and storytellers, we see stories everywhere. I think it has made us deeper participants in the world. And now I am going to have to see if I can track down Enid Blyton and take a peek at the world through his eyes. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. What a fun blog, Naomi. I can’t wait to read your next book.

    • Hi Ann! Blogging felt like such a huge commitment, so it took a while to take the plunge, but I am really enjoying it. The next book is going to be a fun read, and it will be a treat working with Bea, but I hope we can get this next one done in less time than I took to write the last one. I so admire your discipline, Ann, especially when it comes to your writing! You are amazing! Thanks for your kind words, and thanks so much for stopping by.

  9. Don’t forget to research the eco-friendly brewery in Fremont! In fact, that may need a couple of trips. 🙂

    • Hi Jim,

      We spent a few hours yesterday scouting around, taking photos, chatting with vendors at the Sunday market, but we plum forgot about the breweries! NEXT time, for sure! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  10. nice to meet you through your words

    David in Maine USA

    • You too! I look forward to many more.

  11. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back too. You have an interesting blog.

    • Thank you! I am really enjoying yours, and look forward to reading more of your posts.

  12. […] Surprisingly Successful Piece: The Real Thing–And the moral is, see for […]

  13. […] my sister and I were in England to research a novel, on the outskirts of many a quaint village we saw signs that read “The Butts.”   […]

  14. […] Colorado is rich in history.  The kids are collaborating on a web comic set in the Old West.  Research has been crucial to my own writing, and this was a perfect opportunity to let the kids do research for their project.   They were […]

  15. […]  I went to research a novel set in Italy.  Even for autumn, it was unseasonably […]


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