Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Research in contemporary and future worlds

Maggie Jaimeson

Currently working on: A YA paranormal series with kids with special psychic powers
Mood: Very excited as the RWA National convention is only one week away!

I write contemporaries and romantic suspense with a futuristic bent. One would think these two genres don’t require much research, but I always find I need to do some anyway. In my contemporaries I’m often doing research on places. For the most part I write about places I know, like Portland, or places I’ve been. But even when I’ve traveled somewhere I don’t always remember all the details. So, for researching places in contemporary times I use Mapquest, you can even map out international sites. I also go to Chamber of Commerce sites for towns, and for International Travel I always consult the State Department website: It has great overviews of the country, its history and politics, travel alerts, entry and exit requirements, crime, embassy access—just a plethora of information. This is also really helpful for suspense novels too. For example, when I was writing Expendable I needed better information on Afghanistan and Iraq. Though my son has done two tours of duty in the middle east, his knowledge was limited to the areas where he served. I began with the State Department, then went to Mapquest, then looked at a variety of newspaper reports and news film footage of different areas, then looked for specific towns, mountains, and passes.

Clothing is an area where I am very challenged. I know nothing about design and anyone who knows me can attest to that in my personal attire. So, when it’s time to pick clothing for my characters I use catalogs and Internet stores. I’ll find models dressed in something I like or think fits my characters and describe that. I have to keep careful notes though, because I certainly won’t remember it. Oh, and I love watching Project Runway on TV. :)

For my suspense novels I do a lot of research through interviews with people—policemen, firemen, soldiers, etc. I’m fortunate in that I have a husband and two sons who know a lot about guns, the military, law enforcement etc. One of my favorite research books for suspense is The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book by Martin Roth. It includes the fundamentals of investigation, criminal motives, escape methods, weapons, rules of evidence, slang used by criminals and police, and much more. It’s a great starting place and then gives me ideas of where else to do research.

Finally, for my futuristic research I primarily do a LOT of reading. I subscribe to Nature, a magazine that gives brief summaries of all types of cutting edge research from which I can extrapolate to the future. I subscribe to a number of journals or go to the library in medicine, physics, and computer science. This is where University libraries are a godsend. I also read the daily newspaper voraciously. Ideas are everywhere!


Jessa Slade said...

I also like extrapolating future stories from current cutting edge science news. I'm no William Gibson, and I only made it halfway into my futuristic WIP before my paranormal sold. But someday... I like Psychology Today for the same reason, and NPR's Science Friday has some good stuff too.

Genene Valleau said...

Among the resources you mentioned, I hadn't thought of going to the State Department Web site. What a great idea!

I also like the Chamber of Commerce Web sites and local real estate sites. Looking at homes for sale in a specific area is a good way to see what the area looks like.