The Joys of Research


Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Falcon Wild, discusses the best part of writing a new book: researching.

There are a lot of great things about being an author fan mail, seeing your book cover for the first time, school visits, taking a selfie in a bookstore while madly pointing at your own name on a shelf – all amazing rewards after years of effort poured into a book. But a surprising perk, one that I hadn’t considered a good thing before, was the research you get to do.

The idea for Falcon Wild had been percolating inside me since I was twelve and read Hawkmistress by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I was obsessed with the idea of owning a bird of prey – something wild and free that comes back to your outstretched fist. What a feeling that would be! I was going to be a falconer! I spent months trying to convince my parents that it would be incredibly cool if we owned a falcon or two. For my efforts, I got a hamster. I named him Snickers and was content with that for a few years.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. I was still fascinated with the idea of forming a special bond with an animal. Instead of a bird of prey, I ended up with eighteen sled dogs. So when I wrote my first book about dogsledding, I needed very little research to portray that relationship accurately. But I’d never forgotten that first obsession with the art of falconry.

Setting out to capture, in words, the feeling of a falcon returning to your fist was a daunting task at first. I needed to get rid of a lifetime of romanticism about the sport and start actual research. Before long, I was enamored with falconry all over again.

My husband was all for research once I uttered the words “road trip.” We love to travel. So stuffing our backpacks with sleeping bags and a tent, we set off for the wild parts of Montana, which turned out to be most of the State. We interviewed interesting people, swam in freezing rivers, and went on some wild hikes. The best part was I felt like a real “author” whenever I said that we were there doing research for my book. Such a tough job!

Even better, during the next year we visited with four different falconers. This allowed me a glimpse into the life of a falconer. I felt a great affinity toward them, not just because of my interest in birds, but because of my background as a musher. I know what it’s like to dedicate so many hours, and resources toward this passion that consumes you.

Once I stood on the back of a dogsled for the first time, I was hooked. And I felt it again the first time I held a bird. When you feel the clutch of talons on your fist through the thick leather of the glove, it’s as though your heart is clutched as well. Something deep within me responded to those wild eyes appraising me. One of the falconers warned me that just holding a bird has been known to change some people. I believe him.

Seeing the cover of Falcon Wild, holding the book in my hand, those things are amazing and dream-fulfilling. But it was the research, getting to know the men and women who spend their days training with these incredible birds, and feeling the weight of the falcon on my own fist, that was the rewarding part of this journey. Getting a hamster instead of a falcon was okay, but being an author and getting to do research – what a perk!

Pre-order Falcon Wild for your readers today!

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  • Mel Schuit
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