Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guest Blogger: MaryLu Tyndall

Research Before You Research
A few years ago, my daughter and I embarked on a wild adventure. We headed down to Key West, Florida, to a Pirate Convention that had been heavily advertised over the internet. This of course fit in with the theme of my first three novels about pirates in the 17th century, so I was quite excited. We were expecting the streets of the small island to be filled with pirates, wenches, Spaniards, and British soldiers, sword fighting and firing muskets and doing all kinds of piratey things. What we found was an old vacant fort with crumbling walls and about seven booths set up selling cheap pirate trinkets! What a disappointment. But it gets better.

I had booked a cruise on a Pirate ship around the inlet. We were told that authentic pirates would be manning the schooner and cannons would be fired! What we got was an overcrowded boat with a vulgar crew dressed up like pirates. Beer and wine were passed around to all and as we lumbered around the bay, the crew became more and more inebriated! And me there with my daughter! At one point, a lady decked out in a very salacious pirate dress proceeded to vomit over the side of the boat. The only saving grace was the firing of a couple cannons. After which I said a quick prayer for the drunken crew to sail us safely back to the docks.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the excursion was truly more authentic than I realized! Perhaps a bit too authentic. Here’s a picture of one of the crew trying to decide which way to sail the ship back to shore.

I learned a great deal from that experience. My next research trip was to Charleston, South Carolina, to do research for a trilogy I’m writing now. This time, I got in contact with the Charleston Visitor’s Center where I received a ton of great information about where to stay, events, the best food, and most importantly, the historic tours. I visited Charleston Historical Museum where I set up several walking tours of the historic district.

My best advice to give you is make friends with the tour guide! These people are walking encyclopedias jammed full with all kinds of historic facts. Tell them you’re an author doing research, and they will beam from ear to ear, and tons of fascinating information about their city will pour from their lips faster than you can write it down. In fact, don’t write it down. Bring a tape recorder and a camera, of course. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you can think of. That’s why these tour guides are there, and they are usually thrilled to find someone truly interested in the city they love. You can even invite them to lunch or dinner if you feel comfortable enough doing so and spend some time one on one with them. I guarantee you’ll learn more from them than from any book.

St. Michael’s church – oldest church in Charleston

Unique architecture in Charleston
But don’t just take down facts and snap pictures. An important part of any on-site research is the ambiance of the place—the smells, the feel of the wind on your cheek, the sounds, the weather. Close your eyes and take it all in. Remember it. Every city I’ve ever been to has a “spirit” about it, a feeling, something deeper than what you can see and hear. It’s the voice of all the people who’ve lived there, struggled, fought wars, raised their kids, and died. It’s unique in every place and being able to capture it will greatly enhance your writing.

Happy researching!

(my Web site)


Mary Connealy said...

Great post, MaryLu. I suspect most pirates were a disorderly, drunken bunch. But who knows?

I do most of my research on my computer. I need to go out into the world and look around, don't I?

MaryLu Tyndall said...

Hi Mary! Yes, the pirate cruise was a bit too real for my taste, especially with my daughter along! I do quite a bit of research online as well, but there's nothing like being there. I highly recommend it if you can afford an excursion or two.

Pam Hillman said...

MaryLu, sounds like you got the real authentic tour! lol

Rhonda said...

Love the post Mary! and the books!! I agree with you, every city/town has a "flavor" of their own.

MaryLu Tyndall said...

Thanks Pam, Rhonda! It amazes me how different the "spirit" feels out here in California from the East Coast. I fell in love with Charleston, but I knew I would.
Thanks for dropping by,

Ausjenny said...

great insight. How disappointing the Pirate conventioned turned out to be and the cruise oh my.
I am not an author but I tend to research where i am going alot before I go. Infact a few times I have been able to give locals some information.
Im glad the second experince was so much better.

Stephanie Reed said...

Hey, MaryLu, I've met you on ShoutLife. Just wanted to say that I've recently seen print and TV ads for Buccaneer BBQ Sauce and I think of you and your books! Maybe you should contact them.

You never know!