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Posts tagged ‘research’

Do Your Homework

I’ll admit right off the bat, this post was inspired by the title of a post over on The Passive Voice. But it veers off the path immediately from the Publishers Weekly article that was the basis for the PV post. If I try to write about “cultural appropriation” this morning, the post would wind up being nothing but a string of curses. Not because I believe we should never write anything we don’t know or aren’t a member or part of but because of all the wonderful book that will never be written because authors are afraid of writing a book with characters that don’t look like them, don’t believe like they do, etc. Okay, stopping there before the cursing begins.

Instead, I want to focus on how you have to do your research if you are writing about people, places or things you aren’t very familiar with. For example, some years ago, I was in Philadelphia for a business conference and contacted family friends in New Jersey. We arranged to meet at their home on Sunday. Since I hadn’t been there since I was a child, Ruth gave me directions and told me to look for the simple cottage with hollies out front. Simple enough, right? I mean we all know what a cottage is and what hollies look like. Read more

Plotting around what you know

I’ve reached a point in the current book (#7 in the Applied Topology series, for those who care) where I have to stop, take a deep breath, sit back and… read all day. Or maybe all week.

No, really. I have to. I’m not just making excuses to take off, I swear! (Oy… please, people, don’t let Thalia beat me up! She doesn’t like it when I ask her to quit talking for a few days.)

Thing is that A Child of Magic has a subplot which requires my characters to visit Philadelphia for a day and a half. Um, during the Constitutional Convention. Summer of 1787, that would be. The bits that got them into this fix have already been written, and I’ve already worked out how this assignment leads right into the final confrontation of the main plot. But now it’s time for them (and me) to take a deep breath and plunge into the noise, smells, and mud of the big city. Read more

Choppy Waters Ahead

For those registered U.S. voters, today is the day for mid-term elections. That means our media (mainstream, social, alternative, etc) is filled with all things politics. If you wade through it all, sifting through the piles of excrement, you might find a glimmer of truth somewhere. “Might” being the operative word. For those who dislike politics or who grew tired of political ads long ago, today can’t get over soon enough. But for those who love observing human nature–or who write about politics, the media, twisted characters–today is a day to sit back, observe and take notes.

No, I’m not going to get into a political discussion here. That’s for other blogs I write for. This is all about writing and about how, as writers, we need to not only do research but we need to observe what is going on around us. It doesn’t matter whether  you write political thrillers, courtroom dramas or military fiction. You need to know how people will react, what motivates them and why in the situations you put them in. And then there’s the research. Read more

Danger, Danger, Danger

Yesterday was a perfect example of if something can go wrong, it will. I was happily sitting at my desk, doing research on the current work in progress. In this day and age of the internet, that meant I was online, browsing maps, looking at building floor plans and checking the headlines for a certain ay in history. So imagine my surprise when, after taking yet another sip of coffee, I input a new search term and. . . nothing. I tried reloading the page. Nope. nothing. In fact, I got the notice that Safari couldn’t connect with the server. I was suddenly thrust into the First Circle of Writer Hell–I had no connectivity. Read more

Write What Somebody Knows

I ‘ve touched on this before: to supplement my own experience, I make shameless use of relatives, friends, friends of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. By now most of them are used to this and do not get (too) weirded out by questions such as:

“If you were going to (non-fatally) shoot the pilot of a plane to encourage his cooperation, what body part would you choose so as not to interfere with his ability to fly the plane? Or would it be better just to kill the co-pilot?”  Read more

Down the Rabbit Hole

Is there an Arabic speaker on the blog?

That’s a serious question. You see, for the next book in the Pocketful of Stars series I’m positing a terrorist splinter group that has split off from Al-Shabaab and is based on one of the offshore islands of the Swahili coast. If necessary I can give it a Swahili name, but the fact is that Arabic has more prestige in Swahili culture even though hardly anybody actually speaks the language. And after a few days of tinkering I have reluctantly concluded that one year of intensive Arabic many, many years ago is not going to suffice for making sure up an authentic name, at least if I want to get fancier than “al-[Arabic word].” So… anybody want to help?

This question is only one of the many ways I’ve found to spend too much time on research. It started with reading up on Swahili beliefs in djinn and demons. That’s one aspect of Swahili culture I know nothing about firsthand, because in my time on the coast I found it politic to stay far, far away from discussions about these matters. It was an earlier and less technology-oriented age (no cell phones, and my tape recorder was the size of a shoebox) and I had enough trouble already with people muttering about jinni and shaitani when they heard their voices coming out of the shoebox.

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Knowing Your Genre

Years ago, Sarah somehow got me to admit I wrote stories. I’m still not sure how she managed it. It’s a special talent of hers, something she’s used on others besides me. Not only did she get me to admit I wrote stories and had for years, she managed to pry a chapter out of my unwilling fingers. I still remember the terror and disbelief that filled me when I realized I’d hit the send button. For the next several hours, I alternated between staring at my email program and feeling sick to my stomach as I waited for her to say something, anything. I never expected the response I got.

First, and she applied her virtual pointy boots as she said it, I was a writer. I had to remember that and keep telling myself that. I still have problems from time to time accepting it but her pointy boots scare me, so I keep telling myself that. Read more