Research is a big part of a novel – at least for me. The right setting, clothes and slang can bring a story to life. When the setting is done right, the reader should be able to not only picture the scene, but smell the air.
When I was working on the manuscript for PUNISHMENT SUMMER, I did a ton of research on the flora and fauna of the Mendocino Forest -- including bird sounds, seasonal temperatures and what crops would successfully grow there. In addition, the cabin where the main character lives is ‘off the grid’ and I needed to learn about septic tanks, water tanks and windmills, as well as wood-burning stoves for heating and cooking. Much of what I discovered didn’t wind up on the page, but still provided a foundation for the story.
During the course of PUNISHMENT SUMMER, my main character, Nicki, must learn to hunt and fish. Though I’ve shot bottles, cans and targets, I’ve never aimed a gun at any type of animal. Exploring this subject showed me a whole new world – from different gauge shotguns, to the types and sizes of ammunition used, to how to skin a rabbit. I’d also never tried fly fishing and was amazed by the number and types of lures (wet flies, dry flies), number and types of knots used, and how various materials appeal to different fish. For instance, I had no idea trout faced upstream, waiting for food to come down on the current. In order to catch one, the fly must land upriver then travel to the fish. Another surprise: Some of the flies are so beautiful it seems a shame to cast with them.
PUNISHMENT SUMMER is something of a ‘fish out of water’ story and, learning about this new world and the expertise necessary to survive there, helped me get inside the main character’s head as she mastered new skills.