Fiction Writing: Research is Just a Road Trip

calico.jpgOne of the 7 Deadly Fears of Writing is the fear of research. Either you love researching or you hate it, but a realistic novel can’t avoid it. The details you add to your novel are what make the story credible and help suspend disbelief.

The days of poring over old tomes and searching endless shelves of reference material at libraries are gone. Today, all the information you need is literally at your fingertips thanks to the Internet and search engines.

Find a Local

My first and most successful character was a Welshman. But what I knew of Wales and the Welsh at the time came from a chat friend of mine from Wales. I picked up on the way he spoke, the phrases he used and the bits of Welsh culture he shared to use them in the character.

Martin would say, “For a bloke who’s never been to Wales, you sure sound like you could be one of us.”

When James and I began writing a novel that took place in the desert, he had to learn about the location. He was surprised to discover that Las Vegas has water kiosks in parking lots and that we paid for our water. He had to understand that many homes have desert landscaping instead of the lawns and trees he was used to.

James used me as his virtual tour guide to fill in what Wikipedia and the libraries couldn’t provide.

Take a Tour with a Local

Combine business and pleasure. Take a trip to the setting location of your novel, if you can. The details of your story will be that much more vivid because you’ve experienced the setting firsthand.

Eventually, I was lucky enough to travel to Bridgend for a visit. There is nothing like seeing another part of the world through the eyes of the people who live there. I toured the countryside, talked to Martin’s relatives, got to know his mates, and spent time down at the local pub drinking hard cider.

I found that the pubs are nothing like the bars that I’m familiar with. Pubs in Wales make you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s living room by the fire.

What amazed me was the sense of history pervading every nook and cranny of the old streets and buildings. In Wales, some gravestones dated back to before the Crusades. When you walked through fields, you’d come across stone rings like Stonehenge that were even older.

Closer to Home

If you can’t travel across the world to carry out your research, try to find a location as close to your ideal setting as possible to stock up on details.

Calico is a great little ghost town not to far from Las Vegas and it’s a hotspot for ghost hunters. The well-preserved buildings of this old town give you a genuine sense of what it felt like to live back in the 1800s. If I were to ever write a novel about the old west, I’d visit Calico.

More than Window Dressing

Creating a believable setting for your novel involves all your senses, not just vision. If you’ve never been in the desert during the month of August, how would you know what that setting feels like? It’s hot – what type of heat do you feel? What do you smell? What can you hear? A hot August day in Death Valley is very different from a hot August day in Florida.

People’s lifestyles are different depending on location as well. In the desert, people are more inclined to be active early in the morning or in the evening after the sun has gone down. Everyone carries water bottles and sunglasses are a necessity, not a fashion statement.

It’s these little details that only someone living in any given place would know that makes a setting believable.

Life Is an Adventure – So Is your Novel

The next time you’re faced with a pile of research, don’t groan or worry over it. It’s a road trip with an opportunity for adventure.

Put yourself in your character’s shoes while you read the web pages, examine the pictures, talk to a local or visit a new city. Observe the people who live there. Wander the streets and see the setting through your character’s eyes.

And when you write, write what your character sees – not what you see.

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  1. Brett Legree says:

    Harry, I like this post today. Even beyond research for a fictional character, doing this is just a great way to learn a lot about someone or something else and it can affect you in many ways.

    For years my wife and I have driven past a house I really like, it is a farm on a hillside and I think it is very beautiful, especially in spring or summer. As we were driving by it the other day, I said to her, “this year I’m going to go and introduce myself to whoever lives there, and just tell them how much I like their house”.

    Cathy (my wife) thinks I’m crazy, but I think I can write a really neat blog post about it. I have no idea what it will be about yet, other than meeting some interesting person who lives on a hillside. Fun – kind of like life!

    Who knows, maybe I’ll write a full blown story about a farmer someday?

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  2. It’s a great idea if you CAN visit a location, although for science fiction or fantasy stories, you most likely will have to imagine the (exotic) location, basing the descriptions off of bits and pieces of what you know (or speculate).

    Recently, I’ve been interested in the so-called “Steampunk” genre, fiction based around the Victorian era, with “steam-power” being the ubiquitous power supply. Pretty cool concept — if anyone has any suggestions for reading, I’d appreciate it.

    I also stumbled on Harry Turtledove’s “alternate” history novels at the book store yesterday — sounds interesting.

