Friday, June 01, 2012

Don't Know Nothin'

In my last post, I talked about “when writing what you know doesn’t work.” I had a feeling my memories of the processes used by the Hoxie Feedyard were incomplete. I made a flying trip back to Kansas for an on-site tour. Since I’m a historian, I worry about getting things right.

Turned out it wasn’t a matter of not knowing enough--I didn’t know nothing.’ It wouldn’t have mattered much to the plot of Hidden Heritage. It’s fiction, after all. And as Harlan Coben once said in a panel when someone in the audience challenged the accuracy of some information “I made it all up.” We can do this.

My book isn’t really about the dynamic ever-changing role of ag business and corporate farming, so there’s no need to obsess over details, but I do. I just HATE getting things wrong.
When I read mysteries, I love learning about different parts of the world, and customs and the historical background of places. I like the feeling of being whisked away. I trust that the author is giving me reliable information. Good mysteries are a life-saver when I’m overwhelmed by  “stop the world and let me off” kind of days.

Time and again, I discovered that the biggest thrill of research lies in the potential for enriching a book. The Hoxie Feedyard covers a whole section of land. They feed over 55,000 head of cattle. There are rows of tractors, semis, cattle trailers, bulldozers, front-loaders, and maintenance equipment. In addition to the staggering mounds of grain, sky-risers of distiller’s grain, and soaring water towers, there are mazes of cattle pens, tracked by computers.
The weather the day I went back was classical stereotypical Kansas. The wind, the heat, the dust was overwhelming and stifling. Perfect! How could I have forgotten the accompanying feeling of dispair?

 Once again, my research has led to a better book and I have the satisfaction of knowing I’m doing my best to make the setting accurate.


LD Masterson said...

I want to go do research. I want my MC to get involved with the Boston Red Sox so I have to fly to Boston and pay whatever it takes to get a ticket and attend a game at Fenway. For research only, of course. Maybe it will take several games. Yeah, I want to get it right. It will definitely take several games.

I'm sorry. *hangs head and blushes* Displaced Sox fan needing a fix over here. I'll go away now.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Nice to hear that someone else can be a bit compulsive about going bck for a second look, Charlotte. I, too, always fear I might have missed something essential the first time -- even though I try to do advance research before going.

Charlotte Hinger said...

LD, you are clearly totally not up to taking research seriously enough to do this on your on. Take me with you. I'll coach you on all the finer points of taking notes. It might take a whole season for me to tell you everything you need to know.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, this trip really was amazing. The biggest thrill was the feedyard cowboys. That's material for a whole new blog. They looked like the had stepped out of a western movie. Spurs, Stetsons--the whole bit.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

And cowboys, too??!! I so want to read this book, and wish to heaven I'd been with you on the research trip. You lucky gal!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Irene--they were so cool. I had no idea the feedyard used so many horses. They can look down into the pens.