Tuesday, May 25, 2021

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: How Asking Questions Can Make Your Story Shine with Guest Blogger Laurel Blount

 

by Laurel Blount

As a writer, two of my favorite things are telling stories—and asking questions that help me tell better stories.

I’ll start off with a story. I was sorting through a box of photos, and I came across this one from about twenty years ago. That slightly blurry girl is me, sitting in the Atlanta airport getting ready to fly off to Paris with three teacher friends.

That trip-of-a-lifetime was every bit as awesome as it sounds. I lit a candle and prayed at Notre Dame, explored Versailles, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and ate some truly scrumptious food. But you know why I smiled when I saw this photo?

It’s my haircut.

I’d never had short hair. Like…never. My whole life I’d had long hair, with swoopy bits that fell over my forehead.

I was tired of that look, and I wanted to spruce up for my special Paris trip. I just wasn’t sure what to do.

One day, I was sitting in the stylist’s chair—the same sweet lady I had been going to for years—peeking out from under my bangs at my frumpy self in her mirror. I mustered up my courage and asked her a question:

“If you could do anything with my hair, what would you do?”

And oh, my word, ya’ll. It was as if I’d flipped some kind of switch. That woman’s eyes lit up, she grabbed a book, and she started thumbing through pages. “This!” She pointed to a super short haircut. “This right here! This is the perfect cut for you. You need to get your hair off your face and shorten it up. And then for pity’s sake, girl, go get your ears pierced!”

The poor lady was bouncing with excitement. She’d been cutting my hair for years, and apparently had secretly been dying to tell me what to do.

But, see? I’d never asked.

I was taken aback, and I definitely wasn’t sure about going that short. She seemed really confident, though, and she knew a lot more about hairstyles than I did.

So after one long minute, I said, “Do it.”

And you know what? I loved that haircut! It was fun-looking and simple to take care of, and I bopped all over Paris with easy-care, cute hair. (And earrings. Because she was right about that, too.)

That experience taught me a lesson that I’ve applied to my life—and my writing process—over and over again. People are often eager to share their expertise—but you’ve gotta ask.

For example, I have a wonderful vet who reads my animal scenes. (This is especially important since I’ve ventured into Amish fiction. That’s a lot of horses, ya’ll.) I knew she was a very busy professional, and I hated to bother her. But finally, when I had a really tricky horse section, I just…asked. Turned out, she was delighted to help me, and she’s been such a blessing!

I also have a dear author friend who was an ob/gyn nurse, and I asked if she’d check a maternity scene in my Love Inspired in progress. She did, and she told me what I’d gotten wrong—which was plenty. (In return, I gave her tips when she was writing about milking a cow. Hey, I’ve got some skills, too!)

I’ve talked to doctors, journalists, social workers, farriers, adoption coordinators, former law enforcement officers, sales executives, ministers—you name the profession, I’ve probably cornered one of them and said, “Could I ask you a question?” Most of the time, they’ve been very gracious and generous with their knowledge.


When I considered delving into Amish romance, I hesitated. I’d read lots of books about the Plain lifestyle, sure, but those only take you so far. I wanted to hear a more personal perspective. So, I approached an acquaintance, Anna, who’d grown up Amish and left her community as an adult. I respectfully asked if she’d mind answering a few questions for me, and she agreed.

That led to some fascinating talks. She enjoyed some of my questions more than others—like the time I asked her if Amish sweethearts ever kissed while they were dating.  (If you’re interested, the answer—after some laughing—was yes.)

She also told me that Amish men often carry pocketwatches in the pocket of their pants, that families in her community generally kept only one horse until the children were older and needed one of their own, and that the seven mile buggy ride to town took her about half an hour. She described to me what the inside of a buggy smelled like and how the straight pins she used to fasten her dress would sometimes work loose and prick her, leaving little dots of blood on the fabric. She told me about the long talks couples are given by the leaders of the church before they are married—and how nervous she felt and so ready for that part to be over.

The personal insights she provided enriched my writing as I worked on Shelter in the Storm. I’m so glad I found the courage to talk to her.  As much as I love asking questions, it’s not always easy for me to approach the people I need to speak with, especially when I don’t know them well. Like most writers, I have a strong introverted streak. So far I’ve had the most success with people I know personally or those I’m introduced to by a helpful friend.

Since I started with a story, I’ll end with some questions. What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve learned as a result of asking questions related to your writing projects? Have any tips for finding experts who are willing to chat with information-hungry authors? Is there somebody you’d love to talk to for your current story?

And finally—one along the lines of my do-Amish-couples-kiss question. Has anybody ever tried these jams that I saw at our local Mennonite café? I’m so curious!

