If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

July Interviews

7/1 Lena Gregory, Scone Cold Killer
7/8 Jessica Baker, Murder on the Flying Scotsman
7/15 TG Wolff, Driving Reign
7/22 Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves
7/29 Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets

Saturday Guest Bloggers

7/11 Mark Dressler
7/18 James McCrone

WWK Bloggers:

7/4 Valerie Burns
7/25 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Monday, February 4, 2019

How to Keep Your Research Needs from Slowing and Stopping Your Forward Progress on Your Book

by Linda Rodriguez

When it comes to doing research for your novel, you should only do as much as you need. The amounts will vary depending on whether you're writing something contemporary, historical, techno-thriller, or another genre that's research intensive. Research can be too often used by writers to procrastinate on the actual writing of their novels. Don't let that happen to you.

Some books—historical novels, novels about a place or culture of which you have no previous knowledge, novels about a profession or industry of which you have no previous knowledge—will require research before beginning to write the first draft. Such research may be a necessity to even gain a thorough idea of what the novel will be about. However, beyond that which is absolutely necessary in order to properly conceive of the book and provide rich, sensory images of the first locations, I suggest that starting the first draft before you have allowed yourself to be caught up in research is a good idea. I've seen too many writers research for years without ever putting one word of actual novel to the page.

The exception to this rule is the main character or background of a different culture from your own. Often, much of this research must be done before writing because it will influence every aspect of your writing about that character or setting and may well require a difficult empathetic leap on your part. The better your research, the better you will be at that leap and the more authentic and honest your portrayal of that person or setting will be. In most other instances, however, research can go forward with your writing—informed by your writing and what you learned you didn't know and needed to know for that last passage/scene/chapter.

If you are planning to use a setting that you are unfamiliar with, you will want to visit it in person, if you can. Be purposeful and organized about your visit, taking both photographs and written notes. I once knew a writer who used a research grant to visit a foreign location he would never otherwise have been able to visit. He used his camera only (back in the days of non-digital cameras), taking photos assiduously of everything. When he arrived home, he found the film had been defective, and none of his photos turned out. Redundancy is a lifesaver. Besides, notes and photos can complement each other while at the same time reminding you of different aspects of what you experienced. Written notes, in particular, can remind you of sensory details—heat, smells, tastes, sounds.

Before beginning your novel, you will have to do some research on your setting, unless it is a truly familiar one. Elizabeth George, the bestselling mystery writer, recommends that you especially pay attention to the climate and vegetation. What grows in this place? How has that combination of climate and vegetation influenced the character of the setting? If you want to use a city or a town, consider its architecture and how that affects its atmosphere. Does it have poor and wealthy areas? How do its citizens from those different areas travel around the city?

Setting and culture are two areas that may require extensive research before you begin, as will historical period or specialized industry, if those are important to your novel. But even with these aspects that need more research, you will want to set limits—broad background research first to set a foundation followed by specific research needed to start the book and write the opening scenes and chapters. Ideally, however, research proceeds along with the writing.

If I need a detail to make a scene come alive, I usually put a note to that effect in brackets and put it in boldface, then continue writing the scene. Later, I will go through what I've written so far, searching for bold. Then, I take that list of specific needs for information with me as I turn to research. This makes it less likely that I will lose myself in the black hole that research can sometimes become. The best technique I've found, however, for keeping me on track while researching is to do my day's stint of writing first before I ever allow myself to research. If you follow that rule, your research will not take over your life and derail your writing.

Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com


Catherine S said...

I'm working on a historical, and this is a much-needed reminder. It's a time period that I've already researched fairly extensively, because my dissertation was on the literature of that era and I've been collecting and reading on the history of my location during that time period for a couple of decades. Nonetheless, I've been buying All the Relevant Histories and Etc., and I need to remind myself that I can read them concurrently with writing, not before I set keystroke to keyboard . . .

KM Rockwood said...

Ah, but the research is such fun...

You're right, though. It's easy enough to fritter away "work time" reading interesting tidbits that have nothing to do with the work in progress.

Tina said...

Valuable advice. I am liable to fall into the research black hole. It feels so writerly in there. But I'm making a commitment this day to follow your practice here. Draft and bracket and keep writing.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I get sucked into the research hole all the time. I've learned to do research in the late afternoon after I've finished writing by only seeking answers to specific facts or details.

E. B. Davis said...

I love research, and it often is so interesting that I want to include it all. But I also know if it isn't germane to the plot to keep it out. Some of the most interesting novels teach me so I do like when background research is included. I try to go with my best guess and hope my research confirms my hunch.

Grace Topping said...

Good advice, Linda. Thank you. When I've had a question about a particular issue, I've had very good luck consulting some experts in the field. I found people only too happy to tell you what you need to know--at least the small bits of information I needed.

Kait said...

As a lover of research this has been the hardest lesson to learn. When do you say stop? The second hardest lesson is how do you quell the desire to pass all that lovely research on to your readers. Reading aloud can help with that part.

Jim Jackson said...

Good, practical suggestions, Linda. Thanks.

Gloria Alden said...

Linda, it's one of the reasons I've placed my serious in Northeast Ohio where I live. In my latest book I've brought in Amish families, too, because I have Amish families living in my area and see them often in the same Aldi's store I shop in. I also have an Amish man trim my ponies' hooves. I also talked to one of my niece's husband who is a police officer in a township next to mine and asked for some information. Otherwise I pretty much write what I'm familiar with. It must work because I have a following who are eager for me to finish the tenth book in my series.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Catherine, yes. You have a solid background in the period, so read you books in thevening after your day's writing is done. Best of luck!

KM, it's fun, for sure--and can easily turn into an absolute black hole.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Way to go, Tina! We're all writers because we're curious and research feeds that, so it's very tempting.

Excellent decision, Margaret!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, the trick is to only include the research you can't do without.

Grace, that can be an excellent way to go.

Kait, after a good look at general background, write and note any place that needs specific research, then take care of it all at once in a targeted way.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Jim.

Congratulations, Gloria.

Warren Bull said...

Getting lost in research is a common experience for writers.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, it is, Warren, and it can become a real problem.

carla said...

Research can be a rabbit hole like Facebook. I've succumbed too often!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Carla, that's okay. You know better now. An elder used to tell me as a kid, "You're never too far down the wrong road to turn around and go back."