Take a Field Trip, Write a Book

24 May

When viewed from the interstate, most American towns look remarkably similar.  They all have the same restaurants, the same gas stations, the same department stores. It’s only when you get off the freeway and spend some time in a place that you find out what makes it special.

Learning where the local school kids go on their field trips will tell you a lot about a community and what it values. When I lived in Florida, our school always went to Disneyworld. A friend who grew up in the south told me her school toured antebellum plantations and tobacco plants. In the Midwest, the kids visit farms and butcher shops.

Here in Idaho, we take our kids to visit the gallows at the Old State Penitentiary. They also visit the nearby Idaho Botanical Gardens and learn about the plants discovered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But the absolute favorite school outing is the Rendezvous Field Trip.

Credit: Free images from

Historically, Rendezvous was a special time each year when mountain men and Native Americans came together to trade and socialize.  Now, on the Rendezvous Field Trip, fourth graders recreate that experience by gathering together for a day of total immersion in Idaho history.  The students climb in a covered wagon, pan for gold, trade at a trading post, and learn about drying furs and loading guns. They also square dance, participate in Civil War marching, taste beef jerky, and learn to use obsidian rocks as tools.

It’s a great tradition, but what does it have to do with writing fiction?

Simply this: The whole point of Rendezvous is to take history out of the textbook and make it come alive. When the students leave Rendezvous, they carry with them the memory of what it felt like to live in the past. Many years later, they will still remember the smell of gunpowder, the taste of jerky, the sound of the wind whipping through the wagon covers, and the thrill of finding ‘gold’ in their mining pan. They’re no longer studying Idaho history, they’re living it.

As writers, this is what we should strive for, to provide an experience so detailed, so real, that the reader is left with an indelible memory of how it felt to live in our story.

I would love to hear your field trip experiences. Which ones have stayed in your memory? What was it that made them come alive? Did they inspire you to write a novel?


Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Boise, Idaho, writing


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28 responses to “Take a Field Trip, Write a Book

  1. johannaharness

    May 24, 2011 at 5:55 AM

    Great connection between field trips and reading! In college, I took classes from a history professor who required reading a novel a week in addition to textbook readings. His classes always demanded more time of students, but everyone loved them.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 12:15 PM

      When we homeschooled, we always had our literature books correspond to our history classes. To this day, my daughter absolutely loves reading historical fiction. The publishers can’t keep up with her 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Johanna, and the help in finding pictures.

  2. Meredith Conner

    May 24, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    Love the post, Clarissa! I can’t think of a particular field trip that stayed in my mind, but I do the same thing almost on a daily basis. Something someone says, a storm coming in, my Chihuahua’s nose pressed to my neck – they memorable pieces make it into my stories.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 12:17 PM

      I can already picture the Chihuahua in a novel. Hmm, maybe a paranormal? I’ve heard great things about his story 🙂

  3. MKHutchins

    May 24, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    I vividly remember participating in Rendezvous, and that was years ago. We got “trading money” during class for the month or so before if we were good or had the right answers (I worked so hard for it!). I loved watching the blacksmith work, too. Another field trip that stands out is the World Center for Birds of Prey.

    I think seeing things come alive does help writing. I can’t always go somewhere, but Youtube is one of my favorite writing resources, especially for fighting techniques with ancient weaponry. I can watch how people more and listen to someone explain techniques.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 12:18 PM

      Yay! I’m so glad to have a comment from someone who actually participated in Rendezvous. I didn’t live in Idaho when I was in 4th grade and I’m so jealous:)

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Peggy Staggs

    May 24, 2011 at 9:09 AM

    Great advice. When I was a kid we traveled a lot. So I’ve read every historical marker on every highway from coast to coast. It’s all in the details and that gives writing flavor. Local cafes are the best.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 12:19 PM

      Your comment brought back memories. I always wanted to stop and read every historical marker, but no, my military father would not be deterred from his schedule. We made good time, let me tell you. 🙂

  5. Janis McCurry

    May 24, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    My traveling with parents were always in the Idaho region. McCall, Coeur D’Alene. We went to Craters of the Moon once. Fun memories.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 12:20 PM

      Can you believe I’ve never been to Coeur D’Alene or the Craters? I feel a field trip coming on. . .

