Confessions of a Research Fanatic

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By Kathleen Denly

Most campers pray for clear skies and pleasant weather. The summer before my senior year of high school, however, I was fervently praying for a rainstorm. Not just any rainstorm. I wanted a gully-washing downpour that would cause the nearby river to wipe out our current tent site.

You may think this was because I hated camping and if all of our stuff were ruined, we’d have to go home. You would be wrong. In fact, I have always enjoyed camping and that summer was no different. It was my first trip to Glacier National Park and I was enjoying every bit of God’s creativity on display.

However, I was in the middle of writing my first novel at the time, and it occurred to me that I needed to experience what my characters were experiencing so that I could accurately describe it for my readers. After all, we are supposed to write what we know, right?  God had even placed me in the ideal location for that particular portion of my story. All I needed was a storm to make everything perfect. You see, my poor characters were currently being washed out of their campsite by a river overflowing its banks during a rainstorm and I planned to force them to sleep in soaking wet sleeping bags before hiking several miles back to safety.

Sadly, God did not provide me with a timely rainstorm, so the river rushing past our campsite stubbornly refused to overrun its banks. No problem. I was creative. I was resourceful. I could make this work. I merely took my irritatingly dry sleeping bag over to a spot where a small waterfall cascaded down some rocks beneath a short bridge. One flick of my wrist and I was holding my sleeping bag in the stream of running water, gleefully soaking it inside and out. With melted glacier water. At a spot in the mountains that was set to reach 38 degrees Fahrenheit that night.

After a few minutes, I wrangled my now much heavier sleeping bag from the stream, hugged it against my chest, and carried it over to my campsite. I rolled it out on the ground beside the tent (after all, my characters didn’t have a shelter so I couldn’t sleep inside) and started to stuff myself between the wet layers.

It was at this point that the adults in charge got wind of my research project and came over to intervene. It turns out they didn’t understand my need to experience what my characters were going through. They were far more concerned with annoying things like potential hypothermia, liability, and angry parents. So, after several minutes of passionate debate, I found myself deprived of my sopping sleeping bag and relegated to spending the night in the back of the perfectly dry, perfectly warm crossover vehicle parked near the tent.

I never did get to experience sleeping in a frigid, waterlogged sleeping bag beneath the stars in the freezing mountain air. Maybe that’s why I decided years later that that novel was utter rubbish and tossed it in the bin where it belonged—it lacked authentic description. Then again, maybe not.

These days I have far less life-threatening ways of conducting my research. I visit libraries, tour historical sites, and talk to experts on the subjects about which I need to know more. I’ve taken more notes since leaving school than I ever did while in school. Despite its inherent lack of danger, I still experience a thrill when delving into the newspaper archives or learning of a little known historical event from a local historian. The biggest thrill, however, always comes when I get to experience a bit of living history through historical reenactments, following historical recipes, hiking historical trails, and attending events like the Laguna Mountain Rendezvous. So I guess there is still a part of me that wants at least a small taste of the lives of my characters. I’m just far more cautious in how I go about it. For which, my family has expressed their sincere gratitude.

What about you? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

The craziest thing I’ve ever done in the name of research. #confessions #writerslife #ACFWBlogs @KathleenDenly Click To Tweet

Kathleen Denly writes historical romance stories to entertain, encourage, and inspire readers toward a better understanding of our amazing God and how He sees us. Winner of the 2017 First Impressions contest for historical romance, she also shares history tidbits, thoughts on writing, books reviews and more at


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