Monday, December 7, 2009

Research--In Grand Style

I’m writing a book now that takes a couple—forced into marriage—down into the Grand Canyon searching for a treasure. Of course it's a romantic comedy with cowboys, you must TRUST ME!

I thought I’d write about the research I’ve been doing trying to get this right.
1) I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. . .whoa, big hole.
2) I’ve bought books about the Grand Canyon
3) I’ve read online about the Grand Canyon
4) I’ve gone to YouTube and watched videos about the Grand Canyon
5) I’ve talked to people who have gone down into the Grand Canyon the way I want my young couple to go down. . .By people I mean...Sandra Leesmith, my very own Seeker buddy.

1) Going there. Nothing really beats seeing it with your own eyes. That is one majorly big hole in the ground. Honest, the details were almost impossible to get because the big picture was so big.
Of course my eyes were much younger back then. Long time ago I went to the Grand Canyon as one day on a two week vacation. I was expecting my first child on that trip. The one who recently made me a grandma. So you get the picture, right?
So I have seen it with my own eyes. The trouble is, now, years later, I have a thousand questions and my young eyes, matched with my young brain can only remember broad strokes. I’d LOVE to go when I know the questions I want answered.

2) I’ve bought books about the Grand Canyon. This is when Amazon is truly irreplaceable. Obscure books. Twenty to forty year old books. They’re all there and available with the click of a mouse. The trick here is getting the right books. The definitive books. Sometimes you have to buy some wrong ones before you get the right ones. And that can get pricey. But I usually try and think what a research trip would cost and console myself with all the money I’m saving. I read a lot of the reviews of these books trying to get a feel for just what is in them before I do my ONE CLICK buying.
3) I’ve read online about the Grand Canyon. This also helped me figure out which books to buy. Did you know there’s a guy called Butchart, Harvey Butchart, who spent years of his life exploring the Grand Canyon. His Grand Canyon hiking career spans 42 years, 1945-1987. At 80-years-old he gave it up. He spent 1,024 days in the canyon and walked 12,000 miles, mostly on short weekend excursions, not 42 years non-stop. He traveled well known trails and also discovered many. Side note, he's thin. Surprise! My hobbies are reading and writing, for which I need to occasionally move from my desk chair to my recliner. I am NOT thin.
4) YouTube has been really fun. Videos of people walking the exact trails I want my hero/heroine to walk. Two problems with YouTube.
1) What if the trails have changed since one hundred years ago?
2) It’s hard to get a feeling of size.

For example there was a huge flood and some dam overflowed or broke in 2008. So there are videos of before and after. But I also found references that told me the waterfalls along this trail have changes quite a bit over the years. They are 'travertine' which means, I think, huge deposits of minerals that tend to build up and occasionally reroute the falls.
Not knowing just how it looks isn’t a deal breaker for writing the book, but it is a warning about how far I dare go with exacting details. Sure, talk about the waterfall, but don’t get too specific because the specifics are probably all WRONG. On the other hand, who was really back there, one hundred years ago, taking notes, huh? (You might be surprised!)

5) Talk to people who have been there. To put a finer point on it. Talk to Sandra Leesmith. Bless her heart she’s walked this exact trail several times. I found out about that because I asked Glynna, our Arizona Seeker, a question and she said Ask Sandra. This is called Networking. (I call it that, so my husband doesn't think I'm killing time talking online.)
I think we should just make Talk to Sandra official because Sandra is a wandering woman. In all cases, all questions about all things should be directed to Sandra.
Also I can just feel the freedom of it all. If I get anything's all SANDRA'S FAULT!!!!!!!!

So, anyone out there been to the Grand Canyon? More specifically, have you stood on the Haulapai Hilltop and walked the trail to Supai, also occasionally called Havasupai? We need to talk.
What are your resources? Have I missed some good bets? I've gotten maps from AAA before. I've called state tourism departments.
I don't usually talk to people though...ick.
Instead I read and watch and exchange much more civilized.
Sincerely Yours,
Mary "The-Troubled-Loner" Connealy


  1. does me saying I want to visit count:
    my penfriend lives in Mesa AZ and has been as have a few of my other online friends but not me. But I have climbed Ayres Rock in Australia.
    Nice post.

  2. Never been to the Grand Canyon but have flown over it. And you're right, Mary--it IS a big ole hole!

    I love doing research(which may be why I do it for a living!) My bookshelves are full of research books--historical pictures and facts that I use to 'paint the setting.' And I've always talked to people who were 'there'--I recorded oral histories from family members about events such as WWI, FDR's death, the Leo Frank trial for school projects and kept them over the years.

  3. So true how our eyes and brain record different details depending what age we are. All the while I was thinking, if you were expecting your first child, how did you handle heights at all? I was sooo off-balance with my three pregnancies, I wouldn't have wanted to be on an escalator at the mall, let alone the Grand Canyon!
    Great tips!

