Friday, June 22, 2018

Research: Always Expect the Unexpected

Pam Hillman
When I first started plotting my Natchez Trace Novel series, I decided to make a trip to Natchez. I live about 2-3 hours away, so it was a great day trip, except my mother and I took two days to tour the area and walk some of the old trace that still exists along the Natchez Trace Parkway.

But one of the most interesting (and looking back, strange) things I did was tour King’s Tavern. Believed to be the oldest building in Natchez, it was built in 1789 and as various times operated as a tavern, stage stop, and a mail station.

Knowing my mother would likely balk at eating dinner at an establishment called a tavern, not to mention that it’s still fairly dark and seedy looking, we opted for something a little less risqué and pricey.

After dinner, though, I was dying (no pun intended) to see King’s Tavern, where Madeline the ghost lives. We found the tavern easily enough on a narrow, dark street. Mama was not impressed. I told her to just stay in the car, and I wouldn’t be long. I just wanted to see the building.

So, off I go to this tavern, which in reality is now a very respectable restaurant.

This is where my tale becomes a bit eerie.

When I waltzed in with my camera, the hostess on duty said that she wasn’t supposed to let people tour the building if they weren’t dining. But, she said, since they weren’t very busy that night, she’d make an exception. She pointed me to the stairs and away I went, feeling very adventurous and a bit nervous that the manager was going to find out and throw me out.


So, there I was, creeping around upstairs taking pictures and getting a feel for what the sleeping rooms and taproom of an 18th Century tavern looked like.

Not wanting to overstay my welcome, and a bit afraid that Madeline would make an appearance and I’d make a fool of myself by screaming, I didn’t stay long. I made my way downstairs and back toward the entrance.

And there, scowling and looking a lot like the ghost from the past with his tails and top hat (not really!), was the manager. I’m sure the hostess was on pins and needles, so I just smiled, sailed on by, and said, “Thank you so much. I enjoyed it!”



“It” is relative, if you’re vague enough. :)

Anyway, it was all quite fascinating and enlightening. I don’t know what I expected to find at the tavern. I mostly wanted to get a feel for such an old building, one built a couple of years before my series starts.

What I didn’t expect was the tension I felt. Not because of the place exactly, or the stories of ghosts that roam the tavern, but because of my covert trip up those steep, narrow stairs and the floorboards creaking under my feet that might alert the manager that someone was upstairs.


I had to write several tavern scenes in the series and I think I channeled that feeling of tension in each and every tavern scene, so the trip up those creaking stairs was totally worth it.

So, tell me the most memorable (scary? Funny? Interesting?) research trip or situation you ever found yourself in?


Pam's latest release, The Road to Magnolia Glen, book #2
in her Natchez Trace Novel series, released June 5th.

61 comments:

  1. I have a story that takes place all over the United States. They are fleeing for their lives on a private jet. They keep getting shot, kidnapped and all kinds of peril. but at one point they are in Sarasota Florida. I have them eating in a restaurant on the beach. I googled restaurants on the beech there and printed off a copy of the menu for one of them. On the menu was alligator bites. It just happens that my friend grew up in the Sarasota area, so instead of googling some things this week I called her on the phone. She has actually tried alligator so I could find out what it tasted like. I would love to take the trip on the private jet and go to each of the towns in the story and experience the romance part of this suspense book. It has been such a fun story to write. Now I am in the multiple layering and polishing stage.

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    1. Wilani, that sounds like such a fun story. Keep at it.

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    2. What fun, Wilani! Wouldn't the private jet be an awesome way to travel? :)

      We have a Wildlife Jamboree every year and there's always a Wildlife Tasting. Usually, someone brings alligator, but I haven't been able to bring myself to taste it. Everybody says it tastes like chicken, but I don't know.... I'm just never in the mood to find out! lol

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    3. Wilani, that's a great idea! My husband ordered alligator while we were at the beach in Alabama, but I didn't brave eating it. Like Pam said, they all said it tasted like chicken, only tougher. :)

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  2. Pam, loved this post! I would have enjoyed researching that tavern with you. A situation I got caught in happened a few years ago. My nephew was graduating from basic training in Oklahoma, so I rode with my mom, step-dad, and sister from Virginia to attend. Before the ceremony started we had to use the restroom. We followed the sign and ended up in the middle of formation. The guy in charge (I don't know what his title was) was not happy. I saw later they changed the direction of the sign.