    All of these require some heavy research, I would think.

    Nez’s last blog post..Being Present with Your Kids

  3. My biggest problem? My 2/3-completed novel is firmly stuck in place because I’m finding it impossible to locate the one fact that I need to complete it. (Or, several facts, really–but all about adoption practices in 1912 New York.) I can browse the local library all I want–even my university alma-mater’s library–but that information just doesn’t seem to be there. At least, not for a layman such as myself.

    Oh, my point? To pull this comment back to being relevant? I enjoy research, I enjoy learning things and being able to apply them to my writing–but sometimes, you just can’t find what you need!

    –Deb’s last blog post..Handwriting: Is Italic the Answer?

  4. @ Deb – So why not take the route of many writers and put a disclaimer saying that while you tried to be as accurate as possible, some details were fudged for the story’s sake. Or, pick up a phone and call someone in the know – or at least get the phone chain going. You’d be amazed at how many people would be thrilled to help.

    @ Nez – Even fantasy and sci-fi have a heavy base in reality. We can imagine what we don’t know, certainly, but even that uber-fictional world has basis in what is real or what once was.

    @ Brett – Actually, I’ve had times that I’ve wanted to do the same thing myself. It’s not crazy, and the people would be thrilled.

    And you can use that in your fictional characters – take that house you love, and start imagining what it’s like inside, what the owners might be like… imagine walking up to that door. What do they say? How do they greet you? Could be the basis of a very cool setting…

  5. Brett Legree says:

    @ James: that’s kind of what I figured. Most people appreciate the compliment if you take the time to brighten their day. I’ve made friends that way too, just walking up to someone and saying hello…

    You know what’s funny, I already have a picture of what I think it looks like inside, maybe I can compare my imagined vision with the real thing once I get a chance to visit. I’ll keep you posted! πŸ™‚

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  6. Hi guys –

    Came over to visit because of Stephen at http://www.adversityuniversityblog.com!

    Great interview. Good writing here. I will be back!

    Corinne

  7. @Deb: Try contacting someone at the History Channel or one of the genealogy research sites. Sometimes a shot in the dark email leads you to the right person. Most people I’ve contacted were more than happy to help me find the information I needed if they didn’t have it themselves.

    @Nez: James is right. All of our sci-fi and fantasy fiction has the basic elements of what we humans here on earth know. There may be aliens in a story, but they still have qualities based on what we are familiar with. Even Lucas’ settings for the Star Wars movies have cities, woods, fields, and oceans. The sounds for some of the creatures (Wookies for example) came from researching different types of animal sounds.

    For the Hoth planet scene, Lucas went to Sweden (and due to a snowstorm, ended up shooting Luke from a few feet outside the hotel’s back door). The Endor scenes were shot in California’s Redwood forest.

    The thing is, you create your novel’s world from bits and pieces from your real world. The ideas come from as close as your own backyard or as far away as halfway across the world.

  8. Ruth Logan Herne says:

    Harry, you made some great points here, and I’m going to add to an already chock-full blog of info:

    Ask everyone.

    When I’m researching a book, I always start with the locals because (as Neville Shute noted in A Town Like Alice) “He’s an Abo. He knows his own place.”

    For cop manuscripts I approach the local police department, big city, small town, whatever. Good public relations are crucial for public offices and many of them will willingly volunteer to offer advice and first readings to maintain your level of accuracy. I was honored to work with the Southwest detective bureau in Philadelphia as well as the daughter of a police chief in St. Lawrence County, NY.

    Realtors are another GREAT source of information, because they have their fingers on the pulse of the area and can direct you to whomever, wherever, whatever you need to see, speak to or do.

    Librarians can be a wonderful source, as are bed and breakfast owners, because many of them have a heightened sense of historical relevance to the area you’re canvassing.

    I find people amazingly responsive to questions, and Deb, I’d jump at James’ solution simply because there isn’t/wasn’t one way of doing that correctly back then. My grandmother was sent from NYC to upstate NY on the trains as an indigent child whose mother neglected her in 1901. She was never formally adopted, but the lawyer’s family that took her in as an ‘aid’ child (not called foster care back then) accepted her, raised her (she was 11 at the time) and helped set up her home as a young married woman some years later. Their oak dressers are now in my bedroom, a gift to a young woman who came to them alone and bereft as an adolescent.

    Poetic license is a wonderful thing.

    Ruthy

  9. @ Ruthy – Can you be our fiction mentor?

  10. Ruth Logan Herne says:

    James, be still my heart!!!!

    In this business, maybe because I work with inspirational authors so often, we share what we know. Great networking groups.

    Those with chutzpah take it and run.

    πŸ˜‰

    I got chutzpah, dahlin’, and love to work well with others. Learned that one in the sandbox.

    Ruthy

  11. I never actually got to visit Calico although we drove up to the side of hill/mountain the name ‘Calico’ is on. I have pictures of a cave right there too.

    We drove across country in 2004 moving back to Virginia from Northern Cali and loved it. It is amazing what you learn on a drive like that. Hey, I didn’t know that in the Mojave Desert (until we had to stop) rest stops there are rattlesnake warning signs. Who would have every though? Not me, I am from the East, while we have rattlesnakes, they are nothing like Cali and definitely don’t just show up at a rest stop…*snicker*

    Great post; thanks for the insight!

    Laura’s last blog post..Update: Life’s Dramas

  12. @ Harry – You see? Snakes, dude. RATTLEsnakes. Like, at your feet. And you freakin’ want me to go stand in that? Man. That’s brotherhood for you. I give you snow. You give me snakes. Mmhm.

  13. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyotes, wild burros, black widow spiders, road runners, mountain lions, bobcats…yeah, we’ve got it all. I haven’t run across a rattler yet, I saw a scorpion squished on the road once (very tiny, less than a half inch long), black widows lurk in the corners of the garage, so that’s a constant battle with the bug sprayer. Saw the burros once on a trip to Spring Mountain ranch. I’m too far into town to hear coyotes.

    I remember back in NY we had to watch out for copperheads on the trails near our home. I almost stepped on one once when I was a kid, but Dad spotted it first. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I think I was 12.

    Wherever you go, there’s going to be something you’re going to have to look out for. I’ll take rattlesnakes over 20 feet of snow any day. You run into them less than you would think and you don’t have to shovel them off your driveway every morning. πŸ˜‰

  14. Brett Legree says:

    @ James & Harry:

    In 2003 I was working back in Hamilton at a company with big warehouse out back. One of the ladies came to my office, saying she saw a snake out there. I went to investigate.

    Lo and behold, there was a little snake about 8 inches long or so. I thought the markings looked a bit “aggressive”. When I moved my foot towards him, he coiled up as if to strike. There was no rattle though – perhaps the snake was too small still.

    I caught him in a box, and brought him to my office, then consulted the mighty Google.

    This is what I had in the box
    :
    http://www.massasauga.ca/

    A Massasauga rattlesnake! πŸ™‚ I put him outside in the grass, and warned everyone to be careful back in the warehouse…

    (I thought he was pretty cute, actually.)

    Yep, we have rattlesnakes *and* snow here. πŸ˜‰

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  15. Ruth Logan Herne says:

    Harry, good point about the shoveling. It’s an ever-present source of precip along the south shore of Lake Ontario. The words ‘lake effect’ kind of thud inside your brain daily from December through March.

    Snakes, scorpions, and burros, oh my!!!!

    We’ve got coyotes here in WNY now, large packs of them, and they paid a noisy visit to my back yard a few weeks ago when my Golden Retriever bitch (I love that I can use that word in context and NOT be swearing at anyone) was in heat, which set off a whole lot of 3:00 A.M barking and howling.

    Oh my stars.

    Too funny.

    And research needs to be current. Twelve years ago we didn’t have coyotes in upstate NY. Fifteen years ago we didn’t have wild turkeys. Now we have an abundance of both.

    And wild geese used to fly by, stop in, and continue to Canada, but now, since the Wetlands Act has preserved flood zones by creating ponds everywhere, we have resident geese by the ten-thousands.

    And black bears are moving in as we speak, a heretofore unseen thing in this area.

    It’s so important to make sure your research is current, because situations change rapidly depending on physical and economical development. What was true ten years ago, might not be true any longer.

    Ruthy

  16. @Brett: Yup, rattlers are everywhere.

    @Ruthy: It’s true. When I first got into archery I followed the information in the hunting magazines. Many hunters are very much into wildlife conservation, management and preservation. Species that were dwindling in some areas have been reintroduced and are now flourishing – sometimes a bit too much in some areas.

