Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Research

Currently Reading: Sorority Girl Pledge, by Cheryl Dragon. I think I'm on chapter six or seven. Haven't read it since Friday.

I missed the workshop/discussion on the Novel Sisterhood on Sunday, because my mom's computer refused to let me sign in to my Yahoo account. Which is weird, because I successfully signed in Saturday night for Anny Cook's chat, even though I'd forgotten about it and only 'chatted' for the final 30 minutes! And didn't have access to my TBB list, so I'll have to go back and reread the excerpts.

Okay...got sidetracked for a minute. But it's the first day of Summer Break; I arrived home to a messy house and no coffee or tea bags. I had to make an early morning run to the store so I could have breakfast! So forgive me if I wander all over the place.

Research:

1) What is the first thing you do to research?

First of all, I write about what I already know. But last summer, when the character of a man who had spent time in prison entered my head, I did have to ask a law enforcement official about prison term lengths, and how long certain offenses warrented different prison sentances.

When I was writing my eating disorder book, I actually called a clinic and spoke to a therapist about how someone with anorexia would be 'rehabillitated'. And it took her several minutes to realize I was not just someone in denial; I really was doing legitimate research on the disorder! For the record, I was blessed with a wonderful metabolism in my teens and early 20's and could eat pretty much whatever I wanted. 3 kids and twenty years later has slowed it somewhat, but I like food too much to ever do that to my body. I'm somewhat comfortable with my extra 30 pounds, and as long as I exercise and don't go too crazy with certain foods, I don't obsess over my weight.

My bff knows to expect the random phone call with the dreaded words 'stretch your memory' when I get stumped about when certain events happened. She was also better at flirting, so when my characters need great comebacks, she's the one who supplies them.

So far, the book that I did the most research on was my alternative lifestyle one. I actually went to the library and spent several hours looking for articles on microfische about gays in the late 1980's, so I could present both the prejudiced view and the arguments my heroine was making to justify her choice. And as that particular book gets closer to publication, I'll probably conduct some more interviews, and I've already read some gay fiction to see how those authors handled the issue. So I expect to do some revisions in the next couple of years.

2) How do you research a town you've never been to?

Good question. The only place I've not visited, yet written about, was in Love Finds a Way. I interviewed my AF guy extensively on the layout of the George AF Base and Apple Valley; I also pumped a Marine friend who lives in 29 Palms, California, for information about Los Angeles and military men in general.

3) Do you research differently for 10 years or older time periods?

My series takes place twenty years ago; I visit IMDB.com to check for movies, songs, etc so I don't, say for example, having my characters going to see Pretty Woman before it appeared in theaters. And watching reruns of old sitcoms and teen dramas help to stay in touch with the teen mindset of the time period.

4) Any tricks you can share?

I just write as the story flows. If I get stuck on a certain detail, I stop and do specific research. And if I know a certain storyline is approaching and I see literature or an article, I'll pay attention and take notes or cut it out of the paper. For example, in 2003, while visiting a friend in another city, I saw a pamphelt on gambling addiction. Even though this story is still swirling around in my brain, I picked up the booklet and tucked it away for future reference. This seems to work for me; I know other authors who research first and write second. When you find what works best, then stick with it. My sister used to do tons of research, but would have no idea of how to start putting it all together. I spent two hours with her, listening to her describe what she wanted to say and looking at her large pile of notecards. I went through them; put them into piles; and organized her outline. I also started her off with a terrific opening paragraph, which she then developed into a 'B' or 'A' term paper. I did the same when she applied to the JET (Japanese Exchange Training) program which got her accepted and sent to Japan for 2 years. Incidentally, she also met her husband there, so you could say if it weren't for her older sister's written skills....

Okay, maybe that's not quite the case. But it's a thought!

So, what are your research issues? Which comes first, the research or the writing?

3 comments:

barbara huffert said...

I pretty much write what I know (sorry if that's TMI!) so I only do research to confirm that things are still the same.

Amarinda Jones said...

I am exactly the same as B - I write what I know as I believe it makes the story more realistic for me

Kelly Kirch said...

I don't research unless I've been typing along and suddenly need info. Usually I already know my stuff.