Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guest Blog: Gwyn Ramsey

I'm very pleased to have author Gwyn Ramsey with me this evening to talk about writing. As everyone has heard me say before, research is key to great fiction so for the last few blogs, I've been concentrating on that and asking other writers about the research they've done for their books. Gwen was gracious enough to answer a few questions about her career and writing.


I decided in 2000 to become a writer. I walked into the front room one night and announced to my husband that I was going to write a book. But it took me three years of research and learning the writing process in order to finish my first book, Journey to Tracer’s Point. The other three have taken a year each, so I must be getting a little more organized with my thoughts and story ideas. I joined Romance Writers of American (RWA) and eventually Women Writing the West (WWW) and Western Writers of American (WWA). These organizations have been very helpful in my writing through workshops, conferences, and Internet loops. I also belong to a critique group that helps me hone down my manuscript in better form.


I write historical family sagas. My first book of the Anderson Chronicles, Journey to Tracer’s Point, begins in 1849. This book is followed by Winds of Change, Bound for Texas, and the next one out this fall is Trails of Destiny. There are many changes in the family structure in all four books as they travel, develop homesteads, search for lost members and work getting back together again. Since I’m a genealogist, I enjoy putting people together. But unfortunately I also have a way of doing away with them.


I use the Internet, my personal and home town library, plus inter-library loans from other areas. I am a researcher and carry a card for the Library of Congress (LOC) in DC where I do some work about once a year. What a marvelous place to be. The Jefferson Building is fantastic with its Italian Renaissance style. You can almost hear Jefferson offering his personal library to the LOC or see J. F. Kennedy sitting at the slanted 1800 century desks with a small lamp lit. The library is regal and awe inspiring. So doing research at the LOC is more than worth the trip to DC to feel the ambience of the Jefferson room.


Writing is very personal. So is research. Every writer has some type or degree of research they need to do for their story. But if you write any genre that isn’t present day, there is loads of work to do and you have to get it right. I usually begin with the internet, then I check out books on the subject from my library, and eventually make a to-do list when I go to the LOC in DC. Take the Comanche Indians that I am presently working on. I want to be sure that information is correct in my book, but not to the point of over educating the reader. So I pick out maybe how they are dressed, what they eat or even how they sit, or what their teepees are like. The Comanche were grouped in bands, not a tribe. Different than the Arapaho or Sioux. Sometimes the Indians paint themselves for different ceremonies. Each item I select makes my character three dimensional. That is important for the reader to love or hate the character, to be able to feel his pain or happiness, or just to come to understand the character’s actions within the story.

Paperwork can be overwhelming. During the writing process of the current book, my office looks like a hurricane hit several times. Books and papers are strung out all over the table, my desk, and the floor, not to mention maps, calendars, etc. My filing cabinets hold most of my information so that I can quickly obtain the information. I keep present papers close at hand. I can tell you truthfully, filing really piles up and it’s not my favorite thing to do. I would rather keep writing than file, but someone has to do it and since I’m the only one in the office, well….it becomes my job, eventually.

Research is top priority in writing historical fiction. Out there in your readership, there are experts who will write to you if your information is wrong. Besides most writers feel that the information he or she puts into the book much be accurate. You never second guess the information. I use whatever I can to get it right. Since I’m also a genealogist, I sometimes use or to pull up information on families. I use diaries, language books, whatever I can get my hands on. I have books on poison/potions, non-poisonous remedies, some very old health books, cowboy slang, and a book by a writer friend (Marilyn Kelly) entitled Eleven Senses, Who Knew. A very interesting book.

There are many but depends on the century you might be writing about. Some books that I use are: Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Schlissel, Everyday Life Among the American Indians by Moulton, Everyday Life in the 1800s by McCutcheon, Indian Talk by Cody, and last but not least Everyday Life in the Wild West by Moulton. I am sure there are many, many more that your readers could share with me and I would welcome the suggestions.

Oh, yes. A writer has to be careful how much of his research he is going to use. There is no way to use everything you come across. The information is what makes or breaks a story. Too much info is overpowering and not enough makes a story dull. So new writers, be careful. Use enough to give your reader a feel for the situation or enough to make your characters come alive. Keep the rest file for another date or time, maybe for another book along the way.

