Sunday, August 28, 2011

Welcome Amber Leigh Williams & the Importance of Good Research!

I’ve always had a keen interest in how things work and the history or stories behind them. That may be why I spent no less than a year researching my first romance novel, a historical set in the Italian countryside. Though I don’t spend nearly as much time researching my current novels, the research process still fascinates me to such a degree that I have to limit myself or I get carried away. As beautiful as Veneto, Italy is, no one wants to read a two-page description of the panorama. In the first draft of this book, the heroine (daughter of a winemaker) takes the hero on a tour of her family’s winery, explaining every detail of what happens to the grapes once they are harvested. This segment, eventually cut, was ten pages long. Thankfully, I now know how to pick and choose what readers want to know. It never hurts though to know how something works because it might just add a scene or element you didn’t expect to the storyline. Here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite research topics….

Winemaking – This research was for Forever Amore, my historical based in Italy, which was eventually published after several revisions. Before I wrote Forever Amore, I didn’t drink wine. During the research, however, it became inevitable and I eventually grew to love it. There’s so much history in winemaking. I find the organic process – especially that which was utilized in the early twentieth century – fascinating in itself. I watched many videos, printed out many pictures, and read many books that revolved around vineyards and winemaking. My favorite part of the winemaking research (besides the tastings) was the vineyard work. I even made my hero a worker in the heroine’s vineyard to better help him blend with the people around him and avoid capture. A lot of work goes into a vineyard, but there’s something romantic about it. In spring, when the buds begin to burst on the vines and the vines have grown tall enough to conceal the hero and heroine in a sunset stroll, romance was simply inherent!

Italian – While researching Forever Amore and reading books based in Italy, it became pretty clear that some knowledge of the Italian language was necessary. The plot revealed that the heroine would have to teach the hero Italian if he were to journey through the Italian countryside safely in disguise. I enjoyed learning French in school so I took to teaching myself rudimentary Italian. It came pretty easily, all except for distinguishing between the different greetings people use at different parts of the day. I transferred this confusion to the hero, Charles, in one of his first conversations with the heroine, Lucille….
“I already know a bit Italian,” he said in earnest as he followed her from the room that he would share with Roberto indefinitely.

“Really? How do you say ‘good morning’?”

He frowned. “Ciao?”

With a sigh, she descended the stairs ahead of him. “We have far to go.”

Rodeo – I joined the ranks of western romance authors with relish by signing up to write a novella in the Wayback, Texas series for The Wild Rose Press. And I dove into researching cowboys like a fish into water. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Wayback is a rodeo town. I love cowboys. I love western animals. Research was no chore, especially when I was invited to a local rodeo and got to experience the whole thing firsthand. In other words, I was the eager wannabe cowgirl in pigtails and blue-jean skirt taking diligent notes in the first row. I uncovered those notes the other day and found both the name of the bull the hero of the first book in my Wayback trilogy rides as well as the hero’s first name. Somewhere in the world a bull named Jack the Ripper and a rodeo cowboy named Judd have been immortalized forever :)
Taj Mahal – This research was for my romantic suspense, Denied Origin, in which the hero and heroine are taken on a fast-paced scavenger hunt around the globe to uncover her true identity. One of the locations the scavenger hunt leads them to is India, the town of Agra, and the beautiful Taj Mahal. There is a wealth of fascinating information surrounding this monument both historically and architecturally. It is a shrine, first and foremost, to love and devotion. I needed an element of danger, however, to add to my story so I focused my research on the Taj Mahal’s water system, which during the period the Taj Mahal was built were way of their time. With its canals, fountains, and the river flowing beside it, I created a frightening scene involving water tunnels beneath the Taj Mahal. Despite its scary elements, it’s one of my favorite scenes of the book.

Mythology – Currently, I’m working on research for a paranormal concept that involves a great deal of Greek mythology. I love mythology – it’s my storyteller paradise! At the moment, I’m learning a great deal about the god of war as well as the origins of mermaids of folklore – sirens! Sparta is another key area of research. It’s all too easy to get carried away. However, one of the best parts of research is uncovering new passions or indulging old ones. I’ve always loved Greek mythology and wanted to include it in some aspect of my writing. Now that I’ve found the perfect opportunity, my job just got a lot more fun!

Today I’m including an excerpt from Denied Origin, a romantic suspense available in paperback and ebook from The Wild Rose Press….

