Friday, March 2, 2012

Writing Where You've Never Been

My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, is holding its annual writers’ retreat at a Dude Ranch in Banderas, Texas, this October. Our friends laugh when we tell them we're going. I mean, Calvin and me on a ranch? Too funny if you knew us. Is there a hydrolic lift to put me in the saddle?

This will be my first time in Texas, first time on a ranch and first time on a horse. Yet my debut book is set on a ranch in Texas. Ah, the value of good research. How many writers of stories set in Alaska, Scotland, Mozambique or lands of fairies and shapeshifters have physically been there? Some, but not all.

As I was writing my story, I researched the weather in the Texas hill country, geology, plants, wildlife and history. I searched through newspapers online for the hill country. What I also found invaluable were real estate sites. This gave me a view of homes typical to the area as well as local scenery and vegetation. I’d find addresses and look them up on This gave me real-time insights and a feel for little nuances of this part of Texas.

If you were going to write a story set in Lynchburg, Virginia, where we live you’d have to know this is known as the Hill City. Our town is set on seven hills. There are places downtown where streets were never built. Steps, yes. An elevator, yes. But no street connect parts of Church and Court Streets.

Wide steps from Church Street to the Lynchburg Museum, once the Court House.

So, imagine my surprise when a reviewer for Storm’s Interlude said I’d described Texas so well, she now wanted to go there. I laughed and remarked to myself, “Well, so do I.” And in October, when we attend TWRP writers’ retreat, I will.

          Rachel finished the yogurt and threw away the container. That’s when she noticed the back door was open. Stepping into the mudroom, she saw Storm through the screen door. He was leaning against a post, obviously staring off into the wide Texas horizon and sipping coffee.
His one hand was shoved into the pocket of his jeans; jeans that looked buttery soft with age. His dark, straight hair hung over the collar of his faded red t-shirt. Broad shoulders stretched the material. She yearned to reach out and rub her hand over his strong back.
What was it about him that attracted her? After all, she’d met many handsome men in her life. Phillip, for one. Matt, the guy she’d dated in college was another. She smiled; Dr. Isaacs at Kings Daughters Hospital, back home, was drop-dead gorgeous, but then he was openly gay.
Still, what was it about Storm? He was arrogant and opinionated. Bossy. Yet, he could be incredibly caring and gentle. Evidently, he was prone to giving little gifts. He was devoted to his sister. His love for his nephew was very touching. She imagined he’d make a great father.
What was she going to do about her attraction to him? What was behind the attraction?  Could his magnetic pull on her simply come from his ability to kiss her into sensual overload? If they were to kiss again, would his effect be just as potent? God help her, but she’d love to find out.
“You might as well come out and join me.” His deep voice caressed her senses and beckoned. How did he know she was watching him? She wiped her hands over her shorts in a nervous gesture. Did he know how long she’d been standing there, staring, dreaming…yearning?
Embarrassed, Rachel stepped out onto the porch and stood next to the man who had moved into her mind—lock, stock and saddle. “Good morning.”
He saluted her with his mug. “Mornin’.”
His eyes were so intent on her that, for an instant, her mind went blank. Her attraction to this man had to be channeled into friendship—merely friendship. “Thank you for burning me that CD. I can’t wait to play it.”
“You’re welcome.” A faint blush crept up his neck.
She took pleasure in his discomfort. If she felt uneasy around him, she was glad he was obviously suffering from the same feeling. “How long have you been up?”
“An hour, give or take. Did you have your yogurt?” He drained his coffee and set the mug on the porch railing.
“Good. I don’t want any low-sugar episodes like yesterday morning.” He jerked his head toward the horizon. “This is the best place to watch the sun come up. Our best views of sunsets are on the patio, but here, right here is the spot you get a great view of the sunrise. Nothin’ like a hill country sunrise.”
The curve of the golden sun peeped above the mountains in the distance. Shimmers of apricots and reds undulated like dancing rays celebrating the birth of a new day. Birds began singing as if to welcome the sun. “Oh, you’re right. It’s beautiful. I guess you do this every morning? Drink your coffee and watch the sun come up.” She looked up at him.
He never spared her a glance. “Yup.”
His freshly-shaved face was relaxed. The smell of his soap and aftershave filled her nostrils. She wanted to bury her nose in his neck and inhale his masculine scent for hours.
She smiled again. “You always so talkative in the morning?”


Karen Cote said...

Fabulous excerpt! Your hero sounds wonderful and perfectly imperfect (my fav).

I am so excited for your adventure in Texas...and a little jealous. Although I gre up with horses, going on trail rides and such, I've never taken it to the level you are about to embark on. Sounds wonderful and although you may enjoy it more when looking back on it, LOL, it's magic in the making especially from your perception as a writer.

How lovely the research is that we get to do. Sometimes I feel guilty being a writer and living my dream. Your blog today made me grateful.

Kylie Frost said...

Great excerpt for nevering being there. I once wrote a story set in Africa and I researched by going to safari websites - the places that sell trips - they offered such beautiful photos of landscapes and culture. The trip to Texas sounds wonderful.

Vonnie Davis said...

Karen, living your dream is marvelous, isn't it? I'd dreamed of writing for fifty years. Dabbled in it, but never pursued it seriously until I retired. Now I ask what was I waiting on??? What a grand life! Thanks for commenting.

Vonnie Davis said...

Kylie, what a great idea: researching safari sites. Yay you! The more inventive we are, the richer our stories. Thanks for stopping by.

Josie said...

How fun! I've never visited Texas, either. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time.

Jill James said...

When I wrote Tempting Adam for the TWRP I just used my memories of our countless trips to Los Angeles and Hollywood and a movie studio. I must have done something right, because the realism is what most people comment on from that story.

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks, Josie. I'm most looking forward to talking with other writers. They're always so interesting.

Vonnie Davis said...

Jill, memories are a great resource. They're already in your voice. Thanks for commenting.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

As usual, Vonnie, I enjoyed reading your post. I am lucky I live where my stories are, but my daughter and I did explore a gold mine deep into the mountain. It was my favorite place to visit for my writing. You definitely get a whole new respect for the miners when you go that deep underground.

Vonnie Davis said...

A gold mine? How exciting, Paisley. Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Misty Dietz said...

Awesome post, Vonnie! Once on Facebook a woman pretty much excoriated me about not "writing what I know ." I told her to tell that to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. You did a wonderful job writing Texas in STORM. Great story, great setting, great characters! :)

Vonnie Davis said...

I've heard that expression, too. Write what you know. And we do; we write about human emotions--love, jealousy, deception, greed, pride, evil. As for all the other stuff, I say write what you want to know. Research, the heck out of it...or use your creativity to your fullest and create new worlds or possibilities.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Smoke and a good way...that's what we writers use. Interesting isn't it how we do a ton of research and all that we use, in total amounts to a paragraph here, a sentence there and a well-placed give the flavor of the place. It's an art...and it's fun! Rolynn

Vonnie Davis said...

Yes, Rolynn, it is delightful fun. I do scads of research and use so little. I guess one could say I use Hemingway's iceberg philosophy. Show one-third of what you know and keep the rest underwater.

morgan said...

Hi Vonnie,

You'll be fine on the dude ranch. I grew up on a boarding farm for horses. Just think of them as big dogs with hooves. They have personalities, but they won't put any guest on a catankerous mount. Take pictures!

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Have fun in Texas, Vonnie!