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    1. Fort Sill, OK? My son graduated from BASIC at Fort Sill in ... 2009, I think. Btw, there is very little to do in Lawton, OK. lol

      Laughing about getting in the formation. Something similar happened to me at Parris Island when my nephew graduated from the Marines. Like you, I was probably headed to the restroom, and was walking across the grass. A Marine on duty started yelling "get off the grass, get off the grass, get off the grass" -- at least I think he was yelling and ME. It seemed so.

      Well, I did, but I wanted to march up to him, and point out that there were about 500 other people "on the grass", but I didn't.

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    2. And Kaybee, I have a gazillion photos of my son's graduation at Fort Sill. He was recognized as one of the top 3 grads (proud Mom moment here) out of about 300.

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    3. Oh, Sally, how funny!! I guess they learned the hard way how not to do a sign! :)

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    4. That is a funny story, Sally.

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    5. Kaybee, we took a lot of photos. I'll have to see when Dylan graduated. It's been a few years, but I'm not sure how long. Yes, Missy, because of course I said the sign said come this way. I had no idea where I was going lol. Pam, oh my! Sandy, we had so much fun on our trip! We just got back from Berlin, Ohio to see Amish country. That was so interesting!!

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  3. Great post, Pam! I would have explored that tavern with you. :-)

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    1. Me, too, Jan. I needed someone to hold my hand! ;)

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  4. Pam, I would have gone into the building with you, I do not believe in ghosts.
    Haven't had many adventures doing research but expect to have more as I cast my net further afield.
    KB

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    1. KB, I don't believe in ghosts, either, but I can have the bejeebers scared out of me. I was afraid they might have something "cheesy" like something jump out at me, but there was nothing like that.

      I went in a haunted house in San Antonio with Robin Caroll a couple of years ago, and I don't do haunted houses, but she talked me into it. I think she still has claw marks on her arms ... from ME!

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    2. I don't like people jumping out at me even if they're real.

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  5. I enjoyed your post and I could imagine how you felt going up the stairs! I know that the tavern scenes will be great in this book.
    Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com






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    1. Thank you, Connie! It definitely helped to have visited an authentic tavern to get a feel for the place.

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  6. Hi Pam! I'm in the middle of The Road to Magnolia Glen and I'm loving it, just like I knew I would! Seeing the tavern gives me a visual for those scenes, that's really cool!

    Those O'Shea brothers though, whew! Can I love two of them at one time? I loved Connor and couldn't wait to see if you could make Quinn as swoony, but no worries, I'm falling for him too! You write the best characters in your amazing stories. I'm caught in that indecisive reader place of wanting to read slow and savor the story and wanting to fly through it to get to the happy ever after.
    This series has the most gorgeous covers and I'm glad I have them both in paperback, I just enjoy looking at them.
    I guess that's enough gushing for now, thanks for writing these fantastic stories, I'm loving the history lesson too!
    By the way, will there be a book three?

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    1. Tracey, I agree about her covers! They're so lush and gorgeous.

      I agree about her writing as well!

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    2. Tracey, thank you!!! I'm so glad you're enjoying the series. And yes, there is a book 3. :) It's Caleb's story. Y'all haven't met Caleb yet, but I think you're going to love him. I know I did! I just turned in the manuscript and it should be out in the Spring of 2019.

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    3. To echo an often used Ruthie quote, I'm happy dancing to hear we haven't seen the last of the O'Shea brothers!!
      Yippee, yippee, yippee!!

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  7. Pam, that would have made me nervous, too! I'm glad you didn't get discovered and kicked out. :) I think it's so cool that you could see a building from the time period of your series. I love that your mother went with you. :)

    I can't say that I've done anything adventurous for research. But I have done ghost tours in Savannah and Jekyll Island while chaperoning groups of middle school kids. I had so much fun!

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    1. Ghost tours with a bunch of kids? Ack! Gives me the shivers just thinking about it. I toured two cemetaries in NOLA with Robin as research for her Darkwater Inn Romantic Suspense. Thankfully, it was day time. I balked at touring them at night! lol

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  8. Hi Pam:

    I'm afraid that I'm going to have to give you a 'marketing' yellow card for writing the below:

    "I had to write several tavern scenes in the series and I think I channeled that feeling of tension in each and every tavern scene, so the trip up those creaking stairs was totally worth it."

    and then not showing a picture of your book with an example passage or two related to those narrow steps to complete the rest of the lesson of today's post! It's not enough to tell us about those passages, show us!

    What better way to involve us in your new series than make us full participants in today's learning experience?

    Speaking of today's topic, and to answer your question, "So, tell me the most memorable (scary? Funny? Interesting?) research trip or situation you ever found yourself in?"