He knew all about the Taj Mahal’s tragic history. He knew it wasn’t the only great temple in India, but it was the most cherished, a very fitting tribute to beauty, a shrine of love and devotion. He knew it’d taken over two decades to complete and had been built by a Mughal emperor in honor of his beloved wife who’d died in childbirth.
Mark wondered how love such as that of the Mughal emperor and his Muslim princess could still exist now in a time defined by its greedy and power-hungry society. In a world where terror and fear reigned, Mark found it hard to believe a love like that was still a reality.
He glanced at Valentina and realized he was living that reality. He was full proof of it. He turned away from her, tried to convince himself he had no choice. But even with his mind determinedly set against it, this feeling was digging a home in his core, refusing to be stemmed or ignored.
As the train pulled into the station, Valentina stirred. It was midmorning and the sun was out, bright and full. She squinted out the window at Agra. “Are we getting off?”
Mark nodded as he rose to get their luggage. He threw the duffel over his shoulder before helping her to her feet. He tucked an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t leave my side,” he whispered as they wandered into the station.
He kept his eyes sharp. A sniper could be perched just out of view, a knife could be held just out of sight. His eyes passed over every face, studied them, judged them. He checked over his shoulder many times to make sure no one was following them. “We’ll go straight there.”
“Good,” she muttered. He knew she was also watching the crowd. “The sooner we leave this place the better.”
He didn’t relax, but slowly began to take in the sights as they walked quickly through the city streets. They walked through a large bazaar where the smell of spices was so strong he could almost feel them filtering through his lungs as he breathed deep to admit them. There weren’t many cars. There was the occasional elephant, more than a few horse-drawn carts, and various bicyclists.
All the people were tan with exotic eyes and peasant dress though they had a carefree air, a sense of peace and gratification. They’d been walking for some time when they came to a crowded iron bridge.
“Are we close?” She pressed close to Mark’s side as they squeezed into the traffic on the bridge.
He nodded, his eyes darting every which way, searching for the glare of a weapon. “This is the Yamuna River. The Taj is just across the bridge.”
After wriggling their way through the suffocating crowd, they broke out into the sunlight again. As soon as she saw the monument in the distance, she let out a surprised gasp. “Oh, Mark…”
He couldn’t help but grin at her surprise. “It’s even better up close and personal, huh?”
Her gasp melded fluidly into an awestruck sigh. “Oh, it’s gorgeous—more than I imagined.”
“We have to go through the south entrance,” Mark advised, guiding her onward. “Not much further.”

Find out more about Denied Origin, Forever Amore, and my western romance trilogy at my website:! Thank you for hosting me, Alison! I enjoyed talking about my favorite research topics.

Readers, what people, places or things do you most like learning about through your TBR list?

Thanks, Amber! Great advice and information! Denied Origin sounds like my kind of scavenger hunt and who can resist a title like Forever Amore!

Next week: Marie Tuhart


Jennifer Ann Coffeen said...

Great article Amber! I'm glad to know other writers love doing research. I can spend hours browsing through books on Regency era hats. So fun!

Sandra Koehler said...

Me being the history buff I am, I love reading and learning about lost treasures and how people have been trying to find them for years in various places, but failed. It gives me great fodder for stories.

Sandy AKA Alison Chambers

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Jennifer, thank you! Oh, and I LOVE Regency era fashion, especially the hats :)

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Sandra, I love treasure hunting stories, too - especially those which take place on the sea. I remember Nora Roberts' The Reef vividly for that reason. Thanks for hosting me!

Sandra Koehler said...

I loved "The Reef", Amber. I've saved it so I can re-read it.


Amber Leigh Williams said...

Sandy, when I was going to school three towns over three days a week, I listened to The Reef on audio tape over and over and over again. It's definitely worth a re-read :)

Lynne Marshall said...

Thanks for the informative and entertaining blog. Over the weekend I had to research bat bites and DNA tesing to Huntington's disease. Oh the lengths we go to for our books. :)

Best wishes for great success with your books, Amber.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Lynne, thank you for stopping by! Ew, bat bites! For my RS, I had to research poisonous snake bites and how to get the poison out if a hospital is not in range. I learned more than I cared to, lol

Vonnie said...

Sounds like you've had a ball doing your research! All power to you. Ah...Italy. Adore the place. Nobody had to teach me to drink wine though!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Vonnie, lol - For me, it was an acquired taste. Now I might like the wine too much :)