Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Being Mentored: Featuring Lynn Austin-7 Time Christy Winner

Not all of us have the opportunity to invest one month to envelope ourselves in research for our story, yet we wish we could. Today seven-time Christy winner, Lynn Austin, tells about her exciting opportunity to research details for one of her book series.

Lynn was the keynote speaker at the Write to Publish Conference the first year I attended. She shared this story. Her messages were inspirational and engaging--I still remember what she said six years later! I've asked her to mentor us today.

Hi Mary,
     Thank you for inviting me to share my research process with your readers. The Chronicles of the Kings series was the first set of books I ever wrote. I was still learning how to research.

     Since this series about Hezekiah was set in Israel, I longed to see the setting for myself. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible, at first. 

     I began poring over every book I could find on Israel using Jewish sources as well as Christian ones. Since Isaiah was a main character, I read commentaries on the book of Isaiah until I felt as if I knew the prophet thoroughly. I also subscribed to a magazine called Biblical Archaeological Review which gave a host of information on discoveries and ancient practices. The magazine also listed volunteer dig opportunities in Israel—I made up my mind to go on one.

     My kids came down with chicken pox a few days before I was scheduled to leave—and then my husband got them, too! He is my biggest encourager; he told me to GO to Israel! Our oldest son, who was 14 at the time, went with me even though he was still recovering from the chicken pox. Crazy!

     We spent 5 days eachh week on the site, digging from 4:30 am (!) until noon. We spent part of the afternoon with the archaeologists, learning about the culture and the discoveries. We traveled from one end of Israel to the other, listening to lectures at all the sites (and I asked a million questions). It was amazing!

     Of course I knew my research had to include a walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel, still intact beneath modern Jerusalem. I didn't particularly like dark, tight, cave-like spaces, the tunnel was all of those things—plus it still contained ice-cold, thigh-deep water! 

     I walked through the tunnel with only a tour guide and one flashlight. Midway through, the guide turned off the flashlight. “See how dark it is?” I nearly had a panic attack! That's when I decided one of my characters (Eliakim in Book II) would have to experience what I did.

    The best part of the trip for me was to live in Israel for a month and keep a record of the sights, sounds, smells. These sensory details and weather patterns bring a story to life.

    I always purchase books to take home and remind myself of what I learned. Pictures help me a lot. I decorate my work area with photographs and drawings that take me back to the original setting.

     I actually enjoy doing research. But after completely immersing myself in the facts of the story’s time period, it becomes very “tricky” not to start spewing them out in my fiction. I would say that of all the information I collect, only a very small percentage of it ever shows up in the novel. The rest is in my head and my heart, creating an “atmosphere” in which the story is allowed to breathe.

    It took me much longer to research this first series than it does for books I write now. 
    I still spend at least one to two months researching and visiting the site (if possible) before I start writing. And I don’t stop researching. It’s an on-going process throughout the year it takes to complete each novel.


Thank you, Lynn! 

Lynn then blended sights, sounds, textures, information, smells, and tastes from Israel into her story as a weaver would fashion a design into tapestry. When such works of art are completed, the well crafted intricacies go undetected unless pointed out by a guide. 

Here--take a look for yourself--

--from Lynn's book Among the Gods (book 5) p.339

Joshua held the oil lamp in his right hand, feeling along the clammy wall with his left as he slowly groped his way through the meandering tunnel. He had only been inside it once before, with his father, but the suffocating darkness, the weight of the rock closing in around him, the terrible heaviness bearing down on top of him, were all so familiar it was as if he had been inside this tunnel many times. The icy water grew deeper as he sloshed through it, the passageway narrower, like his lungs as he struggled to breathe.

He inched his way forward, searching for nearly ten minutes before he found what he was looking for-Abba's inscription. He held the light close to read the words his father had chiseled into the stone, feeling them with his fingers. "Behold the tunnel..."

Those were the only words he managed to read before a spasm of coughing overwhelmed him. As he fought to catch his breath, the lamp jostled in his hand. The wick sputtered and sank beneath the oil. The flame died. Joshua plunged into total darkness.

"Abba!" he cried out in panic. But his father was dead, and his Heavenly Father was too far away to hear his cries. He knew that his own anger and forgiveness had separated him from God. They were the true source of his darkness, just as Miriam had said. When he'd turned his back on God, he had walked away from the only Source of light.