A commenter will be chosen to win one of these mystery jams along with a copy of Shelter in the Storm. As long as you promise to tell me what the jam tastes like. Because you already know…

I’m gonna ask.

 


Carol award-winning author Laurel Blount writes inspirational romances full of grit and grace—with characters who’ll walk right off the page and into your heart. She lives on a farm in Georgia with her husband, their four fabulous kids, and an assortment of ridiculously spoiled animals. She writes for both Love Inspired/Harlequin and Berkley/Penguin Random House, and she is rep’d by Jessica Alvarez at BookEnds Literary Agency. Connect with Laurel at www.laurelblountbooks.com

 

29 comments:

  1. Doesn't this book look marvelous??? Congratulations, Laurel! I'm so happy for your success! And the Amish lifestyle and devotion to their rules fascinates me for other reasons... the split from the rules of the Catholic church during a time of schism and then they came out with so many rules of their own. Manmade ones... like, you didn't learn from the past? So I find that dichotomy interesting when I look at Christian divisiveness... I have a former Amish heroine in my upcoming Wishing Bridge and the research into it all came from an encounter nearly twenty years ago with a very strict Amish community in the North Country and how different they were from the more friendly groups in the Southern Tier. And how NY Amish came here not just for cheap land, but because they didn't agree with their "church" (their home congregation) and split... So the whole thing is fascinating to me! But probably for different reasons than most folks reading Amish books embrace.

    Laurel, I love the story of the hair and the trip and the earrings.

    We lose 100% of the races we don't enter.

    WELL DONE!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay, it's Ruthy! My favorite early bird writer! Thank you! Yes, I found my research fascinating and sometimes perplexing. Such an interesting topic for so many different reasons. For example in my friend's strict community, even the length of their kitchen countertops was legislated. Can you imagine? She said she didn't miss that--or those straight pins! But she did miss the strong feeling of community.
      And you are so very right about losing all the races we don't enter. Like I tell my kids, you step out and you find out. And if you fail--that's okay! Learn something from it, grow a little and have some fun!

      Delete
    2. Ruthy, doesn't she look cute in that pic? You can see the anticipation bubbling inside of her. I mean, what better way to do Paris than with a new doo.

      Delete
    3. I was young and brave! And oh, I was SO excited!! It really was the trip of a lifetime, and I'm so thankful now that I had the chance to visit Notre Dame before the fire. Unfortunately, I spoke next to no French, lol, so that got interesting!

      Delete
  2. Laurel, so good to see you here today and congratulations on another book!! I have not done enough research or talked with anyone about my stories, but I do try to listen to people and use tidbits I hear for inspiration. I try not to eavesdrop, but if people don't whisper, well... :)

    Great post! Thanks so much for stopping by!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Glynis--oh, yes. I know just what you mean--people can supply you with endless story ideas!! (Whether they mean to or not, lol) And, like you, I figure if they're talking loudly enough for me to hear...well...fair game! Thanks so much for commenting!!

      Delete
    2. Glynis, I'm often nervous to ask, but like Laurel said, people are usually more than happy to talk with you and share their knowledge. So the next time you're uncertain about something, step out of your comfort zone and ask away. ;)

      Delete
    3. I agree about the "eavesdropping," Glynis. Especially during tourist season! It's a great way to pick up different speech patterns - they vary so much around the country. It's also a fun way to find story ideas, especially when you only hear a small part of the conversation. One sentence can start the imagination working...

      Delete
    4. Mindy, you're so right--I've been pleasantly surprised by most people's willingness to chat about their areas of expertise. Many times I think they are actually flattered!!
      And Jan--you are SO RIGHT! I love hearing the differences in how people talk--and sometimes there's that one sentence that just grabs you and starts all the wheels turning!

      Delete
  3. Good morning, Laurel! And congratulations on another book!

    I loved the story about the haircut. I had also had long hair all through my teen years and early twenties, but then when my oldest son decided that my long hair was his security blanket (ouch!) I tried a shorter cut for a while. Yes, he could still use his security blanket (I have pictures to prove it,) but I wasn't sure I liked it. I was much skinnier back then, and every time I looked in the mirror I saw Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp. I haven't had it that short since.

    But to the real point of your great post - I do most of my research through YouTube videos and my own memories and experiences, but when I had a scene where my hero and heroine were helping a cow through a difficult birth, I called a vet friend. I bought her lunch and questioned her about the subject. Later, I realized it probably wasn't the best conversation topic over a meal!