  4. Mary, this is so funny because no one reading your books would think, no not even for a heartbeat, a NANOSECOND...

    that you're not the total people person you seem to be on paper.

    It just shows what it takes to get the job done, that going out of our comfort zone is often necessary.

    And since my family rues the fact that I'll talk to ANYBODY, much to their chagrin and embarrassment, I'll be glad to open doors for you when necessary.

    And then I'll make fun of you for not doing it yourself. Hey, that's how I roll.

    Amusement at others' expense. Fun, cheap and while not exactly heartwarming, satisfying in its own right.

    Someday I'll drag Dave out west. See the Canyon. The Rockies. The Radcliffes and Harders, Connealys, Deans and Smiths. :)

    Maybe to a Seeker fest in Denver, branch out from there.

    I'm anxiously awaiting a peek at this book, Mare, to glimpse the Grand Canyon, Connealy-style.

    And yes, Sandra is a go-to gal for so many things. Sandra IS the legend of the traveling pants. No pun intended.


    A night on Fifth Avenue courtesy of lawyer boy and his girlfriend, journalism girl, where I saw amazing things a small town girl can only dream of... :)

    And an emergency C-section birth of twelve puppies to Maddie, one of our red Golden Retrievers (all's well, puppies and Mom home and doing fine...)

    And a family Christmas party where Dave did a shrimp tray (keeping up appearances and not a huge time investment) I made tiramisu (with store bought angel food cake, whole time thing again, and it was WONDERFUL...)

    I'm ready for the relaxation of a work week, LOL!

    Coffee. Croissants. Chocolate filled, fruit and plain...

    Dig in. We're making Christmas treats for moms and dads today, so I'll bring a selection later.

    No boogies. Everyone's healthy. Those familiar with small children understand the reality behind that scenario.



  5. MY FAULT????
    You didn't tell me that before.

    I need some coffee. A big pot of chocolate velvet and caramel truffle, my two favorite flavored coffees. I have plenty and we'll need it to discuss this BIG HOLE. And you're right. It is a BIG HOLE.

    Maybe some granola bars to munch on while we hike down. And okay, I'll put out tea and hot chocolate also.

    What a great idea to get old books from the day. I came across some once looking up info on gila monsters and read some of the funniest tales written by the pioneers who encountered them. Ended up with more superstition than scientific fact.

  6. I went to the Grand Canyon in the winter, and it was beautiful! Didn't venture down any of the snow-covered trails but enjoyed a nice cup of hot chocolate in the lodge...very cozy! :-)

  7. When our version of Google Earth worked, we checked out the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.

    Wow. Even with a Google Earth collage, the scenery was great. Would love to go to the Grand Canyon.

    I hope you get to go there again if that's your heart's desire. After reading "Brighty of the Grand Canyon" by Marguerite Henry, I've always wanted to see it.

  8. Oh, Mary, I am TOTALLY impressed ... and depressed. Your research makes mine look pretty pathetic, but then I am not (unlike Patty) a research buff!! Can't wait to read this one, Mare. I just know it will be wonderful.


  9. LOL, Mare! You make research such fun!! I've been to the grand canyon with old eyes and brain so I'd be your go-to gal--except the body they reside in might get down...might...but back up? Never! Unlike your pal, Harvey, I wouldn't survive, not even for a weekend. So if you want photos, I have some taken from the top, way back from the edge, unlike some of the crazies we saw risking their lives for a photo! There's post cards people!

    Ruthy, thanks for the boogieless chocolate filled croisants, Ruthy! You're one busy gal and still find time to bake.


  10. I'm the same way, Mary. I feel embarrassed telling someone I'd like to ask them questions because I'm doing research for a book. It's so much easier just to get my questions answered by internet.

    When I was writing my medieval story set in Germany, I was basing my walled 14th century town on a town I visited in college. I spent six weeks exploring it. It was wonderful. So when I started researching for my book, I had a good picture in my head of what the town would look like, especially since so many of the buildings and cobblestone streets had survived, or been rebuilt to look exactly like they did in the middle ages. (Many of the buildings were leveled during a bombing in WWII, but they had survived for, some of them, 700 years. That's amazing.).

    I found online so many good resources, though. And many great books from my awesome public library. I found out that the Harz Mountains, which I drove through while I was there, were covered with beech trees during the 1300's, instead of the type of tree that now covers them. I found out that little fact by accident. A very exciting research moment!

    There's one problem with writing a book set in the middle ages, or anywhere else, really. There are a lot of people out there who consider themselves experts who really don't know what they think they know. I ran into this when I was entering contests, people pointing out "errors" in my research, when actually they were the ones who needed to double check their facts. That annoys me so much more than anything. If they said they just didn't like my story, I could respect that.