    Whitetail deer in some parts of western PA were declining, almost to the point of extinction in some areas. Bears, mountain lions, and wolves in Northern NY were also scarce. I know that the bears and cougars are making a comeback there, and in Yellowstone the wolves are on the rise again in healthy numbers.

    And out here, the landscape changes on a daily basis. If I don’t visit my folks for a couple of weeks, I find the whole other side of town has changed practically over night.

  17. Brett Legree says:

    @ Harry: I sort of have a soft spot for them, if that makes sense… like all creatures, if treated with respect they are not a problem. I was quite proud actually because I reported the sighting to the proper branch of the government and they said I had done the right thing by letting it go outside (of course). They were pretty excited to know that the species had been sighted where it was.

    Actually, there was a cougar sighting in my town recently. In town! The fellow who reported it was a bit surprised by it, he’s in a wheelchair and was outside when he got “the feeling of being watched”. When he turned around, he saw it walking through his back yard… seriously!

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  18. Harry,
    wow, this is very inspiring, especially since there are two unfinished novels sitting in my office, and the reason? Research. You are so right. I got some very good ideas here today from you and from the discussion.

    I would like to add to Ruthy’s tips about asking realtors, ( I am one and I agree) to also remember the local hairdressers. they know EVERYTHING.
    I have put in 20 years as a hairdresser and six years as a realtor and the hairdressors win hands down. People tell us things they won’t tell their shrinks. πŸ™‚

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Stop and Smell the Goodness

  19. Ruth Logan Herne says:

    Wendi, you’re so right. Hairdressers, cops, bartenders, realtors…

    Common, every day, salt-of-the-earth folk are usually the ones to ask.

    When I needed a nursing consult for a hospice situation in a book, I e-mailed the local Visiting Nurse Service, connected with one of their supervisors, and she acted as my technical advisor throughout the writing of that award-winning (not yet published) manuscript.

    There’s help out there, and girl!!!! Get back to those manuscripts! I hear them callin’ your name from here….

    If it’s in your blood, in your genes, I dare you to try and stop.

    Double dog dare you, in fact, ’cause I know the answer to that one, LOL!

    Ruthy

  20. @ Ruthy – Atta girl. Push these people. We’ve been hearing a lot of them sigh and mention half-finished manuscripts for months now. I’ve been nagging away with my waxing poetic content, but maybe they need a woman’s touch as opposed to a kick in the pants πŸ™‚

    @ Wendi – Hmmm the hairdressers, you say? *perks*

    @ Everyone else – There are NO snakes in Quebec. Cougars, yes. Bears. Moose. Wolves and Coyotes. But NO snakes. And definitely NO scorpions or lethal spiders. I’m so NOT going to Vegas.

    @ Harry – Shaddap about my driveway.

  21. Brett Legree says:

    @ James: no snakes, eh? Well at least we know where St. Patrick moved when he retired then… πŸ™‚

    In any case, never underestimate a moose. I see tourists out of their cars taking pictures of moose, and think, “are you freakin’ nuts?”

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  22. @James–Because I can’t figure out where the story should go without those details. I know how the story will end, and I know how it got to this point . . . not quite how to get there. It’s like trying to get to a specific address in a city far away–getting to the actual city isn’t that difficult (barring traffic), and I know exactly where in the city I want to GO, but once I’m off the highway, I need a map to keep from getting hopelessly lost. So, what I need is somebody who can point me in the right direction (grin).

    –Deb’s last blog post..Handwriting: Is Italic the Answer?

  23. @ Harry thank you for this inspiring post. I also appreciate all the comments that suggest numerous people to talk to for info.

    @ James, Ottawa has snakes, Quebec has to have snakes. Hull is just across the bridge. Water snakes, and garter snakes too. Now, I’m not a fan of snakes but they are in our area.

    Jenny Burr’s last blog post..An Explosion

  24. @ Jenny – Oh, those don’t count. They don’t bite.

  25. And if you’re in the Hull/Ottawa area, you’re about 1.5 hours from me – very cool! Ottawa’s my favorite city.

  26. @James: Actually they do bite if they’re aggrevated enough. I know this because one of the boys at the school where I teach was bit by one. Water snakes have been known to do the same. Of course, I wouldn’t touch one.

