The Ultimate Treasure Hunt — CJ Dunham

Today I’m happy to welcome author CJ Dunham as she shares about treasure hunts.

Treasure hunting. Those two words call up powerful images of adventure and wealth. In reality, the process is arduous and requires specialized equipment. However, there is more than one kind of treasure, and more than one way to hunt.

Research. That one word calls up images of beleaguered students and bloodshot eyes. But not so for this author! The process of researching a story idea is laborious, no doubt about it, and also requires the right equipment: my “little gray cells,” as Holmes would say, and adventures through the halls of my local library and inside the cyberspace of my internet connection. And the pay-off can be grand!

I had eight weeks to come up with a proposal for a novella for Barbour Publisher’s 9-in-1 collection. There were restrictions I didn’t like. The story had to be set in the U.S., preferably the Midwest, and between 1852 to 1912. Not my favorite locale or time period. But what began as restrictive soon became liberating when I launched into the research phase and hit the mother lode. I found Isaac Goodnow’s diary at He was the founder of Manhattan, Kansas. Although he died in 1894, his entries provided me with a wealth of details and insights into frontier life, and I “met” a man I now keenly respect and admire. My life is fuller and richer for finding him in the archives, which gave me an appreciation for a life outside my own.

From some of his rare but poignant descriptions (“The stars shine out in their golden splendor”), to entries about his travels back East to raise money for a town college (that would be the second in the nation to admit women), I found a foundation for my novella. These gems gave “truth” to my story.

Research was the key to transforming a wisp of an idea into a novella titled “The Last Letter.” My fragmentary notion of a character named Emilia Davis became a post Antebellum young woman who lost everyone she loved in the war. The novella opens the day Lee surrenders, and Emilia mails her last letter to her deceased fiancé. In the ensuing weeks, she hears a lecture from a Mr. Isaac Goodnow who is raising money for his plans to build Blue Mont College in the new state of Kansas. He inspires Emilia to embark on a daring, if not dangerous quest to open a mercantile in Manhattan.

Even though the piles of research yielded only a handful of nuggets I could use in the framework of my story, it was an exhilarating process, and those nuggets were worth more to me than gold: they added detail and dimension to a story I would not have written otherwise. And stories are the most powerful and transformative medium in my life, one I can pass on to my readers, my children, my grandchildren, and, who knows, my great-grandchildren?

Research can be the most rewarding treasure hunt of our age. Libraries, museums, journals, and even everyday life can expand our understanding, enrich our empathy, … and become the vehicle for a legacy of stories.

About CJ:

I reside in Colorado Springs, near the shadow of Pikes Peak. Though I love having my own “personal” mountain outside my window, I draw my best inspiration from prayer, books, research, my family, and personal experiences. All this coalesces in this chair, here in my own little corner.

I am compassionate, creative, and dedicated. I love writing, not just for the singular pleasure of the craft, but because it affords an opportunity to connect with, entertain, and inspire others.

Find me online at:

Please join me Feb. 14 for my cover reveal for “The Last Letter” in the Secret Admirers Collection, scheduled for release in May of 2017 by Barbour Books.


4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Treasure Hunt — CJ Dunham

  1. Thanks so much. Lovely to find another person who does not mind research. I love it. In fact when I entered my late fifties, I developed insomnia. Just one of those lovely perks of “that time of life,” right? This is where we all jump up and sing two verses of “I enjoy being a girl.” Anyway, this is how I would spend many a sleepless night. I was in grad school and doing research on the reintroduction of sacred dance back into worship settings. Anyway, it got me through those tough times because I did not sit and grumble about sleeplessness, and I was doing something that actually energized me. Finished the degree, wrote a book, “Moving into the Holy,” and returned to normal sleep patterns. God is good. Although I don’t necessarily recommend web crawling for insomnia, I do say, “Yay,” for research. Oh and, “Yay,” for getting older. Tis a time just full of God’s rich blessings.

    Thanks for sharing,

    laura padgett

  2. Laura, what a perfect comment! I’m 54 and going through that “change of life.” I have trouble sleeping now, too. Fortunately, I’m still a napper 😉 There is a time to research, and then there is a time to trust the Muse and write. When I start burning out on “web crawling,” I know it’s time to lay out all my notes and dive into the realm of story. Sometimes it’s a tricky balancing act. And yes, I whole-hearted concur: God is good!

  3. I am in my mid-fifties and have a few sleepless nights myself. I love to learn new facts and research topics of interest. Thank you for sharing this nugget of knowledge with us about Isaac T. Goodnow.

  4. It’s so fascinating to read the journal of a man who lived in the 1800’s. Reminds me to write in my own, create my own personal history for someone else to read one day. Thank you for the comment!

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