by Anne Mateer
I’m not a bold person. I rarely talk to strangers. Even if I need something. So the idea of asking someone–a living, breathing person–for help in researching what would become my first published novel, terrified me. I mean, even if I could muster the courage to ask for assistance, who would take the time to answer questions from a fledgling writer?
So I determined to do what I could to glean information without drawing attention. I would go to a museum–a turn of the century farmstead near my house–and take a tour. You know, hide in the group. Listen to the docent and the other visitor’s questions and scribble their answers in a small notebook.
Only when I showed up that morning, I didn’t count on being the only person to desire a tour.
The. Only. One.
That day was such a gift. The docent was thrilled to share her knowledge and made me feel comfortable asking questions. No detail was too small. In fact, she got so excited that she called in the museum director who proceeded to conduct the outside-the-house tour himself.
I did scribble lots of notes that day. And I learned a very important lesson: don’t be afraid to ask. As I researched subsequent books, the asking didn’t necessarily get easier, but at least I had remembered experience to bolster my courage.
By asking, I found a wonderful gentleman at a museum who know oodles about pre-WWI auto racing that I couldn’t find anywhere else. By asking, I discovered a woman in a historical society who not only uncovered long-hidden documents about the orphan home I desired to write about, but she had first-hand knowledge in that her grandmother was the first matron of that home.
As the years have passed, I’ve also come to learn that this lesson in asking doesn’t just apply to research. James 4:2 says “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.”
I am guilty of that. Coveting. Sulking. Quarreling. I want something–be it an answer to a research question, a publishing contract, a marketing opportunity or something else–and I can’t get it. But have I asked? More specifically, have I asked God?
Of course James gives us a caveat in verse 3. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Motives can be hard things to figure out, since the heart is deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9) But after we sort through what we can know of ourselves, we still have to take a deep breath and ask. The answers–in life or research–rarely come any other way.
Anne Mateer has had a lifelong love affair with history and historical fiction. A 2013 Carol Award finalist, her third novel, A Home for My Heart, releases Sept. 15. She and her husband live near Dallas, Texas, and are the parents of three young adults. Learn more at www.annemateer.com.