  11. I'm drinking my morning latte and wishing for coffee cake instead of plain toast.

    I love to do research--it's so much easier than writing a book.The problem is I've run out of book shelve space and I don't have room for any more. Maybe I need a Kindle or Sony Reader.

    I'd so love to visit the Grand Canyon. Maybe someday.

  12. Sandra -- yeah, NOW she tells you it's going to be your fault. So you know why I sent her to you when she started asking Grand Canyon questions. :)

  13. I just about gave up this Grand Canyon book idea when I was researching a Yellowstone book idea. And like Melanie said, it's the EXPERTS who will kill you.

    My goodness the Yellowstone experts are not only incredibly knowledgable, they're also fervent to the point of religion.

    The Grand Canyon is actually a little more 'wide open' than Yellowstone. Though there was one sort of wide open era in Yellowstone, for the most part, during my time frame, nearly EVERY STEP TAKEN IN YELLOWSTONE IS RECORDED. And not just recorded but painstakingly recorded.

    Also, I was locked into a time with that book because it was part of a series I'm writing with Sophie's Daughters, all grown up from Petticoat Ranch. So there was no shifting the dates to earlier. And by my time setting there was already a tent city beside Old Faithful. I really needed a tractless wilderness, known just well enough to attract a 'tourist' group but most abandoned.

    Well, no such luck. So I abandoned that, though I have some ideas that might work in the future so I don't consider that research time wasted.

    But the Grand Canyon is a little better to use and Sandra not only talked me through the trail I wanted to use but she told me some fascinating facts, like someone had a 'secret' trail down there that was only recently revealed. So I decided if a guy in 2010 can have a 'secret' trail now, then I can have one back then.

    Okay, getting to long

  14. Mary, have you seen (or read) The National Parks miniseries from Ken Burns on PBS? This was a fantastic miniseries detailing the development of all the US National Parks and National Monuments, including the Grand Canyon. It has both the official history of the Parks/Monuments (who lobbied for them to become parks, when they were officially established) as well as anecdotes about people who developed/poached on Park land (in some cases even after it was designated as a Park) or remarkable stories associated with them. I remember there was a story about a married couple who were trying to raft the length of the Grand Canyon around 1900 and disappeared about halfway down. To this day no one knows what happened to them. The DVD and book of the series are out now but they're pricey, so you may want to check the library first.

    I have been to the Grand Canyon, about 20 years ago; unfortunately I made the mistake of going to Bryce Canyon first, and to my mind Bryce just blew the Grand away for sheer color and beauty. But nothing beats the Grand Canyon for sheer size and impressiveness!

  15. Loved reading this post! :) I love researching things for stories, especially if it's an interesting subject. My family and friends usually look at me weird when I blurt out a random fact, though ;)

    And nope, never been to the Grand Canyon. My family and I were traveling close to it once, and we almost went but it ended up not working out. Maybe someday! I did get to go to Yellowstone though, and that was gorgeous :)


  16. LOL, Mary!! I'm not help to you at all. I've never been there. But all you said sounds good to me! ;)

    Now you can blame any mistakes on me. I approved it all for you. :)

  17. I've never yet seen that giant hole in the ground, but boy howdy, I sure want to.

    And I can't wait to read this next book, because I DO trust you. I've loved everything of yours that I've read. You haven't disappointed yet, and I don't 'spect you will. :)

  18. Connealy, you've NEVER disappointed Erica????

    Obviously she's talked to you on your good days. ;)

    Hey, we've got New York Baklava done, warm and sweet from the oven, drizzled with dark amber NYS maple syrup.

    So yum....


    Snickerdoodles trimmed with red and green M&M's. Festive. Delicious. We're doing cookie trays for parents for Christmas so we bake each day and freeze some of our creations.

    Then we eat the rest, gain weight and have a hard time fitting into our Christmas finery, but it's all good. :)

    I love Christmas cookies.

  19. It's been a kind of tricky balancing act writing this book becuase, while I want to capture the wonder of the Grand Canyon, I don't want it to take over and the book turn into some kind of travelogue. Not what I'm going for at all.

    I watched the Grand Canyon episode of the PBS series, and I just watched some other station....history? maybe? about how the Grand Canyon was created.

    I didn't find the PBS special all that useful because it was more about people and politics than the canyon. The History channel show was ... honestly...laughable as they speculated about how the canyon was created. They're throwing out numbers like 200 million and 150 million and they're building scale models of 'how it could have happened'.
    I have NEVER heard a show salted with more continuous use of the words, Maybe and It Might Have, and If and One Theory and blah, blah, blah, it was all made up to me. Just one documentary producers wild-guess-a-thon.

    But there was beautiful scenery. So in that sense it was cool.

    And I found a mysterious long abandoned Indian village in it. Sooooo cool. Plus I kept hearing myths, "Someone said there was a...."
    And miniature horses.

