Friday, March 26, 2010

Kid? Meet Candy Store!

Also know as "Topographical Ordinance Survey maps? Oh boy oh boy oh boy!"

Gimme a quiet carrel in the back of the history stacks, or come follow me down a rabbit-hole of never-ending hyper-links on the trail of an info-morsel. I'm almost never happier than when I'm bloodhounding around for info for a new project.

Eeeeyeah.... I'm whatcha call a research nerd. I can cheerfully delve into historical minutia until I'm blue in the face and you can barely see the top of my head over the book pile. I don't think I've ever written a book that didn't involve hanging crucial plot mechanics off a specific locale or historical personge or event or bit of lore or, most likely, some combination of all of the above.

When I'm not actually writing (and sometimes when I am), I can most frequently be found lost in a text or a website, consumed by some bit of arcane, obscure fact-checking. It gounds me in my stories. But also, more often than not, it also provides me with my stories.

To wit: I once wrote a short story--a short story, mind you--whereupon I first had to wade through a sea of information pertaining to plant-derived toxins, including but not limited to the identification of a toadstool known as "Destroying Angel" (nice--how poetic), characteristics of the fungus known as ergot (do stay clear of ergot-tainted barley unless you're fond of, y'know, gangrene), and how many parts of the Taxus Baccata--or common yew tree--are actually poisonous (answer: ALL of them--unless you're a bird, whereupon the seeds will pass harmlessly through your digestive tract, or a deer--which seem to have built up an immunity to taxanes... not so much cows and horses, commonly found dead in fields where yew trees grow)... Er... yeah.

That was for a humorous little short story about sorcery. And it all developed from one bit of info and a really bad pun.

Another example of my research pathology: for one of the next projects I'm working on, my upcoming book ONCE EVERY NEVER, I needed a place. A very specific place, actually. A place which has very distinct topographical features and dimensions. And I need it to be located within a specific geographical radius. It was a tall order.

Now, I know what your thinking. "Lesley," you think, "you write fiction. Surely, you could just make the dang thing up, right?"

Well... that's what I figured I'd pretty much have to do because my parameters were so dang narrow. And I was totally okay with that. However, on a lark, I started off on a bit of a surf. I googled around, using broad variations of descriptions for this bit of non-existent landmark, only to find--much to my surprise--that it's not non-existent at all. In fact, it not only exists, it exists right where I need it to.

For realsies. Eu-freakin'-reka!!

I was gobsmacked. It was, in fact, such a perfect match, that I started to almost believe that all my wild, fictional theories--constructed strictly for the purposes of the story and predicated firmly upon a willing suspension of the disbelief in, er, magic--might actually have historical merit!

In retrospect, I don't know why I was surprised. This has happened to me at some point in pretty much every project I've ever written. My friend Adrienne thinks it's uncanny. I think it's just be because I read up so much on my subjects of interest--on the kind of stuff I invariably wind up writing about--that I just start subconciously making these unconnected connections. But whatever the case, when it happens--wow!--it's always a total EUREKA moment. And yummy like candy. Well-researched candy. Mmm.....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Conquering My Fear (of Research)

I’m going to admit up front here that this week’s topic filled me with the same sort of dread and trepidation that the very idea of research fills with me with. I was an English major in college, and of course, I did some research, but I used to dread it with every fiber of my being. The mere idea of in-text citations makes me want to break out in hives.

That’s not to say that I haven’t ever done research while writing a book. Because I have. With my first three books, Google/the Internet were my good friends. I searched the web to get details right that I wouldn’t know otherwise -- everything from job/career details for my main characters to trying to get necessary/accurate legal or medical details.

But just recently I’ve started working on something new. Something that requires real, bona fide research: books and probably interviews with people and maybe even some in person visits to particular places. This book, which, I’m not going to say too much about because it’s in such an early stage right now, will take place in both the present and the past. It will have fictional characters and historical figures. (And yes, I just broke out in a sweat writing this paragraph.)

Of course, I can do it. At least, I think I can. I know that research is more tedious really, than hard, and I guess that’s part of what terrifies me. That I’ll get it wrong. It’s one thing to write a book that is contemporary, in which I’ve invented everything including the setting. And it feels like another thing entirely to write a book that incorporates real people with fictional ones, that takes place in a real town, against the backdrop of a real historical event. I’ve been a little nervous to get started writing (and truthfully have been finding one reason after another not to get started quite yet.)

