I often say that my whole life is just an extended research trip for my next book. And that’s true. Every experience, every new place—it’s all gotta be remembered and distilled in my memory for whenever I need it. Whenever I have to summon up that feeling and turn it into words on a page.
This is why I carry a tiny notebook around with me all the time. I fill it with everything. What things tasted like. What the air smelled like. How it felt in my blood, my bones. Lines of dialogue that pop into my head. Quickly scrawled maps that are illegible to anyone but me.
Because real fiction comes from real life. That’s why good stories are so powerful. They echo enough of “real” life—the way the world is—while still teasing us with what it could be. To write deep stuff, you have to live deeply. Then you have to think deeply. Your voice as an individual is unique, yes. But you have to make your thoughts fit into words that your readers will be able to feel.
Sometimes, though, I realize I need to research something after I’ve already written it.
And I’ve been realizing more and more lately that I’ve written a whole trilogy of books that *SPOILER ALERT* uses horses throughout without ever having actually ridden a horse myself.
A quick note here: I’m not saying that a writer needs to have personally experienced everything they write about. That’s ridiculous. My protagonist, Arliss, is a teenage girl (never been one) who lives in an isolated Celtic kingdom (definitely sounds like my childhood…hah) and, at the outset of the first book, thinks of horses and a lot of other things as mythical creatures.
But when it’s something as simple as riding a horse? Come on, Bo, get your act together, right?
So here are a few life lessons I learned while on this horse-riding adventure.
1. Savor the moment, not the savoring itself
My trusty steed was dubbed Jackson. I was hoping for something more interesting, like Thunder or Napoleon or…hmm…Kirras. *wink* *read my next book* *wink* Seriously though, these people could be more creative with their names. Like, one of the horses was a short little horse and it was named Shorty. Um, okay.
Anyway, after Jackson provided the stables with free lawnmowing, we set off on our little trot through the mountains. After a few minutes I switched the reins totally over to my left hand so I could take pictures with my right.
What can I caption this on Instagram?
I wish the guide would stop photobombing all my pictures.
I should do a blog post about this.
I’m sitting there, absorbed so much in taking pictures that I’m probably missing the moment. I’m definitely not absorbing what it smells like, feels like. But I keep taking pictures.
And then my phone dies.
I want to scream curses at Apple and their short-lived phone batteries. But you know what? The rest of the ride was so peaceful. I got to savor God’s incredible creation without a glass screen filtering everything.
And I still got some great pictures.
2. Wear cheap ugly yellow sunglasses, because if you’re an idiot and leave them in your saddlebags, you won’t have any regrets.
This one is pretty self-explanatory.
3. Research is important, but imagination is more powerful.
After the ride, I pulled up the documents for books 2 and 3 in The Reinhold Chronicles, excited to add my newfound observations about horseback riding to the horse scenes. Imagine the realism! But as I read through them, I realized I needed to add—
I guess I’ve read enough books about horses (thanks, C.S. Lewis), but my descriptions were eerily accurate to what I’d experienced that day. I tweaked maybe one or two words, if that.
So, do your research. But use both sides of your brain while you’re doing it.
4. Do not trust Apple Maps
After all this riding and hiking, you bet I wanted coffee. Unfortunately, great coffee isn’t easy to find in North Georgia. You’ll probably end up settling for a Starbucks in an Ingles, and…yeah, I don’t think I have to say any more.
But my sister and I were determined to find a good coffee shop. So we pulled out our phones (mine had died again and was now charged up to a whopping 3%) and tapped into the meager cell service at Brasstown Bald.
And—voila!—there is a coffeeshop only fifteen minutes from us. It’s almost right next to the stables we were just at. Who knew?
So we set off. We’re driving down a windy mountain road. Huge forest all around us. A few houses here and there. And my sister’s phone says we’re two minutes away from the coffeeshop.
My suspicion is growing.
She misses the turn—because there doesn’t seem to be a road where the GPS indicated. So we turn around. We see the road this time, a narrow little dirt thing.
“This can’t be right,” my sister says.
“Let’s just see.” I need coffee. Even if it comes from some sketch little cabin in the middle of the woods.
We drive for about a mile through the woods on this gravel road. And then Apple Maps tells us we have arrived. I glance around the car.
We’re literally in the middle of the woods.
According to my research, this coffeeshop is part of a small national chain. But, according to their website, they only have one location in Georgia—and this ain’t it.
We finally found some (decent) coffee in the cellar of an Italian restaurant not far away.
Presentation wasn’t much (latte art? hello?) but it tasted good.
And there you go. Just another day in the life of an author, I guess.