Writers have a heightened sense of curiosity about things around them, which is why many of us love research. It is also why writers commonly do things that polite society frowns on. Like eavesdropping on conversations. And stealing … er, borrowing events from your friends’ lives to use in your stories.
While researching RESCUING IVY, I took a trip with my husband to Hartford, Kentucky, to visit my friend, Regina Abney’s, hometown. It was simply a vacation, to see the place my friend so often spoke lovingly about and that had piqued my curiosity. It was not connected at all with my book, or so I thought. But it didn’t quite turn out that way, because a writer’s mind is never turned off.
Regina’s family, the Bennetts, greeted us with down-home hospitality that made us feel welcome. They kept us well-fed and proudly showed us their town. What they hadn’t realized they were doing — and in the beginning, neither did I — was gifting me with material for my book.
The first gift came when my friend’s sister and brother-in-law, Sue and Ray McClain, took us sight-seeing. One of the places we visited was the home of country music star Bill Monroe, in Rosine, Kentucky. After following a narrow, winding road, with woods on either side of us, we came upon the small building sitting high on a ridge they call Jerusalem Ridge.
The home where the man known as “The Father of Bluegrass” was born had tall windows set very low to the floor in every room. A curiosity to this Yankee, but quite reasonable, the tour guide explained, in an area where catching cool breezes was a necessity for much of the year.
When I saw these same low-set windows in a house in Hartford, as well, I knew that my main character’s house in Tennessee must have such windows. They answered the pressing need of a young girl sneaking out late at night for an after-dark adventure. But more than that, they helped assure that she could return unnoticed by sleeping parents who would be appalled at her activities
A small thing, maybe, these windows. But they fit oh-so perfectly into my story.
I received a huge gift at the home of Lois and Jimmie Porter, Regina’s sister and brother-in-law. It wasn’t the home-cooked dinner, wonderful though that was. The gift came about after dinner, when the whole Bennett family sat around talking about old times, which they knew a writer who loved old stories would thoroughly enjoy.
The gift came in the form of a reminiscence by Ronnie Bennett about his grandfather, Lasley Fayree Bennett, and his shoulder-riding chickens.
Ronnie talked about how his grandfather trained small, bantam, chickens to ride on his shoulder, and how they followed him about the farm they lived on. Needless to say, I was entranced. He went on to tell of how his grandfather would kill flies to feed his chickens, and how he wore a cloth over his shoulder to keep his shirt clean.
By the end of the story, I absolutely knew that a chicken was going to be a part of my book, and I knew which of my characters was going to train it. And the Bennett family graciously gave me permission to use their grandfather’s story in my book, so I didn’t have to steal it.
Adding Fayree — I named the chicken after Granddad Bennett — enriched my book, as well as adding an element of suspense that carries through to the end. When Ronnie finished telling his story, I immediately asked how his grandfather was able to get chickens to ride on his shoulder. And this is the question my main character wants to know, too, after first seeing Fayree.
Thankfully, Ronnie didn’t keep me in suspense and immediately answered my question. My main character, though, has to wait until the end of the book to learn “Fayree’s Secret,” despite repeatedly trying to weasel it out of the chicken’s owner.
I received a third gift on that trip to Hartford, too. This time it was a personal one — the friendship of the Bennett family, who I’m proud to say are now my Kentucky Clan.