Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Writing for SPICE: Research ain't what it used to be

Previously I've posted about writing for Spice, including some basic info about writing for the line as well as whether or not a HEA is mandatory for Spice.

Now we're going to dive into research.

No, I don't mean the kind you do behind closed bedroom doors. I'm talking about background research for your characters and your story.
There was a time when you'd find writers like myself knee deep in microfilm in university libraries reading old newspapers or dusting off the library back shelves looking for books written before the world wars to check a fact. Used book stores also provided a source for out of print books.

Then came the Internet.

Now we can surf the 'net checking facts and reading back copies of old newspapers from the comfort of our offices. At times, that bothers me. No doubt the Internet is fabulous for research, but it can't give you that "personal connection" with a place, a culture. That doesn't mean you can't write about a faraway place or culture; it means you have to work harder. Read, read, read books, diaries, histories, etc. about that place.

Finding that research is getting harder. I enjoy running my fingers over the gold-gilded pages of an old book or lifting the crinkly tissue paper in a century-old tome that protects an illustration [see picture at right from an old book I have published in 1901: "The Japanese Nightingale" by Onoto Watanna; illustrated by Genjiro Yeto], as if I'm uncovering a literary King Tut's tomb.

You can't do that on the Internet.

Many times you can order out of print books by clicking on the Used Books links on Amazon when you find a book that intrigues you. I've done that and had success finding books for my research. Also, interview people from that culture or who have been there.

I didn't experience Paris in 1889 (my Spice novel Naughty Paris takes place then), but I know the city of Paris, so with the help of nineteenth century guidebooks and old map of Paris I was able to imagine what it was like then. I also read memoirs and historical accounts from that time, went to my local museum, studied bra patents (my heroine designs one of the first bras), looked at paintings, read the lives of the Impressionists (my hero is an artist), etc.

On the other hand, you can also weave wonderful stories about the people and cultures in your own backyard. The key words are texture and layering. Look underneath the obvious and I bet you'll find some fascinating stories to write about!

But when it comes to researching those sexy bedroom scenes, you're on your own…

Btw, what is your favorite research tool?

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February 2010: meet The Blonde Samurai
“She embraced the way of the warrior. Two swords. Two loves.”


Wynter Daniels said...

Good post! Like most writers, I also rely heavily on the Internet. I think the trick is to pick and choose your sites very carefully, especially when a Google search can yield 30,000 hits on a particular subject!

Terry Odell said...

I use the Internet, but also like to pick the brains of experts. Nothing like sitting around drinking beer with a group of cops to add authenticity to your stories.

Jina Bacarr said...

I'm sure the Internet is the most popular resource for research these days! You're right, Wynter--picking your sites and cross-checking the info is vitally important.

And, as Terry commented, that personal touch is tantamount to creating "real" characters. Thankz, ladies, for your input!

Katie Reus said...

I'm a huge fan of the Internet but I also love interviewing people and if I've been to the place I'm writing about, it's even better. Over the past year I've taken a lot of legal procedures and forensics classes that have been a huge help for my research :) (Occasionally I'll invent a town or city so I can make up my own history)

Naima Simone said...

Awesome post, Jina!
I do most of my research over the internet as well. I also "interview" people via email if I need further details.

I know exactly what you mean by experiencing and "touching" your research. I had the opportunity to visit Ireland a couple of summers ago and it was wonderful!! I've read so many books that have been set in "God's Country" and actually seeing what I'd read was priceless. I would love to one day write a book that takes place there. That's a goal of mine.

Wonderful post!!

Jina Bacarr said...

Katie--taking classes and learning firsthand about what we're writing about puts us "in the moment" when we write.

Naima--I have a blog about Ireland and Japan coming up--I pulled out some photos from trips to Ireland when I was writing it; it brough back a lot of memories...