Research…love it or hate it.

[ri-surch, ree-surch]  noun:  diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.

There’s a very popular children’s book called “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” which I had read over and over to my granddaughter; we both loved it.  The premise of the story is as follows:  If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk to go with it.  If he wants a glass of milk, he’s going to have to get the milk from the refrigerator and pour it into a cup.  When he pours it into the cup he might spill it and then he’ll have get a mop to wipe it up, etc., etc., etc.   I think it’s the what happens next question that makes the story relatable.  Each choice the mouse makes has a direct connection to the next choice.  And on, and on, and on.  I do know that if you give me a cookie I’m going to want to know where it came from and what’s in it.  (And I’ll want a glass of milk.) This is what I do when I’m writing.  One piece of information leads to the next and then the next and so on.

For example, my current WIP (work-in-progress) I’m researching a very specific event in California history that occurred in the winter of 1861/1862. Although the Great California Flood of 1862 affected the entire state, the northern part of California suffered the most—the great “inundation” at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers.  The rain poured steadily over a period of ??? days and the entire Sacramento Valley turned into one big lake. Sacto Flood 1862 So much so that ??? inches were registered. The Sacramento river rose ??? feet, broke the levees and covered ??? square blocks of the city.  Hundreds of people, livestock, homes and property were displaced.   See the question marks?  So I don’t slow down during my actual “writing” I put them in, go back later, search for the marks and fill in the missing information.

I can’t help myself.  Research—for me—is trying to eat just one M&M.  I look up one simple fact and swoosh, I get sucked into the vortex of information not to be seen or heard from for days.  I want, no, I need to know what was so unique about the weather and related conditions that caused so much flooding and damage?  How much (cold) rain came down each day and how many feet did the river rise?  How did it feel to stand near the river’s edge and think “how bad can this get” then watch a boat or two float up to street level?  How did the business owners on Front Street feel as they watched debris-ladened water rush into the streets, Flood of 1862fill up their basements and then…..rise to the height of the second floor?  How did they save their merchandise?  What if they couldn’t get a boat?  What about their families?  Who would save them?  And worse, what if they got swept up in the water and possibly drowned?  Research, research, research…….

But, I love it.  It’s my favorite part of writing.

See you later.

Katie

(Answers:  90 days; 33 inches; 24 feet, about 30 square blocks.)

Hope for the Season of Miracles

The days are dark this time of year.

In our past, this was inarguably the most difficult season. Harvest ended months ago. The feasting ended, too. The animals huddled in the barn, their coats thick and fat waning. Depending on the year, the yuletide could be a time of cheer, but more often, it was a time of desperate prayer. Winter would not be done for another three months or more.

People died at this time of year—the elderly, the very young, the poor. If the weather grew harsh enough, even common farmers and merchants could perish. So this holiday, this festival of light, was an act of defiance for our ancestors. The wax might not last the remainder of the winter, but on the darkest days, we’d light as many candles as possible and hope.

Hope that the stores would last. Hope that the cold would break before it broke us, our neighbors, or our loved ones.

So it was, for thousands of years.

Today, we feel far removed from those harsh realities. The Season of Miracles, in which the lights lasted longer, saviors were born, candles were lit, songs were sung, and children were encouraged to play despite the cold, has been diminished to a holiday of materialism and consumerism.

But before giving into that rather depressing, hollow reality, I’d ask you to consider that the call for miracles still exists. That the stresses of winter—perhaps no longer as bleak—are still forces that require our steadfast hope, our defiant cheer, and our deepest practices of compassion and prayer.

The darkness surrounds us today. There are those who must work without holiday. The gifts we give at this time, whether they cost time or money, must be given, even when we feel so utterly bereft of either. The violence and greed that runs through the minds of so many, and the tragedies that follow, impact each of us, daily.

And so I call on this season of miracles, on its power through history and ancestry. I say we must refresh this old holiday anew. That we raise the game and bring the miracles. That when we feel there is no time, we give it anyway. When there is no patience, we stop, breathe, and quietly accept. When there is no money, we find a way to give, however small, to those in need. That when there is no hope, we dare to believe the light within us will last through our dark hours.

Let this still be the Season of Miracles. And may yours be filled with hope and joy.