Joshua's limbs went numb with terror. He wanted to run from this terribly black void, but he was too dizzy and disoriented to move. He shivered, shaken to realize that Manasseh had lived in this eternal darkness, this midnight of the soul, for most of his life; now Joshua was lost in it too. How would he ever find his way out?
from Among the Gods (Book 5) p. 339, used by permission.

Have you visited the setting for your WIP/book in person or with a video media?
How has visiting the setting benefited your story?
How have you blended pages of facts smoothly into your book?

Lynn said she would stop by today to answer questions. What would you like to ask?


Enid Wilson said...

It's great to learn about your research process, Lynn. I've been to Jerusalm once and loved it. There are so many cultural and historic sites to visit. As for setting my stories in exotic places, part of my current wip is set in Corsica. I visited it in 2009 and really loved it.

Wonderful excerpt.

Every Savage Can Reproduce

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

What a wonderful opportunity to go to Israel for a whole month! I know it will be a memory treasured for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing your research tips at The Alley today!

Casey said...

I have to be completley honest to be a bit star struck when it comes to Lynn Austin! Her novels are some of the very few books my dad loves to read and I'm always excited when her latest novel hits the shelves. Thank you so much for gracing the Alley, Lynn!

I find research so daunting. So many things to get wrong if not done just right, but for those writers such as yourself who love it, I hold you in the utmost respect. I love a good historical novel. :)

Faith Hope and Cherrytea said...

Lovely to find you here, Lynn! and hearing the results of that trip so many yrs ago... remembering reading that 1st as yet unpublished manuscript!...
delited to see your hopes and dreams successfully fulfilled! always a pleasure to find your next and newest... Sharon {wpg}

Mary Vee Writer said...

How nice to hear you also went to Jerusalem. What a great opportunity.
And to set you WIP in another interesting place, Corsica! Just think of all the sights, sounds, textures you can include to bring life to your story. Wow!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Not only did Lynn have a great memory, she found unique ways to share her adventure. If you have an opportunity to hear her speak,you should. She will capture your attention and make an hour seem like a minute.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Research can be daunting--and the citing taxing. I look at Lynn's product and am in awe.

Mary Vee Writer said...

So nice to have you here on the Alley today and to have you share the before Lynn published thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ladies,
It's so nice to have this opportunity to visit with you today. Research stopped being daunting for me when I stopped thinking of it as a history test that I had to cram for, and started approaching it as "make-believe." I wanted to gather enough details so that I could close my eyes and be in that setting in my character's place. Also, I don't need to memorize all the facts, but have a system so that I can find them quickly when I need to. Does that help? Lynn

Casey said...

So am I, Mary!

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Mary! I have used the National Georgraphic channel to help in my research..and my other novels stem from places I have visited.
Besides setting, something I have recently run into, is even though I have done a ton of research on the time period of my novel, because it is fiction set in an unusual time, I am afraid that readers might be turned off by preconceived notions of that time takes place during the Spanish Inquisition...and my hero is a Christian in a typically non-Christian role. How do we make our stories believable when popular belief says otherwise?

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Loved reading this post today. Mary thanks for this, and Lynn, thanks so much for sharing your methods of researching. Very helpful!

Mary Vee Writer said...

LYNN, when you pop back on please note Angie's question. Thanks

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Jeanne.
Love seeing you again.

Lynn Austin said...

Hi Angie...and all you other ladies,
I don't think you need to be worried about an "unpopular" time period. I think it makes the book even more intriguing. Readers love to learn as they read--and there's not a lot of books about the Inquisition! With good "cover copy" I think readers would like to know how a character can be a good Christian when everyone else isn't. Characters become "believeable" when you make him the same as us (but in a different time period) with the same fears, heartaches, joys and motivations that we have. Motivation is key. The reader has to believe that if they were in the character's place, they would react the same way.
I hope this helps.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you again for joining us today.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Well researched historical fiction is often hard to come by--but from this post, it sounds like Lynn more than does what's needed.
My debut novel is set right here in Colorado, so yes, I've visited (lived in) the places I wrote about. I took the easy route this time. But I have bigger plans for future books.

Angie Dicken said...

Lynn, Thank you so much for your encouraging note! Also, thanks so much for stopping by the Alley today. What an honor!