    Those stories were all historicals, though. My current WIP is contemporary, so my research is a bit different. One thing I did to make it easier on myself was to set it in the Black Hills. All I need to do to research the setting is to walk out my front door. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwa ha ha ha ha!!! I LOVE the idea of chatting about cow births over a meal--that's priceless! But I bet the vet didn't even blink! (I know mine wouldn't have!)
      And I do love settings that are close to home. Not only does it save on research, but there are so many little nuances that you can share to make the setting feel authentic to the reader! That's always such fun. When my husband retires, I'm hoping we can travel and stick around awhile in some places in order to pick up some more setting possibilities!
      I love your story about your haircut, lol! About the security blanket--I had a similar problem with my new earrings. My babies thought the dangly ones were there just for them to play with! After a few painful tugs I went with stud-type earrings until my children were bigger!
      So wonderful to chat with you, Jan!! This is why I love Seekerville! So many wonderful folks!

      Delete
  4. Laurel, thank you so much for joining us today. Your book downloaded to my Kindle this morning and I can't wait to read it. I love your LIs, so I'm curious to see how your voice transfers to Amish, my friend. I'm so proud of you! And I might need some of that Toe Jam. Or maybe Monkey Butter. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL!! Thank you, Mindy--you're the best--and so kind! And thanks so much for inviting me here to Seekerville--I always love visiting here. What do you think is in that Monkey Butter?? Maybe something with bananas??

      Delete
  5. Such great advice, Laurel. Thanks for a simple but true, common-sense idea.
    I had a medical thing, a bullet I wanted lodged just so to be inoperable but dangerous. You know, same old life and death crisis stuff. It wasn't one of my cowboy historicals. It was modern medicine. I talked to two doctors. One just seemed to roll her eyes and say, "Do whatever, none of that would happen." My sister so she could be blunt.
    The other got more into it, brainstorming... "If this happened, what if THAT then happened..."
    So I agree on this completely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a similar experience with an ophthalmologist, lol. The medical stuff gets tricky--and doctors are such busy--and practical--folks. And as we writers know, none of this stuff is very LIKELY to happen--that's what makes it so interesting!

      Delete
  6. PS I love your hair and I am terrified to ask My Hairdresser what she'd do! Yeesh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, lol! I was so surprised that she had an answer all ready--like she'd been sitting on it for years. (Which probably tells you a lot about what my hair looked like before!)

      Delete
  7. Congratulations Laurel! I have had Amish TOE jam and it was really good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! The name is hilarious--but I really want to try it! I bet it's delicious!

      Delete
    2. The name aside, it does sound kinda good.

      Delete
  8. Interesting post, Laurel. I need to seek out some professional thoughts on my book that I am trying to revise now. I feel a little nervous about it, so it is good to hear your comments about how people enjoy helping. Please put me in the drawing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sandy, once you start asking, you never know who you might end up in contact with. Then you'll ask yourself, "Why didn't I say anything before?" ;)

      Delete
  9. I was nervous about it, too, Sandy--and I still am. But I find people surprisingly helpful! Networking often brings me the best results--it seems so much easier to approach a friend-of-a-friend or somebody you already know. I've resorted to asking my friends--who knows someone who's an expert on (blank). Somebody almost always offers a name!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hey Laurel (my fellow GA lady)....good to see you here...learning more about you! I am so excited about your new book! Hoping, hoping to get a chance to read it.
    Blessings~~~

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Jackie!! Yay! So glad to see you here! And oh, yes--I want you to read it and tell me what you think!

      Delete
    2. Jackie, Laurel is one of my favorite authors, too.

      Delete
  11. Laurel, as a young woman you got to go to France! Dream of a lifetime, right? I took French all four years in high school and two years in college so my heart was always dreaming of Paris. I finally got there with my military hubby and three little children...and I loved every minute! Plus, we returned often and explored the small towns and rural areas of France that were equally as enchanting as the big cities.

    As for questions...I took a Citizens' Police Academy 18-week course in my local town. I filled a large binder with notes and asked lots of questions. One of the cop instructors finally asked why I took so many notes. I quickly explained that I was a writer, which only made the officers share more info about their jobs and what they had experienced over the years.

    There's a Mennonite café in South Georgia? Hmmm? I see a road trip in my future!

    Congrats on your success, Laurel! I'm looking forward to reading SHELTER IN THE STORM, another wonderful Laurel Blount story! So glad you could be with us today in Seekerville!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,Debby! (Another one of my all time favorite Georgia ladies!) Yes, it sure was a dream trip--although I wish I'd had your background in French! What you're describing--exploring the small towns and rural areas--oh, how I would've loved to do that!! Sounds like heaven.
      Fascinating about the Citizen's Police Academy!! I bet you learned so much there!
      Yes, we have a little cafe and coffee shop here. It's very popular--always crowded, and for good reason! I love their chicken salad!
      Thank you, Debby, so much! I'm delighted to be here on Seekerville--love this place and all the people who make it so wonderful!

      Delete

If you have trouble leaving a comment, please "clear your internet cache" and try again. You can find this in your browser settings under "clear history."