Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On the Road Again

As you are reading this, I am on the road, heading for Milwaukee from Minneapolis. There, I will meet with two friends, and the three of us will drive on Thursday to Nashville, to be a part of the TNNA Nashville Needlework Market. I am excited to be a part of this, it will be as much fun as it is a learning experience -- research for my books. The market will feature new products and new techniques in the needlework world. I will meet some famous designers and some successful shop owners, who will, I hope, put some good words in my (and my protagonist’s) mouth.

The first rule of writing is, of course, “Write what you know.” But there’s a second part to that rule: “Go and find out.” It’s the hunt for information that gives writing its excitement. For one thing, it gets you out of the house. Eventually. Start with the wonderful, the amazing, the invaluable Internet. Learn all you can there, and only then venture out to talk to someone about the subject. Early in my writing career I ventured to speak to a police investigator and after only a minute or two, he suggested I read up on the topic at hand and then come back and talk to him. His time was too valuable to spend it answering basic questions when the information was readily available in the library -- this was before the Internet. I’ve never forgotten that advice and so now I’m passing it along. Ask intelligent questions and your resource will be surprised and pleased to answer them. I have found on many occasions that a good interview will add interest and complications to a plot your reader never saw coming. What’s more, your writing will sing with authenticity. Even before I was a writer myself I couldn’t always tell when a novelist didn’t do her research -- but when she knew what she was talking about, the book was much more interesting.

I suppose the most interesting research I’ve done to date was taking a trip to Thailand. I didn’t know at the time I’d use what I learned on that wonderful vacation, but I’m really glad I kept a diary of what I saw and tasted and did on that trip of a lifetime. Some of it turned up in my mystery Thai Die. Later this year I’m taking a long train trip out west, and I plan to keep another detailed diary. I don’t know if it will turn up in a book later, because I don’t know enough about long train trips. I’m hoping it will prove fun, educational, and provoking of a mystery plot.

Anyone else had an experience that later proved useful in writing a book?


Sheila Connolly said...

You make a very good point about doing research before you talk to experts--that way you don't waste their time and their goodwill, because you know what questions to ask.

When I first started writing the Orchard Mysteries, I was wandering through an orchard and discovered an abandoned springhouse in the middle of it. Of course my first thought was, what a great place to put a body! I used it, and it even made it to the cover.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I always have fun researching, Monica, especially when I'm traveling. One of my upcoming Silhouette Nocturnes, ALASKAN WOLF, takes place, unsurprisingly, in Alaska, and I have enjoyed several cruises there. I, too, always take detailed notes.

My research for the first Lauren Vancouver, Pet Rescuer mystery in the spin-off series from my Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter series has been amazing. I've spoken with lots of people involved in animal issues in the L.A. area, some involved in different capacities with Animals Services and some involved with shelters. I've been able to use a lot of what I've learned.

Camille Minichino said...

I'm like Isaac Asimov who said, "I don't want to have an unpublished thought."

Every outing is a research/book opportunity!

Betty Hechtman said...

Monica, your trip sounds exciting. I hope you travel safe and have an interesting time.

Funny about research - there's a scene at the beginning of A Stitch in Crime where the wife of an actor makes a fuss about their seats. It came out an experience where I was flying up to Monterey and this woman was making a huge fuss about their seats. She kept saying "do you know who he is?" pointing her companion who was an actor from the Murphy Brown show. I changed it a bit in my book and had it get settled quickly. In real life, the woman made such a fuss about the seats, the airline person missunderstood and gave their seats away and then there were no seats for the pair.

The airline people finally had to bribe other passengers with generous vouchers to give up their seats to the actor and his wife who now were content to just be on the plane.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Monica, I always laugh to myself about that line, "Write what you know." Gee...we'd all be a bunch of murderers!

That said, you are exactly write. Research is like an iceberg. The reader only sees the tip, but the mass under the water supports that visible section. When you really, really know your subject, you can write with more clarity. That's not to say that you always have to know every detail, but it's certainly better to have a surfeit of information, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I recently read Thai Die. Loved it and learned so much about silk.