Hands-on research is the best way to begin a book. It’s real. It’s kinaesthetic. It’s inspiring. And it will help you discover whether what’s in your mind will work logistically, and on the page.
I visited Saltspring Island seven years ago and loved the energy, beauty, and people here. So when I decided to set a new book on the West Coast, this island began to flicker. I’ve been here now for almost twelve days, walking the beaches, talking to people, going to markets, and scene-searching. It’s like being a director. You have to decide where specific scenes will be set. Among the things I’ve discovered are these:
The House: (Refuge)
In my mind, I saw an old family home on the northwest side of the island, with a large porch, lots of natural wood, board and batten, cedar-shaked, surrounded by pine and arbutus trees. It looks something like this and fits well with the history and culture of this island. But, I also wanted it to overlook the sea and have a dock where one of the characters could keep his fishing boat. The other day, after much beach ambling, I found one similar enough to work for me and make it viable.
Another one of the key characters is a potter, so Refuge will have a summer-kitchen/pottery studio. Yesterday, I visited a potter on the island and she showed me her kilns, her wheel, and we talked a little bit about the process of making pottery. I also bought two exquisite pieces. My potter is also a yoga teacher. The Saltspring Centre for Yoga is known for its teacher-training programs and retreats—I came to one several years ago. This character’s pottery business is called Dharma Designs and revolves around her beliefs as a yogini. The name Refuge describes The House well, as the main character, Gracelyn Lassiter, will leave her place of refuge to travel into the past and the unknown.
As I said, sometimes you think something will work but when you actually see it and walk it, you realize it’s all wrong. When I first came here, I wanted to set the first scene in an old Anglican Cemetery. I researched churches and cemeteries and visited two. Neither felt right. Neither had cemeteries where someone could be buried in 2017. And then I realized that the person who died wouldn’t choose an Anglican Cemetery anyway. Walking through the graves I understood that this character was a very different man than who I thought he was. He began to take form. To speak for himself.
What Have I Accomplished Here?
I don’t want to say too much, as things change between the musing and the actual writing and then again during revision. But, these are some of the things that have come to light while I’ve been working here:
- Names and descriptions of most of the major characters
- Backstory (names, dates, and connections) for the major characters along with the emotional wounds that drive them—thanks to The Emotional Wound Thesaurus for help with this. Most of this never shows up in the story but it’s vital for the writer to know.
- How my character lives in her Ordinary World before tragedy strikes and she must venture out on her journey.
- The first few scenes: where they are set, what happens, and why (cause and effect)
I’m wondering if I should call the island Saltspring or perhaps make it a fictional place and call it, say, Pepperpot Island. Personally, I like to read about real places that I can visit. But, what do you think?
See Ya Later, Saltspring!
Tomorrow, I’m off to Vancouver Island to revisit the lighthouse at Yuquot/Friendly Cove where I stayed for two months in 2014. This is where Gracelyn must go to unravel her mystery. So, I will tread in her footsteps because that is where the magic happens.