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05-19 Sarah Raplee – Riff on 7 yrs. Of SPAM & a Giveaway

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


by M.L. Buchman

I write first and foremost about the people. I love wrapping my tales around the relationship dynamics of my characters, both with each other and with themselves. But along the way, I need to plant my story somewhere real. Doing that feels like pure play. It's just way too much fun.

One of my favorite things to do with writing is gathering all of the little cool factoids. It's not that I'm a research hound, because I've met those. I actually had a friend who was writing a medieval romance as her second book. Not a prettied up one, but one in which brothers of the sword died bloody deaths and women screamed in childbirth and all the gritty details. That was her downfall. She was a research queen and became so lost in the construction of armor, the metallurgy and breaking strengths of swords, the medicine lore of the era, etc. that she never emerged out the other side. Twenty years on and still no sign of that book. Too bad, the bits of actual writing I saw were magnificent.

In the process of research, I do try to be as accurate as possible, within reason. I'm a fiction writer, so when I hit a certain limit, I make stuff up. But I do love the exploration of discovery.

Sometimes it is the obvious: a Black Hawk helicopter can carry its own weight, 5 tons of chopper can carry 6 tons of stuff which is pretty neat. Sometimes it's less obvious: what motivates a warrior to make a career in Special Forces? That one took reading a dozen memoirs by former Special Forces soldiers to even begin to get a feel for why these amazing men do what they do.

The world building takes me a long time. I'll start reading on a new series a few years in advance of when I finally begin writing. I nibble at things and ferret them away for future use like a mad squirrel stocking nuts long after I have enough to survive this winter...and the next. Here are a few bits of nuts I've gathered/am gathering.

I went to Faerieworlds West this year as part of research for a possible time travel series next year or maybe the one after. We're also planning to travel through Oregon's Wine Country during harvest time this fall for a new romance series I'll be starting in the Spring called the "Oregon Knitter's Circle." Yes, it makes sense, I think. I'm still a long way from starting the writing on either of these.

Sometimes the research is more immediate.

For my next full-length Night Stalkers book coming in December, Take Over at Midnight, I had to learn about oil platforms, as a battle occurs on one. That particular set of scenes cost me several days and much interesting poking around. And for the Night Stalkers short novel coming in October, Peter's Christmas, I found myself studying Southeast Asian UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Ruins of a stone building erected on a stone platform. The roof above the main entrance is decorated.
For the first book of my Angelo's Hearth series, Where Dreams are Born, my wife and I visited over a dozen lighthouses around Puget Sound. For the second, Where Dreams Reside, we spent hours exploring Seattle's Pike Place Market. For the third, Where Dreams Unfold, coming this winter, I got to spend a lovely afternoon tromping around backstage at the Seattle Opera, climbing up into the ceiling, wandering through the Orchestra pit, and moseying about backstage. All this while they were loading in the massive sets for Wagner's Ring Cycle. Simply great fun!

I do have to become careful to not become a research hound like my medieval friend, but I have to admit that the nut-gathering research is such great fun!


Judith Ashley said...

Matt, When I think of research, I shudder - but when I think of nut-gathering (even though that evokes images of those destructive tree rats AKA squirrels), that could be fun. I'd love to poke around a dozen lighthouses no matter where they are located and what's not to like about Pike's Place Market? I've no fears I'll become a research

deanne wilsted said...

Thanks for a great post Matt. Since my novels typically include a foreign local I end up doing a ton of research related to places and history (not to mention food:>) I find that it slows me down a lot if I do it while I am writing, so whenever I come to a section where I need more detailed facts I use a comment and then keep writing. The next time I begin to write I start by researching the facts I needed, and polishing whatever needs it from the previous section. It has worked pretty well in keeping the writing flow going.

Diana Mcc. said...

Great post, Matt! I enjoy research but try not to go over board with the research. It's so hard sometimes because one interesting fact leads to another, leads to another, and so on.

Sarah Raplee said...

Like you, I enjoy the research but have try to only do as how much as I need to serve the story. It's always more than I actually use, because a writer needs a factoid library from which to cherry pick the gems.

I try to research the important stuff that could make or break the story before writing, then mark spots where my knowledge is questionable (when did the word 'duster' come to mean a long, oilskin coat in the American West?) and do 'cleanup' research in the final draft.