|Photos courtesy of Publisher|
How to research a novel
A novel is fiction, isn’t it? Does it really need to be accurate? Why does an author need to spend time doing research?
If you feel this way, do not read on – because I totally disagree with the spirit of these questions. I have always done a ton of research. If I want readers to buy into my story, it has to be real, which means accurate.
For someone who has written as many novels as I have, the process of research has changed greatly over the years. I so miss the hours, days and weeks I spent working in libraries. There is something about the smell of old books, both comforting and inspiring, that made me feel like I was doing something above and beyond the mundane. And getting out of the house – away from kids’ sounds, piles of toys and laundry? The peace and quiet of the library was a huge bonus too!
Nowadays, of course, most of my research is done on the internet. Search engines are marvels; type in a question and, bingo, instant answer. That said, while this works for minor themes, for locations perhaps or authenticity of detail, it has its limits. For the major elements in a book, research has to be done in person.
For instance, in my new novel Escape, I wanted to learn about coyotes. No, I am not telling you why; you’ll have to read the book to find out! Suffice it to say, though, that I knew nothing and had to start from scratch. I was able to read about coyotes’ breeding patterns and living habits in books and online, but as I was drawn deeper into the mystery of this secretive and elusive animal, I visited science centers and zoos to see them in the flesh – to see how they walk, how they look at each other, how they look atme. Then came a serendipitous moment. Here in New England, we’ve had an uptick in the coyote population. I actually live on the edge of conservation land, and when I spotted a pair of coyotes in my own backyard – my own backyard – I knew that this small but important element in Escape was meant to be. Emily, my main character, feels a connection to a female coyote, a connection that resonates in the the facts both of her escape from the city and her desire for a child, resulting in several powerful scenes in which she comes into contact with the coyote and her pups.
Having written on a variety of subjects over the course of more than twenty novels, I have made friendships over the years, with amazing and knowledgeable people who advise and help me. I have nurses ready to help with health issues, lawyers ready to help with legal issues, and daughters-in-law ready to help with baby issues!
And then there’s you, my reader. More than one of you have given me insight into a particular book subject – even telling me on my Facebook page where you would go if you wanted to escape the real world. This was all part of my research prior to starting Escape, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
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