Monday, August 5, 2013
How Far Would You Go For Research?
My first book, OUT OF THE ASHES, was set in Pompeii. Since I wasn't a NY Times bestselling author, I didn't have an unlimited budget to jet off to Italy to do research first hand (oh, how I wish). Instead, I did a lot of arm chair research: days at the library, hours online. I even ordered an old 1943 era tour guide of the ruins of Pompeii off Ebay. All that research paid off. A friend who'd lived abroad for several years read my book, called me up and fussed at me. "When were you in Pompeii and why didn't you look me up while you were there?" I told him I'd never crossed the pond and it was all virtual research. He paid me one of the biggest compliments ever. He said I nailed the setting and it felt like he was walking through the ruins all over again. Score!
My second book, FIRE OF THE DRAGON, was set in 13th century England. Obviously I couldn't travel back in time like my characters and experience what life was like in the Middle Ages, so back to the library and the internet I went. I chose to focus on the not so glamorous part of life back then. No castles, no royalty, no knights in shining armor. Well, okay, I did have knights, but they wore rusty chain mail and slept outside under the stars for the majority of the book. Still, readers of medievals tend to know their stuff, so I wanted to be as accurate as I could. So far, no one has called me out on any factual errors so I think I did a decent job.
The book I'm working on now, the sequel to DRAGON, has a rock climber as the heroine. This is the type of research that I "could" do first hand. I could go to Peak Experiences and take some indoor climbing lessons. Heck, my kids have done it lots of times. There are several places within an hour drive where I could climb sheer rock faces (with a guide, of course) and experience first hand what my heroine will be doing several times throughout the book. But I can't. I just can't do it. I'm terrified of heights. So again, I'm going to have to rely on books and videos, and perhaps an interview or two with insane thrill seekers who hang by microscopic cracks using little more than their toes and fingertips. I know I should try it myself so that I can relay the experience to my readers, but I'm just too much of a chicken. There. I've drawn the line at how far I will go for research. How far would you go?