    @Brett and @ James Now that massasauga rattler that Brett was talking about…that could do something but I think they’re more in central Ontario…at least I know they’re around The County. Milksnakes are in The County too but they are harmless.(Prince Edward County)

    Did you ever learn that rhyme, “red next to black, poison I lack, red next to yellow, poisonous fellow?” The reason I ask is because a snake was sitting quite contentedly inside our cottage on the stairs to go up to the bedrooms. After both my daughter and I stopped screaming, my father in law reassured us it was a harmless milk snake it was the same colouring of a poisonous snake but it was the “red next to black poison I lack” colouring. The hole that it came in by has since been patched up. Harmless or not it shouldn’t have come inside.

    @James Yes, a few years ago the little village I live in was amalgamated into the city of Ottawa. It is a nice area to live. Just too much snow this winter and sometimes too cold for my liking.

    Jenny Burr’s last blog post..An Explosion

  27. Brett Legree says:

    @ Jenny: you’re right, generally a bit farther south than us (I’m in Deep River, howdy from your glowing neighbour!)

    I remember that rhyme πŸ™‚

    BTW I like your latest blog post. I sympathize, we have four kids – three of them came as a set, so when we had “an explosion”, usually there were “aftershocks”… πŸ˜‰

    (yuck) synchronized pooping is *not* an Olympic sport

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  28. @Brett Hi thanks for taking a look at my blog. I can just imagine the aftershocks of an explosion with triplets! You’re right no parent or infant receives any medals for that part of parenting but it’s “all in a day’s work”.

    Perhaps there should be a new Olympic sports event: “Parenting Perils and Adventures.”

    Okay, you can relate. A friend down the road had twin boys. Then a couple of years later they had triplets. Again, all boys. Can you imagine the “explosions” that they dealt?

    Jenny Burr’s last blog post..An Explosion

  29. @ Jenny – Sounds like Navan. A year ago, beautiful open fields. I went by the other day, and the fields are gone. Vanished. There are houses ALL over the place. Sad.

    I won’t test the snake theory. Seen them swim by while trout fishing, used to play with garter snakes… but… um, no.

  30. Brett Legree says:

    @ Jenny: you are quite welcome, I see something new and I have to check it out! In the end it is all worth it, once they start helping empty the dishwasher or something that becomes apparent… πŸ™‚

    Wow. Twins and then triplets. We have four (a single and triplets), so five would be something – five in two batches…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the power of one.

  31. The cool thing too is if you have a business wrapped around this then all your expenses will be a tax write-off.

    I love traveling. It definitely broadens your horizons.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..Is Your Website Web 2.0 or Corporate?

  32. JAMES – Op! We both wrote the same topic this week. We took our take on ‘Research’ topic down different paths, which is nice. I really like your “Find a Local” advice. That is great. You’re selling me on going to Wales!

    Having a local take you around makes any trip priceless! Find the good spots. Hear the local stories. Better eating!

    “Window dressing” – Yes, yes, yes, thank you. Details! Really know about what you are writing.

    Re Groaning – As Melissa noted on my site, she and I tend to have a little TOO much fun researching and we stray from our story. For others like us who love researching: remember to focus and get back to your story too.

    BRETT – I like your note. You describe where I live. Although your story and perspective are charming and clearly with good intentions, let me tell you how it is from the other side of the fence.
    …I thought living out in the country would be peaceful (that’s why we move out there, to get away from people!) and it has been quite the opposite, as far as being disturbed at home goes. I don’t think anyone really likes being disturbed when they are in the privacy of their own home, not by unwanted calls or drop-bys, for any reason. People come up to my door constantly, especially in the morning when I am sleeping; I find it shockingly rude and know it wouldn’t happen in the city or suburbs. Expecting to see the inside of a stranger’s house is way out of line. I have had to put up DO NOT DISTURB signs (which are ugly and taint the charm) so that people would stop bothering me.
    …If I may suggest to you: a hello from the street in the afternoon when the occupant is outside is highly preferred to a trespassing unwelcome unexpected visit from a stranger (of which, we have many). Or leave a nice note in the mailbox explaining how much you love their house and how you have admired it for years (with your contact information). That would be a pleasant surprise — not a knock on the door! You are a writer, right? So write! Cheers and good luck!

    NEZ – Oooh, that sounds interesting. I agree with the others that good Sci-Fi has strong roots in reality making it more believable.

