Monday, April 30, 2012

Research Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – Or Can It?

At Amazon

Marja McGraw, author of the wonderful Bogey series and other mysteries, is my guest today.
I’d like to say that I’m one of those people who knows things. Haven’t you ever met someone who seems to know everything? Well, I’m not one of those people. I know a few facts about many subjects. Consequently, I have to research for my books.
I wrote Old Murders Never Die, which is about a young female P.I. and her partner being stranded in a ghost town, and I had to research things about the Old West. Not cowboys or the fun stuff, but how to use a wood-burning cook stove. What might you find in a hundred and twenty year old house if it was abandoned and no one had entered it until you came along? How did people speak – especially if it was someone who wasn’t well-educated? I’d start to write a scene and suddenly have to stop to research some small piece of the story.
When I started writing the Bogey Man series, which is about a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, I had to start researching vintage clothing, 1940s slang and, not that it broke my heart, but I had to sit down and watch old Bogart movies to study some of his mannerisms and speech habits.
Both of my series take place today; however, they include things from the past. I had no idea what I was getting into until I’d start to write a scene and realize I didn’t know what I was talking about.
At Amazon
Research is essential to writing a good story whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Ya can’t just make things up and hope no one notices. If you don’t get your facts right, I can almost guarantee someone will call you on it.
One thing I’ve learned through this is that I enjoy research. Who knew? In fact, sometimes I have to force myself to put aside the research and get back to the book. My, how things have changed since I was a kid and had to research projects for school.
Another eye-opener was when I realized that not everything you read on the Internet is factual. Many times I have to check out multiple resources, including the library. It’s time-consuming, but well worth the effort.
I know several retired police officers and they’re probably sick of me asking questions about police procedure. There may be a few police departments who’ve blocked my calls, too. (Just joking. I’m sure they love to hear from me.) When I need information, I’m not the least bit shy about asking for it.
I’ve learned that when I read books by other authors, I can usually tell if they’ve done their homework before writing the story. I appreciate the effort they’ve put into it, because I know how much blood, sweat and tears were involved. What else would a mystery writer put into their research? Laughter? Giggles?
So next time you read a good book, remind yourself that a lot more went into writing the story than simply imagination.
Book Trailer for Bogey’s Ace in the Hole: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0mizm1RZzg

16 comments:

Polly said...

Somehow, whether I plan it or not, there comes a part in every book where I realize I don't know what I'm talking about. Then I go off to research and find myself fascinated by some point that leads me somewhere else and beyond. I've even learned a few things along the way. Nice blog, Marja.

marja said...

Thank you, Polly. I think it's something we all run into, and I was surprised to find that researching is half the fun of writing the book.

Patricia Gligor said...

Marja,
When I read "Old Murders Never Die," I didn't think about all the research you must've done to write the book. I just enjoyed the story. But, that explains the "authentic" feel of the book - carefully researched facts!
"Old Murders Never Die" is one of my favorites and I look forward to reading "Bogey's Ace in the Hole."

Ellis Vidler said...

Marja, so glad to have you here today! I get caught in the same trap. I get into something and find I don't know any of the details I need. Then when I start researching, I lose track of my goal and follow interesting threads in all directions. But it's certainly fun!

marja said...

Hi Patricia, I'm so glad you enjoyed Old Murders Never Die. It's my favorite out of all the books. I'm also really, really glad it had an authentic feel to it.

marja said...

Ellis, Thank you so much for having me in today. Who knew research could be fun? :)

Jake said...

Research yes I remember how to do that-lots of work involved. Appreciate your efforts in giving me a terrific read based on reality. Thank you.

jrlindermuth said...

Years in the newspaper business and then as a genealogist made me a person who finds research fun. But, definitely agree, it can be distracting.

Cora said...

I love to do research as well, learning new things can be fascinating. And checking facts on the internet--a must. I grabbed a bunch of "facts" the other day, that actually were all false.

marja said...

Jake, I know your tastes, to an extent, and it's readers like you who make me want to be sure all of my facts are right. That's a compliment, by the way.

marja said...

John, I worked on my family genealogy for several years and enjoyed it immensely. Old City Directories and very old city maps added to the enjoyment. I can't imagine the amount of research you would have done as a reporter.

marja said...

Cora, LOL I feel your pain. To do all that research and then find out that your facts weren't correct must have been so frustrating. Unless you were looking for false facts? You never know what's going to work with a project.

Stephen L. Brayton said...

Research is one of the funnest parts of writing the story. Digging out some answers to questions, maybe finding a new spin on things.

marja said...

Stephen, I couldn't agree more. It can change a whole story. Thank you for commenting.

Eileen Obser said...

Glad to read about the research part of your writing, Marja. I write mostly nonfiction but I make sure I research everything - and tell students to do the same. One wrong news event or song in the story/essay and the reader loses trust. Thanks for the reminder.

marja said...

Thank you for stopping in, Eileen. I have a friend who writes Regency Romance, and if she makes even a small mistake, someone is sure to let her know. It really is important.