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Research: The Difference Between Still and Sparkling by Norma Gail, Author of Land of My Dreams
“Still or sparkling?”
“Excuse me?” My husband asked.
“Your water, sir. Still or sparkling?”
“Still.” As our Scottish waiter walked
away, we burst into giggles. “It appears that driving on the wrong side of the
road isn’t the only thing we have to get used to.”
Writing a believable setting that you
have only passing or no personal familiarity with can be a daunting task for
any writer. Little did I know that two years following our trip to Scotland it
would become the setting for my debut novel, Land of My Dreams. Had I known, I would have looked at things very
Once you decide to write, every event, interesting
building, unusual accent, even people at the grocery store become potential
material for creating setting and characters. The villainess in my current WIP was
a woman in the small town grocery store where I shop.
Here are some tips that made an editor
think I had lived in Scotland when I only visited for two weeks:
1)Travel, whether you’re writing
historical or contemporary. If your story takes place in your own area, look at
it as a first-time tourist. I dragged my husband to familiar places near our
home time and again, listening to the sounds and inhaling the distinctive
aromas of New Mexico. I thought about what I missed the most when we lived out
of state for a while.
2)One of my most powerful tools is a
screensaver of over 400 images. Pictures from the internet are great as long as
they’re for personal use only. I overlooked the spot where Kieran’s sheep farm
is located in Land of My Dreams for only
15 minutes, but there are guesthouses on Loch Garry with great photos of the
surrounding area on their websites. A friend who raises sheep was invaluable.
3)Immerse yourself in music. My Scottish playlist
has 218 songs. Can you sing “Scotland the Brave?”
4)Watch movies, read tour books, and
check weather reports. During a recent documentary, I realized there is a map
of Scotland in my head.
5)Study customs, holidays,
colloquialisms, schools, churches, and local history—even for contemporary
fiction, you never know when it might add some interest.
6)Research restaurants in the area and read
the menus online. Buy a cookbook and try some traditional foods. How does it
smell and taste? What ingredients, both familiar and unfamiliar does it
contain? I ate haggis, sheep’s offal mixed with spices and oatmeal, boiled in a
7)What political issues impact their
lives? The recent referendum on Scottish Independence is a good example.
8)What would they do for fun? The
Highland Games in New Mexico gave a little flavor, but nothing compared to our
day in Ballater, Scotland. A dapper, elderly couple, wearing tartan and eating
ice cream cones under an umbrella while exclaiming, “It’s a lovely day”, still
makes us smile and found their way into my book. “Hill-walking” is a national
9)Get advice from people familiar with
your setting. I found an editor who lived in Scotland and still has friends
10)Go for the small details. Little things
bring your story world to life. I studied online lists of slang,
colloquialisms, and Scots-Gaelic to make the dialogue ring true. A friend who
read an early version of my book suggested a man would never use the word
“lovely.” Have you watched any television programs from the UK lately?
My current area of research is North
Carolina to New Mexico from the 1770’s to 1920’s. Pinterest provides an awesome
array of maps, antique furniture, old houses, period clothing, even links to
articles and videos. For someone who took on a foreign country for their first
book, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
Be curious. Be creative. Be cautious.
Become a contemporary of your characters.
Alone and betrayed,
American professor, Bonny Bryant longs for a haven of peace. She accepts a
position at a small Christian college in Fort William, Scotland, craving escape
from her painful past. The passionate love, which develops when she meets
fellow professor and sheep farmer, Kieran MacDonell, is something she never
Kieran harbors a deep
anger toward God in the face of his own devastating grief. When Bonny’s former
fiancé reenters her life, Kieran’s loneliness draws him to a former student.
How will Bonny decide
between her rivals? Can they set aside the past to make way for a future, or
will it drive them apart?
Land of My Dreams spans the distance between New Mexico’s
high desert mountains and the misty Scottish Highlands with a timeless story of
overwhelming grief, undying love, and compelling faith.
About the Author:
Norma Gail is the
author of the contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, winner of the 2016 Bookvana Religious Fiction
Award. A women’s Bible study leader for over 21 years, her devotionals and
poetry have appeared at ChristianDevotions.us, the Stitches Thru Time blog, and
in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers
and Romance Writers of America. Norma is a former RN who lives in the mountains
of New Mexico with her husband of 40 years. They have two adult children.