    DEB – From an 80-yr-old lady, I heard a very similar story to Ruth’s story — adoption was informal. It was sort of like child slavery. If a child had no family, other people often took them in, made them work, used them for whatever. Some dedicated groups just tried to find them homes any way they could, kids were taken from NYC and dumped across the country on willing farm owners, just to get them off the streets. It was pretty wayward back then. You can put a call out on the Internet or big city newspapers, some old timers probably have great stories for you. There are probably lots of these types of people in families’ histories. Also old law/court files. Old newspapers?

    RUTH – Thanks for more great tips.

    What a great and inspiring post and conversation here. Thanks.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 5 / Research

  33. Brett Legree says:

    @ Jaden: a very good point from the other side of the fence, thank you. Upon consideration of your suggestion, perhaps I may try this:

    Take a couple of photos from the highway, and then write my blog post. Then I could write a note explaining how much I liked this person’s property, attach my contact information, the photos, and a link to the blog post in case they want to see it.

    Now that could be interesting!

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, as you are correct, sometimes folks move out to the country to get away… πŸ™‚

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the view from the other side.

  34. @Jaden: Did James go disguising himself as me again? It’s okay, people get us confused sometimes. πŸ˜‰

    Good comment, I’m glad you found some of those tips useful. And definitely take that trip to Wales if you ever get the chance, it’s gorgeous. The people are very friendly and you’ll feel right at home.

  35. HARRY — Ooops. Embarrassing. Sorry.

    BRETT — Again, try to see the home-owners perspective: I would be very upset if someone took a photo of my house and put it on the Internet and wrote about it without my permission. Privacy is very important to me. I don’t know the legalities of it, but it feels like an invasion of privacy. Even if you took a photo and just gave it to the owners, I would feel sort of violated, like: eek, who is this person photographing my home? Was I walking around naked when he took this? This feeling coming from me, who is the same kind of person as you, a photographer/writer!

    There are gorgeous houses that I want to photograph; my plan is to put a formal letter in the mailbox explaining my intentions and ask their permission, giving maybe a 1 month reply date saying that I will proceed if I don’t hear otherwise.

    I think a written story, nice letter, friendly hello and compliment from the street are best for starters. Anything that might be an invasion of privacy, I would ask permission. Two bored retired old timers living in the house might have a different perspective and might welcome your company, photo, and story, rather than a busy private young media female like me, or a big family. Whoever it is, they already know how beautiful their place is, that’s why they chose it!

    Sorry for being the pooper on this one. I’ve just had so many problems with passerbyers and it has been disruptive to my life. (Though I have the makings of another funny book! So it’s ok.) People think in terms of what they themselves want, not what other people want. It’s a challenge, but for successful human relations, we have to try to understand other people’s perspectives better. After this more sensitive approach, who knows, you could make a valuable friend.

    I’ve only loosely befriended one of the mass-passers because she used the approach I suggest. She’s a painter from NYC who visits the land daily for her soul. She said hello from the street, always humble and appreciative, takes photos and paints them. What would be nice of course is if she offered me a painting, but that hasn’t happened yet. She doesn’t bother me, while I am doing the very important task of writing comments on websites. Teehee. (After all this, I will want to hear how it goes!)

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 5 / Research

  36. BRETT — PS. Let the owner invite you… One time, walking down a street in a big city, I remarked how beautiful this man’s bird and yard were. He invited my companion and me into the fenced garden and gave us the full tour, explaining his extraordinary plants and rare birds. In this case, I gave a compliment from the street and he was thrilled to talk all about it — and it was jaw-dropping information and beauty. Really something special. Had the guy been in a bad mood that day, no harm done.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 5 / Research

  37. @ Jaden – I’m going to step in here. Been following what you’re writing, and while I respect it, the views you put forth really don’t reflect a Canadian cultural mindset. Brett is Canadian, the area where the house he loves is in Canada, and Canadians think differently.

    While I understand that respect for privacy is important, Brett’s original idea of a drop-in visit is perfectly normal and accepted in Canada by strangers. Canadians do not reflect the usual “man is an island” cultural mindset that I tend to notice in many Americans.

    Harry and I often have shocking surprises about how our two cultures are distinctly different. He would never do many of the things I would do and vice versa, simply because where we live is different and socially acceptable boundaries are different.

    Many times, people have stopped in at my mother’s house to ask for a tour, to gaze, to walk in her woods. They feel nothing uncomfortable or strange about asking, and she feels nothing uncomfortable or strange about accepting. There is no invasion of privacy.

