Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Braving Moaning Cavern: Experiencing Research

It’s amazing how a simple vacation can help with writer’s block. You never know how your own experience will relate to writing. Take charge and go on an adventure. Sometimes it relates back to your writing.

My current project, the second book in the Crystal Keeper Chronicles series, had reached a dead point. My character had reached a maelstrom of energy that I had to sort out. Over a month had gone by, and still no break in the storm. I needed some inspiration to get over the writer’s block.

So, off I travel to my mother’s cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Nothing like some good mountain air to sort writer’s block. A few days go by along with endless Scrabble games and Texas Hold’em. Still nothing.

Quality time with the family is part of vacation. So, spending time with mom for the day, we both decide to explore one of the local caves as an adventure. Never had we stopped and turned at the signs for the caves up in Gold Country. So, off we go to see what the Moaning Caverns held as an adventure.

We buy our tickets at the gift shop just as the 2:30 p.m. tour leaves to take you 165 ft. down into the earth. But upon the entry, the granite and quartz rocks surround a steep stairway. The stones close in on my head as I progress slowly down followed by others on the tour. My mother decides it is too narrow and leaves. So does another on the tour. I push on, nervous, as others on the tour try to bluster the courage to continue. It is not an easy feat for someone with a fear of ledges. But after climbing castles in Ireland, France, and England, not to mention the Eiffel Tower, I held onto the edges of the rock knowing that it would be a bad time for an earthquake.

But fears must be faced, and I continue on. After the first 65 ft., the narrow passageway opens to a small viewing ledge. Here I glimpsed the stalactites and formations of my first, real crystal cave. Most of my research has been through movies, TV and reading. But first hand experience is priceless for descriptive writing. Of course, if it comes with a fear factor, it turns it into an adventure.

The cavern has another tour that allows you to reppel into the cavern through the natural opening. Needless to say, not an option for me. The tour stops to watch some of the reppelers go down next to us into the cavern.

One of the repplers gets nervous about going down the edge. She stops as the 20 people on the tour watch. We are all next to her on the first level. I feel for the woman. I couldn’t do what she was doing with 20 people staring at me.

The group goes on ahead down the spiral staircase made from a WW1 ship’s steel plates. I’m hoping that they made metal better in those days. I hold onto the side railing and caged sides of the staircase tightly. The rust rubbing against my hand doesn’t qualm my fears, but steadily I continue on the research quest.

Reaching the bottom, I gaze up at the limestone formations feeling I had accomplished something. I had made it alive. The lower level felt secure under my feet as I looked into a crystal clear pool of water, a reservoir from the work of Mother Nature. The Chocolate Waterfall, a limestone formation similar to the name it implies, loomed above as well as a white mushroom formation. The granite and quartz stone circled the whole cavern.

(Picture of the Chocolate Waterfall in Moaning Caverns.)

(Tiffany Turner at the bottom of the cavern next to the 100 yr. old metal staircase.)
I rested for what I knew would be a hefty hoof up the staircase. I noticed the lone repeller had gathered her courage, along with one of the instructors. She was making her way down the Chocolate Waterfall ledge. Suspended from only a rope, with a 100 ft. drop below her, she methodically eased her way down to the lower level.

Applause greeted her from our tour group. She had done something we had not. We had taken a more easy way down, but difficult for those afraid of heights. I related this to how I felt going down the stairway. I had been fearful, but faced that fear. This gave me an idea for my character.

I know I had been nervous walking down the staircase. Suspended in the middle of the cavern, it worked an uneasy feeling on the natural urge to be away from edges. This is my greatest fear. I don’t think I could have been as brave as the one woman I saw ease herself with merely a rope. But at least I had made it to the bottom. I had braved that challenge. It was time to face another, and weave this into my character.

Facing my computer, the writer’s block broke as I used my thoughts from the experience to get my main character Wanda through the energy maelstrom. It is also an inspiration for a later setting in the new book. How it all works completely into the novel is the joy of writing. Sometimes I don’t know what will happen until I write it. But sometimes I found that research can come from the most interesting and unexpected places. Sometimes even something as simple as your vacation.

-Tiffany Turner’s new book, “The Lost Secret of the Green Man”, will be available next year. It is the second book in her Crystal Keeper Chronicle Series. Her first book, “The Lost Secret of Fairies”, is available on Amazon.com.
**The Moaning Caverns can be found in Vallecito, Ca off of Highway 4 near Murphys, Ca. It is open every day, year round.

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