In the meantime, I’ve been working on something else and . . . researching. Or at least, the very beginnings of it. Right now I’m reading someone’s diary, (a famous woman who shall remain unnamed but who lived quite an interesting life in the 1930s.) And I’ll admit, I’m enjoying it so much that it doesn’t even feel like research. Of course, I’ve still got a mountain of research to conquer before I can even start writing. So wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers

To our Novel Girl Followers and my Dear Novel Girls,

After reading my post, you'll understand why I can't post on topic again this week.

Two weeks is a long time to watch someone you love with all your heart slowly slip away. My baby sister, Melanie, as my oldest son posted on his FB page, is now "having fun riding on the wings of angels." A lovely thought for one who so enjoyed the sensation of the wind against her face - on horseback, on skis, at the beach, on the soccer field - anywhere, as long as it was outdoors.

Can't you just see her now riding bareback on a solid white steed, faster than she ever imagined possible here on earth, with her soft curls swirling all around her head? I believe she's doing that right now in Heaven.

Melanie was only 39-years-old when she left her earthly body to join the Heavenly Host of Angels. As you can see from her high-school graduation picture, just 20 years ago, she has the smile of an angel.

I love you, my dear baby sister. You are finally at perfect peace with your Prince of Peace.

Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers about Melanie. There is no greater gift.

Much Love,


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Love It!

I graduated college with a degree in psychology and a double minor in history and sociology. So, yeah, I think it's safe to say that I'm one of those crazy individuals who actually enjoys doing research. I actually sometimes miss the days of getting lost in the library, books and silence surrounding me, before finding a quiet spot and pecking away at my laptop for hours. Good grief, what I wouldn't give to have just an hour of that in my day now!

My first two books, A Bump in the Road and Not Ready for Mom Jeans, didn't require much research, except for the occasional, "How many weeks into a pregnancy is a woman supposed to get a glucose test?" But the book I'm outlining right now, has required a bit more research into paranormal things like hauntings, research methods for finding family ancestry and midwives in the 1800s. Sounds pretty wild, huh? It is, in the best way possible!

As a writer, I continually like to challenge myself. I'd rather attempt to do a Big Book, and do the authorial equivalent of biting off more than I can chew (write?), than to just keep writing the same kinds of books year after year. I hope to have a varied career, with lots of different kinds of tomes in my bibliography. I guess what I'm trying to get across is that I'd rather attempt and fail than sit comfortably and be slightly bored.

I've mentioned before that the business side of publishing, the idea of being an "author" and not just a "writer," can be difficult to manage. That's why it's so important that a writer enjoys writing. We have to love our stories, really LOVE them, before we can send them out into the world. For me, in this current manuscript, this means finding a small historical detail that makes me go, "Ooooh!" and furiously fitting it into my outline. I absolutely adore the spark of inspiration that comes with connecting historical realities with my imaginary book world.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some dusty old books with cracked spines that are calling to me!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Okay, this is going to be a short post this week. I know, amazing, huh? But I'm the first to admit that I don't do a lot of research, but that's not because I'm lazy or unwilling. It's mostly because my books (so far, at least) don't require a lot of research.

My stories are set in the current day, real world, with paranormal elements. The paranormal elements in my books are created with my own set of rules, so a lot of times, the research I'm doing is checking my past books to see what I've already set up. Because every now and then I'll forget a certain point here or there.

However, while I don't have to research often, there are always certain things that I have to check out in every book. Normally, these are areas that relate to law in the city/state my story is taking place in, or some other type of absolute fact I can't really make up (for example: in A TASTE OF MAGIC, Elizabeth thinks her sister is missing. I needed to find out how quickly a person can be declared a missing person in the state of IL. And in A STROKE OF MAGIC, I have a question of paternity and how something would be handled in a court of law. Finally, in A BREATH OF MAGIC, I had a genetics question I needed to know the straight dope on).

I'm fairly adept at finding the information I need when I need it, but I'm quite happy that I haven't had to do any type of extensive research as of yet. I am continually in awe of historical authors, because their ability to create a realistic world with the rules of their book's time period always blows me away. In fact, this is one reason why I haven't attempted writing a time travel novel as of yet--the amount of research necessary halts me in my tracks.

Therefore, I'm really looking forward to reading the other TNG's take on this. Because, well, I just don't need to research all that often.