Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday's Words for September 23, 2009

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that if I wanted to do research for a book, I had to go to the library. My library of choice was at McMaster University in Hamilton. I loved it there because there were so many books and so many great places to curl up and be alone with them. When I would go, I’d make an entire day of it.

Now, of course, we have the Internet for research. And while I miss poking my head out from my cave to actually experience fresh air and sunshine as I would if going away from home for the day, I have to say the Internet does have an advantage over libraries, hands down, for variety and scope of information offered, and for speed of access.

Research was a topic of conversation recently between myself and some of my non-writing friends. They wondered what I could possibly research since I’m writing in the times I’m living. I explained that there are any number of reasons to take time out and check your facts. I do some research for every novel I write. Sometimes it’s a small detail—like, do they sell popcorn at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto? Sometimes it’s something more in depth, like the species of trees populating the River Walk in Reno, Nevada.

Maybe I want to describe the scene on a particular famous street in some city. Often, you can find a site that features a web cam. You want to have your characters stay in a particular hotel? Go to that hotel’s web site and take the virtual tour.
I’ve also e-mailed people to ask them for information. These would be experts in their fields, be they university professors, city officials, or ranchers. I’ve only ever had one e-mail for information go unanswered. Usually, people are happy to help if they can.

I also have a couple of tricks I use to help me get my facts straight. One thing I do when I’m writing a story that takes place in two separate locales: I find an address in each locale, then MapQuest it. That tells me the driving distance and time. And sometimes, I go one step further.

I have the free “Google Earth” on my computer. And often, when I have my two addresses, and I’ve got the driving directions, I “drive” the route on Google Earth.
No, it’s not the same as being to a place, but it can still offer quite a bit of information—especial if your route features several of those nifty little “camera” icons. You get some sense as to the vegetation, topography and general look to a place.

Most writers I know take the time to check their facts. I do, not just because it’s in my nature to try to do it right, but because of my beloved.

Being a history buff, he knows his stuff, and nothing makes him madder than when he’s reading an historical romance (yes, ladies, cry your hearts out. Mr. Asbury willing and eagerly reads romance and has for years), and the author puts the wrong weapons in the time period, or gets some other fact wrong. He says when that happens, it pulls him out of the story. If it happens too often in one book, he won’t finish the book.

So I strive to get my facts straight, even if I do only write contemporary romance. And what a thrill it is when I do get it right.

One of the novels I wrote this year, Wanton Wager, takes place in Nevada, specifically, in Winnemucca and Reno.

I received a note from a reader who lives in Winnemucca, who wrote to tell me she really liked my story – and to thank me for doing my research and getting my facts right. I believe she even wondered if I had been to her area, which sadly, I had not.

My beloved got to have the final word on this subject when we were discussing it on the way home from work the other day. I said to him, “I think I’m always checking my facts because I’m so anal.” He said, “No, you do research because you’re a professional.”

What can I say? I just gotta love that man.

Feed the flames of your passion…with a novel by Morgan Ashbury

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