    In fact, a letter from a stranger would probably be seen as quite bizarre and cause for concern. A knock on the door, to a Canadian, is truly nothing and always welcomed.

    So again, I respect your input, but it’s important to remember that we are not all Americans living in a U.S. world and have different ways of socializing amongst ourselves.

  38. @ Brett – A note about photos – you must have legal permission to photograph private property. So your idea is against the law.

    Dude. Go fucking knock on the door. End of story. Fail early, fail often, but take action, no matter what you do.

  39. JAMES — Thanks. Yes, I was feeling a huge cultural gap here and was wondering where Brett lives. I’m in California where the constant flow of drive-by/knockers/photographers is disturbing. Very different perspectives.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 5 / Research

  40. @ Jaden – Hell, around here, I can be outside and some guy’ll drive by, roll down the window, strike up the conversation and two hours later, he’ll have helped me shovel my driveway and we’ll be sharing beers on the porch πŸ™‚

  41. Brett Legree says:

    πŸ™‚ Wow, I didn’t know I’d cause so much commotion! I probably will go knock on the door, worst thing that can happen is they chase me away with a shotgun…

    I’ll let everyone know how it goes!

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the view from the other side.

  42. (Chasing with shotguns is also highly illegal in Canada… all guns require a permit and locked storage, and only those licensed to carry firearms may do so… and all guns found out of storage off season for hunting face charges… and many U.S. guns are not legal in Canada…)

  43. Brett Legree says:

    A side note: I’ve never done anything like that in the US (so I don’t know), but about 7 years ago I was in California on business and had a day off.

    I was at Pebble Beach, and saw a lady out for a walk with her dog. As she was passing by, I said “hello” in my usual Canadian fashion and asked her if she was from the area. I just wanted some information, really.

    By the end of it, I had an offer of employment at a local bed & breakfast, room & board plus minimum wage to work as a short order cook!!!

    People are people, generally. But thanks for your alternative perspective, Jaden. You have the right to your privacy.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the view from the other side.

  44. Brett Legree says:

    James is right of course (I was only kidding), that is another big difference between Canada and a lot of states. If you travel a short distance from where we live to Vermont, for instance, concealed carry of handguns without a permit is legal. Big, big difference…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the view from the other side.

  45. Sounds like a lovely place, like my university experience, free beer on everyone’s front lawn, you just walk house to house, filling up your cup and sitting in their yard; good times.

    “chase me away with a shotgun…”
    That’s how I do it now, or the fake-blood covered machete! I’ve become that old lady you see in movies on the front porch in the rocking chair with the shotgun across my laptop. “What the hell you want?!” BANG BANG …Somebody has got to be that old lady, might as well be me.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 5 / Research

  46. It’s true, down here we are suspicious of people traipsing across our property. If you all decide to visit me after sundown, you’d better call ahead.

  47. Brett Legree says:

    While I don’t have any firearms (see James’ post above), I do keep a “loaded” 9 iron in my front closet for “emergencies”…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the view from the other side.

  48. @Brett: and those kettle bells

  49. Outside walking down the street is very different than when a person is doing their private business inside. I talk to people all the time, at the grocery store, on the street, riding my bike, especially when traveling; it’s loads of fun. I’m very outgoing and friendly, though I sound like an ol’ curmudgeon here. But when I am working, eating, sleeping, or doing things like that,I really hate being disturbed. Is it really that odd? Trespassing on the land is of course illegal too. Guns are legal and used plenty here as is well known.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 5 / Research

  50. Brett Legree says:

    @ Harry: yeah, heh heh, I’d use those as a “finishing move”

    @ Jaden: you old curmudgeon, you… πŸ™‚

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..the view from the other side.

  51. Someone just stole a large antique milk jug off the front porch yesterday! This is how Californians show their appreciation. I can tolerate theft when it is for survival or food, but for greedy little antique collectors roaming the countryside, this is obviously not the case.

    One time in Hollywood, near the Hollywood sign where I lived, I put out a bowl of candy on Halloween. I didn’t even make it up the hallway when I heard a little shuffle at the door. By the time I had walked 4 steps back to the door, 3 grown men were running up the road with all my candy and the bowl!

    That’s California for ya! I wasn’t born a curmudgeon, I’m a product of my environment. *wink*

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..Sunday Picture Post 6 / Read Out Loud

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