    I have two experiences that come to mind.

    The first was on the Natchez Trace itself near Tupelo, where a National Park Ranger, who was once the partner of Nevada Barr, pointed out 13 graves of unknown Confederate soldiers along side the trace. No national cemetery for these brave men. It seems they were just buried where they were killed. At least some attempt has been made to show them a little respect. Somehow seeing these lost graves was more moving than some of the official national cemeteries I've visited.

    The second was the catacombs in Rome where thousands of bones and skulls are stacked up from floor to ceiling, through endless caves. in decorative fashion. It was one of the most disrespectful sites I've ever seen. Many were the earliest Christians. These are not Halloween decorations…they are people as real and worthy of respect as our dearly departed ones are.

    The common element here is the very strong emotional impressions these sites caused me. I think such strong feelings can also make a novel all the more memorable. Capture the emotions and you'll capture the reader.

    Thanks for your post today and have a good rest of the game. And remember: you're on one yellow card! :O)

    Vince

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    1. Vince, you're 100% correct, and I DID think of adding an excerpt, but I was out of time. Yep, I'm deserving of that yellow card today!

      And, I've seen the grave markers of those 13 soldiers on the trace, years ago. It is a sobering sight for sure. And the catacombs? I can't imagine. So sad! :(

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    2. Hi Pam:

      You wrote:

      "I had to write several tavern scenes in the series and I think I channeled that feeling of tension in each and every tavern scene, so the trip up those creaking stairs was totally worth it."

      I couldn't wait to read what you wrote in, "The Promise of Breeze Hill", so here it is:

      Even though it was midday, darkness shadowed the hallway, save for scant light through a window at the far end. A flash of lightning illuminated stairs to the second and third floors. In the brief flicker, she spotted a man at the end of the hallway.

      Hillman, Pam. The Promise of Breeze Hill (A Natchez Trace Novel) Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

      Yep, I can feel the tension, too. Now I'm going to see those stairs every time they are mentioned. Normally we don't get pictures to go along with the story narrative. It's unique to actually look back into the 18th century.

      Very good!

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  9. Pam, this was a fun post. I guess I can understand that they don't want a bunch of people coming in off the street who weren't eating there, but I don't think it should have been that big a deal to let you up there!

    I haven't done a lot of research trips, but Sally's story of ending up in the wrong place reminded me of something that happened to us. Thirty years ago my husband and I were visiting my sister in Washington, D.C. She lived in Alexandria, VA, and took a bus and the subway from her apartment to work in D.C. While she was at work, we went out sightseeing. We had done pretty well learning to navigate the bus and subway routes. But the bus route ended at the Pentagon and that was where we got on the subway, then the reverse when we came back. Anyway, we were trying to get out of the subway under the Pentagon and back to the bus stop, but we were in a hallway. Finally we walked through a doorway and looked out over a courtyard of the Pentagon! We looked at each other and couldn't believe we were actually inside the Pentagon and felt like we probably really shouldn't be there so we hurried out as fast as we could. I'm not sure they were very clearly marked! It is a fun story to tell, though.

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    1. I bt they're more clearly marked now. Everything was easier 30 years ago, you wouldn't believe the places I got into where I shouldn't have.

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    2. What I mostly got into was backstage at concerts, which is a lot harder now.

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    3. Wow! Sandy, that's amazing! I would have been like you: get out before someone discovers we're here! lol

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    4. Sandy, I love this story!! I love the places you end up that you never intended. Every year we go to the beach. Every year, even with GPS, we end up somewhere we don't know where we are. But it's so much fun. One year we got out of the car and danced around the welcome to North Carolina sign. It took forever to get out of Virginia for some reason lol. One year we ended up at an airplane field. Not sure what it was but there were a ton of airplanes.

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    5. Sally, it is fun to end up unexpected places--as long as you don't think you might be in trouble for being there!

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  10. Today is my business day, wherein I work on blogs, visit blogs, do contest stuff and correspondence. It's not as fun as the actual writing, but it's REAL fun to know I was supposed to do something and got it done.
    May be back later,
    KB

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    1. KB, I wish I was that organized and disciplined. Go get 'em, girl!

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  11. Memorable research trips, huh? Well, there was the one where hubby and I hiked from 7700 feet elevation to 9700 feet elevation with plans of making it to a particular mine, only to discover that snow still remained on the north side of the mountain, obscuring much of the trail. We tried anyway, but after slipping down the mountainside twice and praying for a tree to break our fall, we decided to head back.

