Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Q: What kind of research do you do for your books?

A:  Various kinds and a lot more than actually gets written into the book. I like to have a good background of what I'm writing about but I only use enough to make my stories seem plausible.

First, I visit the places I'm writing about. For the most part, everything I write about takes place in my neck of the woods  -- even on our farm. (Why, oh why didn't I think to set my series in some exotic locale? Then travel to said locale could be a tax write-off.)

But my travels are local -- to a tent revival (but not to a snake-handling church,) to the River Art District in Asheville, the casino in Cherokee, a Civil War era house in nearby Marshall, one of the few remaining drover's stands in Fairview, the Vance birthplace for a look at the clothing and house furnishings of times past. . .

For the forthcoming Under the Skin I took a thirty minute drive to Hot Springs and the Mountain Magnolia Inn, as well as the Hot Springs Spa. It really helps me to be in a place and get the feel of it before I write about it.
For Old Wounds and for The Day of Small Things, I spent some time in Cherokee, at the Museum and at a Southeastern tribes dance festival, talking to folks and buying some useful books for research. 

I also occasionally have helpful readers who share pictures and diaries -- like Inez and Odessa's diaries that really gave me a picture of life around here in the Thirties and Forties. 

There are also a number of helpful friends and acquaintances who will answer my questions -- several physicians and psychologists,  a pharmacist, our local dentist (a good friend and the original of Doc Adams in Signs in the Blood and in Old Wounds)  and my friend Kathy, the realtor who inspired Sallie Kate. Mechanics, lawyers, journalists, farm agents, law men -- I've got a little list.

I've found that folks are incredibly generous with their time and expertise when you say the magic words, "I'm working on a book and need to know..."

And there are folks around I can talk to and hear their memories. I have. too, my own memories of the old folks I knew thirty years ago and the things they told me about growing up in the mountains.

Really, most of my thirty-some years here in the mountains amounts to research. I just didn't know at the time that I'd eventually be writing about it.  I've used my experience on jury duty, things I overheard in the laundromat, the time I got a concealed carry permit, and lots more that I'll use eventually.

One thing I do at the beginning of each novel is to visit our county library (and sometimes the much larger library in Asheville) and skim through the newspapers of the time period I'll be writing about. The advertisements, as much as anything, give me a feel for the time, whether it's Little Sylvie's 1901 trip to Ransom where she talks about the things she sees in the store windows, or Red Bird's favorite nail polish or her trip to the S and S Cafeteria with Luther in the Thirties.
I've also accumulated a nice little library of Appalachian related books and I list the ones that have been most helpful in the acknowledgment pages of each book.  Sometimes just the pictures are enough to give me a feel for the period.
And there's Mr. Google -- almost anything I might want to know is there, including primary sources.
Between the world outside my door and the world of the Internet, plus a pretty lively imagination, I can set the scene fairly well. Because I'm not writing history, and since I made Marshall County a fictional place (albeit based on a real one,) I have a little leeway. I'm not aiming for infallible accuracy -- just a reasonable verisimilitude.
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Martin H. said...

I found myself drawn in very quickly, Vicki. You were obviously inviting me, as the reader, into a world you know very well.

Joan said...

This was wonderful to read Vicki. I have loved your first two books and will be ordering some more. Reading this adds to the experience.

Brian Miller said...

this is perfect vicki...i have the beginings of a story i am spinning and research is what i need...

GrandmaK said...

I'm thinking that most books I read would never be written if not for the research done to make them readable. I like to insert myself into the environment and that can't happen if the pictures drawn in words aren't there. Thank you for all you do to make my reading experience memorable. Wishing you a grand day! Cathy

Kath said...

What a wonderful teacher you are. At first I read thinking, well I don't write historical fiction. But then as I continued to read, I thought about what you write. And you make your world real by making it more than your writing space. Head thump!! My characters need to get OUT of the yard.

Elora said...

What a generous post, Vicki!
Thank you!

Alan Burnett said...

A fascinating insight : thanks Vicki.

Reader Wil said...

I admire the way you prepare yourself before writing a book. It reminds me of Daphne du Maurier, who lived in Cornwall and examined the places where she lived. She studied the history of the old mansions, castles and even pubs in her vicinity.The outcome was always plausible, like your books are. They depict the historical facts in a fictional situation.
I read four of your books and they all belong together. They are all situated in the same surroundings. I like that!! Go on Vicki and keep us spellbound!

R. Burnett Baker said...

I want to order your books at B & N. Which one would you recommend that I read first? Or does it really matter what order they're read?


Vicki Lane said...

Rick, My first four books are a series and though I try hard to make each book stand on is own, I think there's something to be gained by reading them in order --SIGNS IN THE BLOOD, ART'S BLOOD, OLD WOUNDS, and IN A DARK SEASON.

Or start with my most recent THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS which, though about a minor character from the series, is a complete standalone. And possible my best work so far.

Tipper said...

I always love hearing more about your process-cause you know what a fan I am of your writing : )

I have something for you-just for you to know about-maybe it would spark an idee. When I get time I'm going to send it to you : )

Tess Kincaid said...

Fascinating stuff. My Cherokee DNA is tingling. (you probably guessed I would say that)