We’re so pleased to have author J.T. Hall dropping by today on the tour for her new novel, Forest of Thorns and Claws. J.T. is talking research with us today, and there’s also a great giveaway to check out below.
Hello and welcome to the blog tour for Forest of Thorns and Claws! This M/M shifter (weretiger) romance is a standalone novel set in the rainforests of Indonesia. The book features a lonely veterinarian and wildlife conservationist from the UK, Dr. Donovan McGinnis, who meets a man from the local Sumatran village, Kersen, after rescuing a snared tigress. I hope you’ll read on to learn more about Donovan and Kersen’s adventures.
The Research Process
My book, Forest of Thorns and Claws, takes place in Sumatra, one of the islands in Indonesia. Because of the location, I knew that I’d have to do a lot of research to bring a sense of realism to the paranormal romance. I wanted readers to feel like they were really there.
However, I had no idea just how far down the rabbit hole my research would take me.
I started with some simple Google searches about Sumatra and Sumatran tigers, saving some of the links into a document and also taking notes a notebook. I needed to know how much the tigers weighed, what their diet was, their mating habits, etc. I also needed to learn about the setting, and where one could find Sumatran tigers in the wild.
That’s when I stumbled upon the national forest of Gunung Leuser, located in the northern part of the island. When I had been researching the tigers, every page I pulled up warned about how endangered this particular species is, and how badly their habitat is threatened, citing the rapidly decreasing acreage the threats of farming and poachers. I found a Canadian website describing “tiger patrols” and how foreigners and locals are scouting the forest in teams, trying to remove deadly snares and document signs of illegal activity to hopefully convict transgressors.
That was a perfect job for my first protagonist, a veterinarian and wildlife conservationist, and the struggles of the patrols gave me the idea for the opening scene and the romance plot. Of course I had to figure out where he and my other hero lived in the area. I actually scoured over Googlemaps of the entire region, using the satellite views to figure out where all the events in the story would take place. It’s pretty cool when you can zoom in to the level where you can see individual houses and buildings. That’s how I discovered the Ketambe Animal Research Center, though further research revealed that it was abandoned. Still, it was the perfect place for my conservationist to be based out of.
Another thing I ran across in my online searches was the Jakarta Post online newspaper, which is Indonesia’s main news outlet, at least in English. Their website was a treasure trove of information—articles written about the province of Aceh where most the Gunung Luser forest is located, and details about the political struggles that have been going on for the past ten years regarding the forest and why it has lost so many acres, mostly to foreign paper and palm oil companies and their farming.
Last, there was exhaustive research into the different cultures in the area, which is a mixture and includes religions like the native Batak and also Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. I tried to gather good information about things such as what the housing is like in villages closest to the forest, how long it takes to drive from one place to another, clothing people wear, etc.
I ended up having to make one concession—the Aceh Council actually meets in the provincial capital city of Banda Aceh, but that was like a sixteen hour drive from Ketambe. That wasn’t going to work for my plot. So I had them meet in Blangkejeren instead, which is only a three hour drive. As I saw it, this made sense in that such an arrangement would better allow public testimony from the public actually living near the forest.
And I have to confess one thing. Research via the Internet is great, but there is misinformation as well. In trying to find out what language was mainly spoken in Sumatra, websites kept listing “a dialect of Malay,” so I thought the people in Indonesia spoke Malay. I am deeply indebted to the cultural reader who enlightened me and gave me accurate translations of the actual language, Balah Indonesian, which has similar roots as Malay but a lot of key differences.
So what I’ve learned overall in this process is that the last step a writer should take whenever possible is to have a beta reader of the actual culture or country where a book is set. I know I could have written a simple shifter romance, but what developed is so much richer for the research that went into it.
I hope readers enjoy being transported to a magical new place.
About the Book
Donovan McGinnis, a veterinarian and conservationist at a research center in Sumatra, is fighting to save the rainforest from poachers and politicians alike. One day he discovers a tigress trapped by a snare, and while treating her injuries, she bites him. He becomes ill with strange symptoms that leave him feverish and dreaming of the jungle and blood.
Kersen and his family are part of the Siluman harimau, a clan of tiger shifters hidden away in a secret village near the rainforest. When Kersen’s sister is caught, he knows he must free her before she infects someone with their magic and reveals their secret.
But Donovan has already been turned, and only time will tell if he can control the tiger within. Kersen must help him, but will the fierce attraction between the pair bring ruin to them all? With the rainforest under threat from outside forces, they may be doomed anyway, unless Kersen and Donovan can find a way to defeat the danger from inside and out.
About the Author
J.T. Hall has been writing for many years under this name and others, and has appeared in magazines, anthologies, and online books. She earned her BA in creative writing from the University of Arizona, her Master’s in education from Argosy University, and works as an independent technical writer for state and federal programs. In her free time, she volunteers for the LGBT community and is active in the leather scene. She has a teenage daughter and a partner of over ten years. They live in sunny Arizona with three adorably cute dogs, three black cats, and a hamster who loves peanuts.
To celebrate the release of Forest of Thorns and Claws, one lucky winner will receive a $15 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on May 20, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!