Thank you, Amy, for having me on your blog. It’s been an interesting venture. I do hope some of your readers will enjoy the information.

Gwyn's Bio
GWYN RAMSEY was born and raised in Jennings, Missouri. The library became her favorite haunt and reading her most cherished passion. She attended the Florissant Valley Community College, pursuing a career in computer applications. She is the author of a historical series, Journey to Tracer’s Point (2008), Winds of Change (2009), and Bound for Texas. Her next book in the series, Trails of Destiny, will be out late fall 2011, published by Treble Heart Books.

She is a member of Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, Romance Writer’s of America, and Tampa Area Romance Authors. A former executive secretary for the Army, Gwyn resides in Florida with her husband. When not writing and time allows, she enjoys researching genealogy and tap dancing.

Gwyn has participated in writer's workshops, seminars, conferences, and school presentations. She is on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Goodreads, My Space, just to name a few. Come visit her blog at

Thank you so much for joining me, Gwyn, and giving us more insight into the research that goes into your books! It was fascinating.


Linda Yezak said...

Good interview, Gwyn. I like that you became a writer later in life--just like me!

One of my biggest problems in my first draft of Give the Lady a Ride was the research dump. You really do have to be careful how you use your research!

Leah Griffith said...

Great information Gwyn! Thank you for sharing, but that seems to be what you do bes....and it is appreciated.

Amy said...

Yes--I learned a lot from Gwyn, too, so I was glad she was willing to be on my blog.

It really is tempting to do a "research dump" in your book after you've spent weeks researching something!

Thanks Gwyn!

Mary E. Trimble said...

This is a wonderful interview, full of fascinating facts on Gwyn's writing career. I personally think Gwyn's book covers are exceptionally beautiful.

Joyce Lohse said...

Bravo, Gwyn! Thank you for your insightful interview. You inspire us with your thorough research and well-crafted fiction writing.

Heidiwriter said...

Gwyn, you certainly are the "Energizer Bunny" when it comes to your research and writing! Keep up the good work! BTW, filing is not my favorite thing to do either. :)

Nancy Oswald said...


You're a writer after my heart. When I'm writing, I like to have all that stuff at my fingertips, too. You never know when you're going to need that exact little snippet of info. Thanks for the tips on research bookss.

Mary F Schoenecker said...

Finally found time to read this post. Gwyn has found the essence of good research - Don't bring it all into the pages of your boooks!
Her novels illustrate that point. Keep on keepin' on, Gwyn. from your old critique partner,

Gwyn Ramsey said...


You are so right about research dumping. All that info will make a reader put our book down. Thanks for dropping by.

Gwyn Ramsey said...


Thank you for the lovely comments and for stopping by. Hope to see you soon.

Gwyn Ramsey said...


Thank you for having me. It was fun talking about research, one of my favorite things to do. Lots of work, but very interesting.

Gwyn Ramsey said...

Mary Trimble,

What a lovely comment about my covers. I love them and Lee does a fantastic job in putting them together. Sometime I think I should have worked for a lawyer for the research I do. It's addicting.

Gwyn Ramsey said...


Loved talking with you today. Thank you for the kind comments about about my work. It's always nice to hear that all a writer's efforts do make a difference.

Gwyn Ramsey said...


Everyone here in Florida can relate to the 'energizer bunny' statement. My husband gave up years ago trying to keep up with me. As I look at my floor I keep reminding myself that no one is coming in to do my filing. Aughhhhh.

Gwyn Ramsey said...


Happy that my interview helped you out. Reference books are really important when doing research. I understand finding little snippets here and there. Oh, the fun of researching.

Gwyn Ramsey said...

Mary S.,

Being a critique partner, you remember those days of red pencils and track changes. You were an extremely good partner and I still value your opinion. Don't forget lunch. Thanks for stopping by.

Gwyn Ramsey said...

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to stop by Amy's blog and read my interview. Now get those books out there, my friends.

Thanks again Amy. You're the best.

Amy said...

I enjoyed having you as a guest Gwyn and really enjoyed your blog, so thanks!