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