Cracking the Books … or the Internet.


“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
~Zora Neale

Ever since starting work on my new novel, I’ve become fully and unapologetically immersed in the lives of my characters. In just over a week, their worlds have become mine. Their stories have lit a fresh spark of interest. Their journeys have reminded me of the joy, the adrenaline, and the hope of beginning a shiny new project. Something I always try to do as a writer is push myself with each book – to tackle something I never have before, to stretch the story in different ways – and I think that will be true this time around, too. There will be two main characters instead of one. Two main settings instead of one. Two main time periods instead of one. Two main perspectives instead of one. Will it be a challenge? Probably. Am I excited about that challenge? Unequivocally.

But with this uncharted territory comes the need for a lot of research. It’s the first time I’ll be writing a book that’s partially set in the past, and even though the setting is a place I’m familiar with, there have certainly been significant changes over the decades. So … Google has become my BFF as of late. It’s truly amazing how much information there is online, just waiting to be discovered with the tap of a key and the click of a mouse. I’m hoping to do some interviews, too, to get firsthand accounts, but in the meantime, I’ve been poring over website after website. The “bookmarks” tab on my laptop looks like a library. And do you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some of the awesomely interesting topics I’ve learned about over the past week: Olympic swimming, nursing programs at the University of Pennsylvania, lifeguarding in the 1950s, graduate programs in Creative Writing, seaside towns in Virginia, the Nantucket Conservation Fund, bed & breakfast management, undergraduate programs in Architectural Design, drafting procedures during WWII, hurricanes that came ashore in Atlantic City, the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Steel Pier, the history of Lucy the Elephant, Nantucket public schools, and – my personal favorite – how to make saltwater taffy.

There’s still more research to go, but I’m honestly looking forward to it. I’m also eager to work on character sketches – four finished so far, several more to discover – and, of course, to dive into actually drafting this book. I adored writing about Sofie and Company for the past two and a half years, nothing will ever take their place in my heart, but at the same time, it’s positively invigorating to meet this new cast of people who’ll invite me along on their journeys. It’s like the air is buzzing with excitement. I can’t wait to absorb its energy.

Tell me: what’s the coolest topic you’ve ever researched for work or school? And also: doing a taste test for different flavors and brands of saltwater taffy is totally justified, right? You know, to ensure accuracy and all. Anyone want to help me out in this venture?

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16 thoughts on “Cracking the Books … or the Internet.

  1. Lol at the saltwater taffy testing. Totally legit, yeah. *nods*

    My current manuscript has required quite a bit of research too, because it’s set someplace I’ve never been, and there are a lot of cultural nuances that I’m familiar with but not an expect on. As you said, Google is truly amazing. (Wikipedia too, even though you have to take the info with a grain of salt.) I can’t imagine being a writer in the past.

    You know what else is awesome, btw? Google Maps and Street View, as well as Flickr and Google Images. YouTube has a surprising number of helplful videos on random things too.

    • It’s definitely challenging to write about somewhere without having visited it — and on the other side of the spectrum, can you imagine what a neat experience it’d be to then go to said place and see it firsthand after spending so much time with it in your thoughts?

      I didn’t even think of Google Maps, but can certainly see how it’d be a huge help. Adding it to my list of research sites right now. Thank you! :)

  2. Definitely justified!!!! :D

    Most interesting thing I’ve ever researched for the sake of work or school… hmm, Florence Foster Jenkins. I had to portray her as a character in my drama class. My goodness…

  3. Good for you, Shari! That research will definitely pay off in the long run, and if you can enjoy it along the way, even better. I’d taste test that saltwater taffy so there are no surprises. You know, thorough research, and all. :)

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking … have to be accurate when I write about it, right? And hey, instead of ordering it online, why not take it a step further and visit Atlantic City to buy some on the boardwalk? ;)

  4. Thanks for sharing this. As a reader I like to get in the mind of the author, so it’s cool to see your research process.

    I know this sounds morbid, but I love learning new things about death, dying, and grief. I have to know things for my job, and it’s so interesting! The way our minds work and our life experiences all change how we all deal with that stuff. It’s really cool.

    • Aww … thanks for reading! It really helps me sometimes to get my writing thoughts down on here – instead of letting them whiz around my brain like crazy – and I’m glad to hear it’s not completely boring! ;)

      I dealt a lot with grief in my last book – centered around Sofie’s reaction to her miscarriage, but also incorporating my own feelings after losing my Gram in 2011 – and definitely found some healing through it. Like you said, it’s amazing how the mind works through these things.

    • I’ve pretty much lost count of how long I’ve spent doing research, but I’m genuinely enjoying it all, so that makes the hours fly by. Ooh, I second your feelings about space — it’s just a fascinating topic. The concept of black holes is so intriguing!

  5. Howdy! Hmm, “fun” and “research” feel like an oxymoron, but I’ll try to think more on it. Best of luck with you new story. Oddly, working on the sequel to my 1st novel (in which I totally wrote with reckless abandon) was not as easier as the 1st after all of the workshops, etc I’ve taken. And in a completely unrelated topic, I know you’re a GH fan & are probably well aware that Mr. Jason has jumped ship & is on my SOAP, Y & R, & I’m loving him all the same. :)

    • LOL I think most people feel that way. For some reason, I’ve always really enjoyed it – all throughout school and college, and especially now when it pertains to a book. Oh, and I completely know what you mean about the sequel being tougher to write than the original. After writing with such reckless abandon for the first story, sometimes it can be hard to maintain that same energy … but (in my experience, anyway) I’ve found that a new kind of energy comes along the further I get into the sequel. Best of luck with yours!

      Oh my gosh, YES! It caused somewhat of an uproar with GH fans, since Steve said he was leaving to spend more time with his family and then signed on for Y&R only a few months later. What’s his character like on your show? How’s he doing with the role?!

  6. Yes! I want to help you taste-test saltwater taffy! Alas, we don’t have any of it here. (Nor lobster or maple sugar candy, both of which you can probably get without too much trouble.)

    As for the coolest topics I’ve researched, I enjoyed learning a bit about baking bread, and about castles. However, my most memorable research was probably the time I took the doorknob off the bedroom door so I could have my heroine do it to escape…and I couldn’t get it back on. Hubby had to do it. The worst was researching tasering so I could have it happen to one of my heroines. Do NOT look at videos of being tasered. It’s very…unpleasant. I ended up not using the research in my book because I just couldn’t do that to her. Not that she got off easy, of course! :-)

    • Would you believe I’ve never heard of maple sugar candy? That leads me to think it’s not readily available around here (plus, I Googled it and couldn’t find anywhere close!), but yes, lobster is. I wish it was the opposite, though, because I am NOT a fan. I actually have a scene in MTL that’s based off my aversion to seafood – when I was fourteen, I had a complete freak-out at a restaurant because someone was having a full lobster for dinner. The sight of it made me so queasy that I had to leave and sit outside while everyone finished their meals. Ick. So … let’s stick to saltwater taffy!

      That’s too funny about the doorknob! I can just imagine his reaction when you explained what happened. Luckily you made up for it by decorating a grapefruit for him! ;-)

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