Sunday, January 30, 2011

Have You Accosted a Stranger Lately?

A novel that I wrote a couple of years ago, a technology thriller, had a plot line that required a lot of research in entomology. 

Hear me out...

It had to do with a truth serum and pheromones and what not. I ultimately went in another direction and scrapped the whole pheromone thing for a plant-based formula...but at the time, I needed answers.  I tried to find what I needed from books, the library, and the internet, but I couldn't.

You see, the questions I had didn't exactly show up on Yahoo Answers. Although I have had cops answer procedural questions for me on that site.  I needed to speak to a real "Bug Guy" who could answer my questions.

I found a very patient, very nice research assistant over at UC Riverside.  I found him, ironically, through the Botany Extension associated with my garden club.

Over the years of writing and working toward getting published, I've done tons of research with people that are, surprisingly, eager to help. I've accosted complete strangers for insights into their occupation and have never had a bad reaction...never.

Social workers on family law, Artists on pigment properties, Concrete guys on tension name it. I even bothered a poor guy walking his dog to ask him if it was true that French bulldog puppies can't swim...apparently their heads are too heavy.

I whip out my little notebook like a reporter at a crime scene...everything you say is absolutely fascinating to me...and may be used against you in a novel. I let people know I'm using their stuff and they all seem to be pretty okay with that. You see people are passionate about what they might as well benefit from that enthusiasm.

So how do you research something you can't find by traditional methods?  Do you post it on an email loop or ask random strangers? How about any sci-fi or paranormal do you write about things that aren't invented yet?

I await your answers. Until next time...Go Write!


Margo Benson said...

Yes, like you I carry a notebook with me, everywhere! I look up info in books, online and walk up to strangers too. There is also a fun resource on the NaNoWriMo website where you can ask anything (and also waste a lot of time reading what others are looking for!)

Elliot Grace said...

...well versed, Raquel:)

Research and editing are the tedious sides of writing, yet can be fun if approached in the correct frame of mind.

While computer search engines can for the most part, glean out any interest mankind can dream up, I find personal interviews as the best means of collecting information.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like the resources you're using work perfectly well. If you can't get all the answers...well, they've got to be out there somewhere. Sorry I can't say where, but I suspect you'll find what you need! You're very persistent!!!

I think people, face to face humans, are the best resource. I've had some wonderful experiences with this.
Ann Best, Author

Erin Kane Spock said...

Yes, I have accosted a stranger before. In college, my senior thesis was researching existing biographies of a historical figure, figuring out what was missing, and proposing a new biography format. I chose, no surprise, Bess of Hardwick. I could not find any primary source documents that would help lend new perspectives so I wrote to the author Mary Lovell who was writing a biography herself. She was super helpful and sent me transcripts of several letters. Ironically, the biography she wrote did exactly what I was suggesting (she was already working on it, I'm not accusing her of anything) -- it put Bess' accomplishment in context with the social norms of the era. It's a great book.

Michael Di Gesu said...

As of yet, I haven't interviewed anyone. I have been fortunate enough to find all the information I need on the internet. I haven't been disappointed yet.

However, if ever I needed to ask anyone personally I would have no problem doing that.

It's a fascinating way to research.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some stuff I make up, but I did talk to several fighter pilots for flight realism in my book.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, man--you are braver than I am. It's a great idea--I just get all bogged talking face to face... now finding someone online and asking in writing, I could do...

Unknown said...

I'm about to start work on a true historical story so I may have to interview descendants of the people involved. Kinda scary but also fun.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Margo - I didn't know about the NaNo resource. I'll check it out.

Elliot - I hear you. But people sometimes make researching fun.

Ann - You're right about people, they really help you even if you don't know what to ask exactly.

Erin - head hurts after reading that. 0_0 You're one smart cookie.

Michael - I suggest you go pester someone immediately. =) It's great fun.

Alex - Cool, fighter pilots! I wouldn't have thought of that.

Hart - Online question answer sites are so helpful to me too. I wish more people would hop on there and give their expert opinion.

Andrew - That sounds both fascinating and intimidating. Author Rosetta D. Hoessli just wrote a cool post on interviewing should check it out.