Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Romance With Research- it’s better than chocolate and less fattening.

Suzanne Macpherson

Working on~ something very special involving plastic flamingos.

Mood: peacefully productive


For me, life seems to be one big research binge. Everywhere I go I take notes and make observations about the tiny details of life. If I weren’t a writer I’d be . . . weird. Research is inspiration. I could wax poetic about research forever.

Yes, historical authors, we contemporary gals do lots of it too. Okay, okay you do more. So much more you can tell the contemporary authors from the historical authors at the summer convention because contemporary authors have tans. (P.S. they are fake- but we at least get out to the store to buy that stuff.)

I’m a stash and dash researcher. As I write I often hit a spot and go spinning into research, then return with the information I needed to proceed with the story.

However--DANGER! : Research is a lovely sink hole that will suck you in up to your eyeballs and make you vanish for hours only to emerge and realize you haven’t written any pages today. LOL I don’t care. I LOVE research.

A few highlights of the thousands of research binges I have been on include: paranormal activity, Elvis, geographic details of Vegas, cars (and I’m talking details like how does the trunk on a 1985 Jag open?) England, Druids, native plants, ways to murder people, police process, courtroom procedure, the insurance industry, the toy manufacturing industry, ice cream, genetics, obscure hair disorders, the psychology of being blonde, song lyrics, twins, handbag trends, how supermarket clerks function, and for every job I’ve ever given a hero or heroine I’ve researched that job in detail if not actually held down the job!

As every modern writer knows the internet descended upon a cloud from heaven directly to our PC’s. Yesterday I ran across a blog about interiors used in the movies of the late thirties. I mean really, I thought I was the only person on the planet obsessed with the curtains in the tragically beautiful “rich dad” bedroom of the daughter in Stella Dallas, or the amazing New York apartment in Sentimental Journey. I personally have found that if you manage to word it correctly you can find A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G on the internet. Being obsessed with old movies, my favorite source for movie references is The Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com Any actor or film made is usually listed on their site.

As a matter of fact you can find more than you bargained for on the internet- I advise putting that safe search feature to use to avoid startling interpretations of the English language. No, I meant Pastry not Pasty!

That kind of full access to the world of minute detail can get so boring, ha ha. So when it comes to hands on, my favorite research is going to the movies, both live and in my living room. Turner Classic Movies and I have logged enough hours to qualify as a full on love affair. Try film credits for great character names!

Other favorite types of live research I love: antique stores, old hardware stores, new cities and towns, truckloads of books of course, library delving and direct interviews with relevant subjects.

For She Woke Up Married I spent time with Elvis impersonator, Danny Vernon. Sometimes you just need to walk a mile in someone’s Blue Suede Shoes, you know? For The Forever Summer I spent many hours interviewing my local supermarket clerks about the odd details their job entails and the language they used for different items in the store. Who knew the big displays for fruit were called orchard bins? I loved getting a letter from a fan who worked in a supermarket complimenting me on getting the lingo and actions down.

That’s the big payoff--when you do it right. When you do it wrong, they will let you know, too, but forgive them, they at least read your book. What was your favorite research binge of all time? www.suzmac.com

6 comments:

Jessa Slade said...

I love it when authors leave tiny gems of research tucked into a story (like orchard bins). It doesn't feel obtrusive, it's just feels like you're sharing the character's life for a bit.

The trick with research, like Kenny Rogers says, is you gotta know when to hold 'em & when to fold 'em. Or something.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

I LOVE imbd.com (or is it imdb.com--I always type it wrong in my browser). I'm always over there.
And I have to chastise my son constantly--he is probably Wikipedia's #1 peruser. The boy will spend hours upon hours on that thing...

Suzanne Macpherson said...

So true about hold em and fold em ! Info dumps~ not so good.

Jenny I just spent a half-hour reading all about James Dean on Wikipedia LOL Although I usually like to dig a little deeper if it is something I Really want Facts about. but its a fun place. I've been noticing lots of strange things on youtube lately- old music etc. What did we do with all our time before the internet?

Genene Valleau said...

Suzanne, what wonderful research paths you have traveled! Elvis and pink flamingos, huh? Sounds hilarious!

My favorite research binges have been career research for my characters. I attended the Citizen Police Academy when I started a manuscript with a policeman hero. I spent time with physical and music therapists when that was the career of the heroine in one of my books. And I attended concerts for a rock star hero, as well as read many books and articles about the life of rock stars -- most of which was too, um, liberal to go in the type of books I write.

Your research sounds much more creative than mine has been. I might have to give my characters some quirkier habits!

Delle Jacobs said...

Yes, isn't it a lovely sinkhole, Susanne? Mine has ivy and roses growing on the walls...

Delle

Minnette Meador said...

You are so wonderful, Suzanne...I needed this laugh today! I'm soooo looking forward to researching something modern...I spend my days delving into loinclothes, for crimany sakes! Sounds exciting, but the guy that was in them turned to dust long ago. Researching living, breathing people and technologies sounds good to me! ~LOL~ BTW, I'm almost done with The Forever Summer and absolutely LOVE IT! Everyone needs to read this book...M: