Road Trip for Research

This week has been a busy one. It started out with a research trip, my very first. My current WIP is the first one that hasn’t taken place mostly in my home area, so the first time I’ve needed to travel farther than across town (a twenty-minute drive in Dayton) to personally experience my book’s locale.

So on Sunday, my daughter, one of her friends, and I headed south to Middlesboro, Kentucky, on the north side of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, our primary destination. We arrived to rain and storms, so took it easy at the hotel Sunday night, where I got a good bit of writing in, even with the girls playing computer games in the room. In the morning, we walked out of our hotel to lovely views of fog in the mountains.

Our first day at the park, we took a tour of a restored historic village. Even though this one was occupied in the first half of the twentieth century, it was more on the lines of a pioneer village, with no running water or electricity–great stuff for how my eighteenth century hero would have lived.

Cumberland Gap village

This cabin was inhabited as recently as the 1940s


This waterfall began as a tiny spring in the historical village on the mountaintop. Photos do not do its beauty justice.

This waterfall began as a tiny spring in the historical village on the mountaintop. Photos do not do its beauty justice.

Later that afternoon, we trekked across Tennessee to visit the Museum of Appalachia, which was an experience all in itself. That too, gave me some great story ideas–mostly little details that add verisimilitude to our stories. And saw more antiques in one place than I could imagine. So. Much. Stuff. It was overwhelming! But a great place to visit, and a great snapshot of American history and culture, deserving of its association with the Smithsonian.

Then we headed across Norris Dam, which also figures into my WIP, and back to the hotel.

The second day, we took a cave tour. There are 38 known caves in the Cumberland Gap National Park, and we toured just a small part of one of the more well-explored ones, simply called “Gap Cave” now. This one housed soldiers during the Civil War, and has been open to tours since the late nineteenth century.

Civil War soldiers (and people since, before the park took over) left their mark in Gap Cave with carbide lamps and other implements.

Civil War soldiers (and people since, before the park took over) left their mark in Gap Cave with carbide lamps and other implements.

We ended our visit with a trip up to the Pinnacle Overlook, where the curviest and steepest road my old car has ever driven led us to some spectacular views:

Chimney Rock has drawn tourists for centuries, according to a placard nearby. Good to know!

Chimney Rock has drawn tourists for centuries, according to a placard nearby. Good to know!

Middlesboro, from above

Middlesboro, from the Pinnacle Overlook

This one is book cover-worthy!

This one is book cover-worthy!

As much fun as our trip was, I was glad to get back home to this:

I got it... now what?

I got it! Now what?

Then yesterday, my RWA chapter had an all-day retreat, where we did some fun plotty workshops and played a writerly version of Cards Against Humanity, which was great fun. Actually, the whole day was great fun, as always when I’m with a bunch of my writer friends.

What I read this week: Still working on Smith’s Monthly #5. Last week I read the short stories and serial parts, and started the novel. This week, I’m still reading the novel. Lots going on, and it was tiring, so not as much time to read.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: I wrote a whole scene in my hotel room, during the two evenings we were in Middlesboro. So mission accomplished! It was not the ending scene, which was what I’d originally planned to write, but another one that sneaked in and needed to be written. Sometimes that happens. Then I got the ending scene sketched out. This week: I’m already started on the ending scene, so the goal is to complete that. As a bonus, I want to list what other scenes need to be added in the middle, because I already know of several.

What about you–if you’re a writer, have you ever taken a research trip? Have you ever been on a writers’ retreat? And whether or not you’re a writer, have you ever visited Cumberland Gap National Park? (If not, you should!) If you’re participating in ROW80, how are you doing–or if not, how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

10 Responses to \

  1. Thanks for the field trip. I have never been to the Gap or on a writing retreat. Both would be fun. Most of the stories I write are in my general area, so I haven’t had need of a research trip.

  2. Sounds like fun! My mother-in-law lives in Wilmington, NC. I used Wilmington as a setting in a book I wrote, so I always managed to get in some historic tours when we visited.

    I love Cumberland Gap, btw! Sounds like you got were able to do lots of great research there!

  3. I’ve worked on stories set in fictional worlds, so the only research I did for those was looking into geography, mythology, etc. But I’ve penned a couple stories set in New England, and I’ve been there several times, mixing business with pleasure as I spent time with family there while doing setting research for my manuscripts. It’s hard writing about a place you’re not intimately familiar with, but it also gives us a chance to step outside of our comfort zone and out of our writer’s caves to explore the world around us!

  4. In 2000, I went back to my hometown to verify the layout of certain areas of Cleveland. While on Public Square, a woman with a distinct Alabama accent tugged at my sleeve and asked me when they would be setting the Cuyahoga River on fire that night. This, apparently, a confused reference to a 1969 environmental disaster. The lady claimed that this, not the Rock Hall, was why she and her husband came to Cleveland. I told her it was down for maintenance.

    OTOH, it was great eating lunch at the Hard Rock.

  5. Caren, this is my first WIP that wasn’t set in my hometown, so it’s a first for me. But fun!

    Maria, it was great!

    Denise, setting a story outside of my hometown is definitely out of the comfort zone – but I’m enjoying it!

    Jim, that’s a great story – LOL!

  6. Yay, the puppy pics are back!

    What a beautiful trip Jennette. Wow, that’s gorgeous country. And yes, that one picture would make an awesome book cover. So glad the rain didn’t dampen your research trip. It sounds like it was a success! 🙂

  7. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is my kind of place. I don’t write historicals, but visits to historical sites spark my imagination. I’ve been to Cades Cove in Townsend, TN, on the other side of the CG, and it made an indelible impression. I remember being surprised by the Civil war shells dotting the land. Like the park you visited, Cades Cove was inhabited well into this century, but the living wasn’t easy.


  8. Pat, I love Cades Cove! The historic village up in the mountains at CG National Park is similar, but you can only go as part of a ranger-led tour–and the rangers’ stories and details were the best!