  6. Renee Vincent

    May 24, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Great post! That picture alone made me think of our plans this June when we’re venturing out west to Montana/Wyoming for a covered-wagon dinner ride. I can’t wait! Plus, we’re riding horses through the mountains and white water rafting along the river. It will be a trip that I KNOW will inspire a book in me.

    Great to meet you Gail and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 1:40 PM

      Hi Renee! You are going to have such a great time in Montana. I can’t wait to read the book that comes out of it.

  7. Gwen Hernandez

    May 24, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    Rendezvous sounds amazing, Clarissa. I think a field trip is a good way to think about setting, taking the reader on a trip.

    I don’t know that any of my own travels have inspired a book, but they’ve inspired book settings. I have a hard time writing about a place that I haven’t been to. Luckily, my dad and husband are both military, so I’ve visited or lived in quite a few.

    Great post!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 1:43 PM

      Funny, when I started writing this blog, it began with a salute to my military childhood and how it taught to quickly assess a new location. Field trips were one of those things that told me right away what the school thought was important. It’s a great background for a writer. Thanks for the comment, Gwen 🙂

  8. anita clenney

    May 24, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Great post! The most recent field trip I took was when I chaperoned my daughter’s 4th grade class for their trip to Jamestown. That was so fascinating, seeing the places and walking the same ground where they walked. I sat in the church where Pocohantas was baptized. It was just amazing and inspired my creativity.

    • Gwen Hernandez

      May 24, 2011 at 12:12 PM

      Anita: I did the Jamestown Settlement fieldtrip with my son a few years ago. Very cool. We had been to the original Jamestown, but not the settlement. They did a nice job bringing everything to life.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 2:33 PM

      I would love to go to Jamestown. Fourth grade seems to be when they have the best field trips because that’s when they’re studying state history. Or is that just my bias? Thanks for commenting, Anita. 🙂

  9. Dawn Marie Hamilton

    May 24, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    Great post, Clarissa. My favorite field trip was to the UN. I think that was what inspired me to want to travel, which I did extensively during my corporate career. Memories from those trips are part of the pool of inspiration that fuels my writing.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 2:34 PM

      I would love to visit the UN. I wonder if that’s something that could be done during RWA nationals. Hmmm. Thanks for commenting, Dawn 🙂

  10. Patti Yager Delagrange

    May 24, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    This was an interesting post, Clarissa. Nothing really jumps out at me as far as field trips go, but I do remember lots of the field trips I went on with my kids and their classmates. It was always fun to hear the “oohs” and “ahhs” from the little ones when they saw or felt something, or when they got scared at the roaring dinosaurs. And the Monterey Aquarium is always a great place to experience whether a child or an adult. I love it when authors describe unusual places in their books so that the reader feels like they’re right there.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 2:57 PM

      Hi Patti, I so wish we had an aquarium, but we are a little landlocked here:) I do love “traveling” through books. Thanks for visiting our blog and commenting 🙂

  11. MKHutchins

    May 24, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    Craters of the Moon is amazing! I pestered my family to go there for years (can you tell 4th grade had a big impression on me?). Well worth the trip. I have actually pilfered that experience to develop a setting for the high fantasy novel I’m working on.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 4:21 PM

      I’ll have to try it. The problem is finding the right season. I’ve been told it’s blistering hot in summer and freezing in winter.

  12. Donna Cummings

    May 24, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    This sounds like so much fun! I love that kids get to experience those kinds of things, and as a writer, I’m always ready to try it too. 🙂 Last summer I went to a Revolutionary War re-enactment nearby, and I’m looking forward to doing it again this year.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      May 24, 2011 at 4:23 PM

      Hi Donna, I love the Revolutionary War period. Now, you’ve done it. I’ll have to move to Boston. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  13. Carley Ash

    May 24, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    Great post Clarissa – I’d love to go on that field trip.

  14. Mary Vine

    May 24, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    I wanna go too! Thanks, Clarissa.

  15. Liz Fredericks

    May 24, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    Clarissa, I think you’ve given everyone the traveling bug for a bit of inspiration. We’re lucky to have exhibits of the westward expansion in this state. In fact, I think we often take it for granted. I may look at the Oregon Trail signs every day as I drive through the state, but somehow don’t see the same story potential as a walk down the Back Bay area of Boston. Thanks for giving me a fresh eye!


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