Having just explained that I do not outline books…you may wonder how I can research backgrounds, both physical and social. As of today, I can offer a new example.
Usually, when I start a book, especially in a series, I have in mind a setting of some sort…my characters have shown me where they are, a planet or a spaceship or a fantasy setting of a particular type that clues me in to some of the things I’m going to need to know. For instance, in COLD WELCOME, it was going to be a “survival in the cold” story. I went to a large bookstore to see what they had in that broad area, and hit pay dirt with several books, which have re-buried themselves in the local book accumulation–I don’t want to start an avalanche again, so I don’t have all the titles to hand, but they included one of the books on Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, a book about the history of cod fishing in the western Atlantic, a book about a rowing race across the North Atlantic, and a book about survival and those who have survived in various kinds of bad situations…common factors leading to survival and non-survival. Plus the books I already had at home, and a lot of stuff on the Internet. (One of the books I had at home was a manual supplied for every life raft which lists supplies onboard and dead-serious rules and advice for people who find themselves in one. One internet site showed me videos of life raft behavior in high seas, low seas, etc, including overturning. Another internet site gave me all the details I needed for hand operated desalinators.) Armed with that, I sent the shuttle into the cold ocean and settled in to find out what my characters did.
If I want to introduce something I don’t know much about, I pause the writing and do the research. Usually. But NewBook, written in an uncertain mood and not sure of how my brain would function, I just wrote the sucker. The twins dragged me (fairly willingly) into a riding stable for part of the setting…but then came the day the laser-firing robots came up out of the arena surface. WHAT!! Well, clearly that was going to have to be dealt with. Eventually (causing other complications) the relevant military branch came in and excavated the arena to find out where they came from, and made a huge mess out of the arena…in the middle of the stable’s most lucrative season, with dozens of students taking lessons every day. By this time in the writing, the timeline of the days during which this happened, and by which the arena needed to be back in service because borrowed space wasn’t going to be available any longer was pretty firm. This, this, this, that, that, and this other, other, this other, were all written down. School started at this date, not any later (school officials made that quite clear.) And I had no idea how long it would take to fix the arena. A day? A week? A month? Six months? The “problem” didn’t bother me when I wrote about the attack, the kerfluffle, etc, etc., because this was not the mainstream plotline…it was entwined with it, via the twins, but to the principal players it was a distraction, a concern, something to be managed.
In revision, my careful day-by-day new timeline sequence stopped, because I didn’t know this. I looked online. Quite a bit on people bragging about their arena, showing pictures of their arena, equestrian centers bragging about the surfaces of their arenas, but nothing about how long it takes to fix one that’s been turned into a large hole in the ground. I tried various search terms. One in Sweden turned out to be useful because it gave me some background in constructing arenas for international level (FEI) competitions, and some terminology for new search terms, but it had nothing on fixing a damaged one. I tried other search terms, and then…THEN…came up with an arena design and construction company (EQUESTRIAN or HORSE arena…don’t leave that out or you’ll get companies that build basketball, soccer, and every other kind of arena!) Just one put up vast amounts of information into its website (instead of the “We build beautiful arenas; hire us” and “We build arenas for less than most: hire US”) sites. I went through their site section by section. They explained arena construction (for a quality arena) from below the base through the base, midlayer, top layer; they explained price variables by the complexity of the job, the kind of work the horses would be doing (it had not previously occurred to me, *despite* the Swedish site mentioning it) that to protect horses from injury, the way they’ll work on a surface changes their requirements. Dressage, jumping, racing, reining, roping, cutting…not the same stresses. Not the same size of horses, the same weights…etc. This company had put in arenas at every level from a local one for a riding school to international level competition; it was clear they knew what they were doing. When I think of the inferior, sometime unsafe, uneven, too hard, too deep, soggy, arenas I’ve ridden in over the years, reading about these made me yearn to set Rags’ feet on one of their surfaces.
So this morning I called their office (Kiser Horse Arena Footing Consultation, part of Kiser Ranch Solutions, in Gainesville Texas, explained that I was a writer, gave the kind person answering the phone some info about the project, and was told that Jim would call me back later. As it happened, I was out giving Rags a ground work lesson when he called, and I suspect that having your “this sounds weird” unknown person answer and then ask you to hold a sec so she can get the halter off a horse, and then hear the horse, and then the unknown person tell another (obvious horse) “Stand BACK, Tigger!” (because of course Tigger followed me into the barn and to the aisle gate just in case more hay was forthcoming) makes that person sound more human and ordinary and somebody you could talk to. At least for people working in the horse world. Jim was wonderful. Patient and knowledgeable and it turns out there is PLENTY of time to get the arena fixed before school starts. At least if you have Kiser’s construction crew (“With our crews, we could do it in X to Y days…) Many thanks to them for their willingness to help a stranger who wasn’t in the market for a horse arena…much as I wish I had one. If someone drops the cost of an arena on me (I would have to play the lottery or have a serious best-seller) I would certainly go with this company. If you know anyone in the market for an arena or an arena improvement…Yeah. Kiser. Here in Texas.