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Take me there…with Katie Keelor

Val MilletteIf I didn’t live here, I’d want to live there.  If I didn’t live now, I’d want to live then.  If I didn’t do this, I’d want to do that.  Curiosity about history and wanting to know what happened in the past…you become a time-traveler. As a writer, add travel to historic locations only fuels the fire.  Every place I visit I want to know what it would be like to live in that era and there’s where the time-traveling takes place.  It’s such fun!

My first “real” trip took me to the legendary St. Winifred’s Well in Holywell, Wales.  Later trips found me dazzled by the Book of Kells and the famous library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, swooning over the magnificent architecture of John Ryland’s Library in the industrial manufacturing city of Manchester, England and later to my grandparents’ birthplace in Blackburn, Lancashire—one of the most important cotton producers in the world and just one of the hundreds of cities, small towns and villages where the majority of the work force kept the cotton mills operating in the 1800’s.  For “fun” I traveled with a good friend on a tour of Regency-era London, Bath and Brighton and other locations in-between where the passage of time has been overlooked and history preserved.  My last “real” trip took me to never-to-be-forgotten sights of Paris and the silk weaving center of Lyon, France.

Closer to home, I love going to Sacramento.  Yes, I have family living there but you will find that our state’s capitol is such an interesting place.  Before each visit my son’s usual question to me is “What do you want to do while you’re here?”  and unless I have something special in mind, my usual answer is “Let’s do something you haven’t done yet.”

His response to a recent challenge resulted in a trip downtown to the Old Sacramento Historic Park and the “underground tour.”  Another weekend living the past during “Gold Rush Days” was all it took for me to get the idea for my current novel “Swept Away.”

Today, California is experiencing a serious drought.  Not so in the mid-1800’s.  In the winter of 1861-62, heavy snowfall and 45 days of rain inundated the city of Sacramento breaking through the levees with momentous flooding.  A fantastical idea came out of this catastrophe—in 1864 the citizens banded together to raise the streets 21 feet higher than the river’s edge, or 9 feet higher than the street level. Close your eyes.  Can you imagine watching the state’s capitol building balancing on hundreds of screw jacks being raised less than an inch a day?

I can.  Take me there…please.

Who is Katie Keelor?

If I’m not here, I’m there.  Time-traveling will do that to you.  And, I do it constantly.  “Pushing my button” doesn’t take much.  A beautiful old book with intricate, gold-tooled bindings, a piece of antique furniture with exquisitely carved wood, a vintage photograph, some obscure fact of history, a déjà vu moment or a simple reason to know how and when something came into existence does it every time.  I think I’ve lived before and just can’t let go.

Val MilletteI’m a history buff.  Always was and always will be.  History fascinates me and when I discover some unusual event, I latch on like velcro.  Of course, this distraction proves to be a serious roadblock in my writing process.  I get so involved in the research that I can spend hours and hours gathering information.  Since writers know that less than one percent of all that fact-finding should find its way into the story, I’m doomed.

“Got her nose in a book” was a familiar phrase when I was growing up. My dad had this wonderful home library filled with biographies, geographies, histories, and an odd stash of contemporary mysteries.  Nothing was forbidden and if there was something that shouldn’t be read by a youngster, it was not to be found.

I began to seriously read romance fiction in the 19……’s (not telling) and, like a fiery dragon,  devoured every medieval novel that I could find.  Then came pirates and scoundrels.  I moved through time and fell in love with Regencies, was totally absorbed by the Victorian era and now I’m captivated with the Edwardian era.  (I think Downton Abbey played a part here.)  Sometime during my Jude Devereaux phase came my “I want to write” epiphany.  I took writing seriously and focused on historical romance—all with my favorite time travel theme.

Spurred on by my love of history, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to England, Wales, Ireland and France.  Visits to these sites fueled my historical fire (and I have the boxes of photos, maps, local brochures and books to prove it).

I am also totally devoted to researching my family’s ancestry and my love of the past has helped me trace both sides of my family back to the early 1700’s.  Time spent working on genealogy takes away from my writing time, but in the end, they do compliment each another.  I actually got the idea for “May I Have this Dance” when researching my family.

And to those who really know me, I seriously embrace technology and covet almost every new technological device out there.  I wish I had stock in Apple.