    I'm reading The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher, great book about the first man to hike the entire length of the Grand Canyon in one go, unlike Butcher who hiked in short stretched. And about three other books, one about trails, one full of fabulous pictures, one about pioneers like Captain John Hance. I just cross referencing between them constantly.
    John Hance had a tourist business on the rim of the Grand Canyon in 1880-ish and I'm using him as a cameo character because was a legend, full of tall tales including stuff like he dug the canyon and a runaway buffalo took him to the canyon, and the fog got so think he could walk out on it from the rim. He started mining and found out he could make more money leading tour groups.

    I found stuff about a priest who wandered all over...I can't say his name now, Father ...Diego or something. He curved south, Hance went straight west.

    And Coronado and some really funny myth-ish stories about how the Indians in the area mislead Coronado's men with stories of wealthy golden cities...always on west...just because they could tell that's what the explorers wanted to here and the key 'on west' was to send them on, get them out of town, you might say.

    Ooh, ooh, this cool story about Captain? Major? Can't remember...Powell who took the first successful boat ride through the canyon. Very cool, seriously fascinating. And there were stories, like those folks who were lost in 1900 of all who had tried and failed.

    Anyway, it's hard not to let the canyon take over, keep the story front and center. I'm really enjoying it and I'd LOVE to go see it, get down into it. I suspect I wouldn't make it, not even on a burro. I'm not exactly peak physical condition, as me and my donut addiction will firmly attest.

  20. BY THE WAY
    Next post will be right after Christmas.

    It will be a give away of THE HUSBAND TREE. Coming January 1st. It's getting close.

    I love that book. I really want to have it in my hands and read it again. See if it's anything like I remember it. :)

  21. Oh, Mary, I'm excited about reading The Husband Tree. I have a feeling it might end up being my favorite. Just love the heroine, and that whole "husband tree" concept. I'm just cynical enough to think that is hilarious.

    I'm never in danger of letting the research take over. In fact, I very much dislike research. I only do it for the sake of the story. I only write for the thrill of the story, and to me, research is not thrilling. But I have had some thrilling moments. Like the time I found out that in the middle ages there was a law that if a person is about to be executed, hanged, whatever, and a woman offers to marry him to save his life, they would let the guy go free. Free, except that he had to marry the woman. Do you think I "saved" that bit of information for a future book? Heck no! I used it. It fits perfectly, smack dab in the middle of my awesome book that being published by ... whoops, I almost spilled the beans.

  22. Oh Mary, you are sooooo right! That is one big hole! We stopped by the Grand Canyon when I was someplace around 11 years old. I remember being scared to death to walk up to the edge even though there were guard rails everywhere.

    Nice place, though. Pretty sunsets.

    I'm with you on researching for the historical. I dabble in Regency historicals and trying to verify details before the Internet was awful!

    Whatever you're doing for your research must be working. I love your books!!!

  23. Great post, Mary. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but it is on my wishlist - just like The Husband Tree ;-)

    One of my favorite types of research is movie watching - movies from the period, documentaries. Some of them are tough to watch, but since I'm a visual learner, it's helpful.

    Most of the books I've written (am writing) take place in areas I've lived in or visited (at last once - except my fantasy book, that's all in my head - ha, ha)

    Although visiting the area is a wonderful idea, you've proven you dont' have to visit the place to give the reader a sense for it.

    After I finished my contemp that took place in Derbyshire UK - my friend from Derbyshire read it and asked when I'd visited. I hadn't (which was a wonderful compliment) But I DID visit last spring and could add a little more sights, sounds, and smells to my novel that I couldnt' before. AND finally describe a plane ride.

    I'd never been on a plane before and I was like a kid (my poor husband, it's a good thing he's not easy to embarrass...anymore ;-)

    Sorry for rambling. There I go again....

  24. I thought it was all Julie's fault.

    Never been to the Grand Canyon. I am afraid of heights. The Royal Gorge nearly killed me.

    But I have lived in Oklahoma, NY, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Germany. Need any info from there?

  25. I have never been to the Grand Canyon...but would love to visit one day...

    You are amazing...loved reading this post...


  26. I wish I'd visited it, but haven't yet. Maybe someday...
    That's a ton of research! Wow. Thanks for sharing the info!

  27. Hi Mary:

    I’m late but I hope you may still see this post. I’d like to suggest three things to get you into the mood.

    1) see the IMAX film of the Grand Canyon. The screen is about four stories high! This film will give you an idea of the huge size of the Canyon.

    2) Watch the video of the Grand Canyon Suite : this will give you beautiful music and fantastic visuals

    3) rent or buy the one hour exercise video made for Stair-Steppers which features defined video walks through the Grand Canyon; you can exercise while be inspired!

    BTW, this is a title I want to read ASAP. I have been to the Grand Canyon and no picture can prepare you for how big the thing really is!