I was attending a writers’ conference in west Texas a few years ago and during one of the breaks, a woman came over to chat, asking about my experiences with paranormal investigations. We chatted for a while and during our conversation she mentioned that her eighty-three-year-old grandfather was a water witch. Although I’d never heard that term before, I instinctively knew she meant a dowser. She confirmed my hunch almost immediately by telling me he was renowned in some parts of Texas for finding water when no one else could.
As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t hear much of what that kind lady said after that because my brain had locked onto ‘water witch.’ The moment she said those words, it was like an alarm went off in my head, alerting me to the fact that I’d just heard the title of my next book. Within seconds the entire plot unfolded in my mind’s eye. What a rush that was!
Water Witch had two unique elements in the story that required a good bit of research. One was that the protagonist, Dunny, the dowser in the story, didn’t dowse with a diving rod or willow branch like other dowsers. Her instrument of choice was the sixth finger on her left hand, something she was born with and never had removed.
That said, I did research on extra appendages, especially those on people who kept them through adulthood, as well as dowsing in general. I wanted to understand the flexibility and usefulness of the extra digits, how people who had them felt about it, used it, hid it, etc., as well as dowsing in general. I was surprised to discover during that research that many people who are/were born with extra fingers that weren’t removed at birth, (They either still had them or had the extra digit removed when they became adults) also had a heightened sixth sense and make great dowsers!
The second unique situation I had was that in the story I needed to dig a pit in the Atchafalaya Basin. Now being from south Louisiana, I knew that almost everything below Interstate 10 is at or below sea level, so I had to find out if it was possible to dig a hole in the middle of the swamp without hitting water after digging only two inches deep. In order to find that out, I had to study the topography of the Atchafalaya and travel by skiff to some remote areas of the Basin. Fortunately, I discovered that it was possible, which was great. Otherwise I would have had to send Dunny to some remote island in Bermuda…..which might have been pretty cool, too.