    Then there was the trip where I went ice climbing and the one where I determined to go into a mine, despite my claustrophobia. Oh, the adventures we have in the name of research. But isn't it great to be able to pass those experiences on to our readers?

    Pam, thank you for this post. Now I'm ready for another research trip.

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    1. Mindy, you're a braver woman than I am. Somewhere way out West (Sequoia National Park, I think), we hiked to the top of a promontory with a lookout. It was MY idea, but my hubby and teenage sons took off for the top while I huffed and puffed and fought panic attacks all the way up.

      Some of the iron railings were no more than knee high and I could just see myself getting dizzy and falling over. Then I'd meet people coming down. It was awful. Not so bad at the TOP, but on those narrow ledges. Ack!!!

      I found it ... Moro Rock.... this is the place I didn't think I'd make it across. This is not a photo of me. I think I crawled through this area!

      https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g143050-d146443-r506121767-Moro_Rock-Sequoia_and_Kings_Canyon_National_Park_California.html#photos;geo=143050&detail=146443&ff=320810319&albumViewMode=hero&aggregationId=101&albumid=101&baseMediaId=320810319&thumbnailMinWidth=50&cnt=30&offset=-1&filter=7&autoplay=

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    2. Yikes, Pam! I would have had misgivings about that, too. Not to mention huffing and puffing.

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  12. You definitely make me want to take a research trip now. So far, I have mostly just used locations I was familiar with. But exploring old taverns sounds like so much fun!

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    1. The whole trip was great. And those beams in the ceiling? They came from discarded and dismantled flatboats.

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  13. Whoooo, that experience gave me chills and I wasn't even there! Thanks for sharing and for going the extra mile in the research department!

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  14. I love this glimpse into your brave research :D

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  15. Ah, there's nothing better than 'boots on the ground' research! The King's Tavern sounds great! And I admire your bravery!

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    1. My bravery only goes so far. It's just a restaurant now. :)

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  16. There are definitely areas and times of the day on the Trace when you can easily mentally transport to a different time. I am always amazed by how deep it is at some points. I decided a long time ago that every trip I take is a research trip. Things that catch my attention can come back to be very important later on. I'm also fortunate to be writing about a fictional place in the general area where I live -- the stories just take place 100+ years earlier :-)

    I have your Natchez Trace books in my 'too read' stack on my iPad. Eager to get to them at long last!

    Nancy C

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    1. I agree, Nancy. Almost everywhere I go turns into a "what if?"

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  17. One of the reasons I love to write is research--learning something new and interesting about a place. If I'm not too careful, I'll chase a number of bunny trails that take me off into territory I really didn't need. But sometimes those bunny trails lead me to wonderful places I can use in my book. Research provides me with insights I might never have had otherwise, and going there is even better. Thanks for sharing, Nancy and for reminding us how the attention to the small details in our research can lead to marvelous places.

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    1. Donna, I'm the same way. So easy to get off on rabbit trails... online AND in real life. But so much fun, too.

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  18. Seems like an author needs to have a bit of the intrepid reporter in her DNA. I am so excited about the release of this next Natchez Trace novel. Though I feel that Connor is my fictional soulmate, I understand that Quinn might be just as swoonworthy. Time will tell. Might have to read Breeze Hill again for comparison purposes. :-)

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    1. Kav said: Might have to read Breeze Hill again for comparison purposes. :-)

      Kav, I like that. I think you should do it for sure! :)

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  19. I've toured Natchez...and probably the Tavern. Love those old buildings. On a trip to New Orleans, a couple years ago, I went to a restaurant that sets a table for its ghosts!

    So much history in those old spots. Also love Charleston and Savannah and Saint Augustine, which I'm returning to in the fall.

    If only those walls could talk!

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    1. Debby, that might have been The King's Tavern, since Madeline is one of the resident ghosts.

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  20. Wow, Pam - - I was actually nervous as I read about your "self-guided tavern tour"! How special that you ventured upstairs to get a genuine feel for the place. And thankfully Madeline didn't object to your visit, LOL. ;) Thanks for sharing this.
    Hugs, Patti Jo

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    1. Definitely Patti Jo. I would have been in a major panic if something really strange had happened.

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  21. Loved the post, Pam! I'd have loved to go exploring that tavern. I have your book on my wish list. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to read it soon. I'll definitely be thinking of your tavern excursion when I do!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Winnie. Research trips are so much fun, aren't they? Hope you enjoy The Road to Magnolia Glen!

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