Right after "Where do you get your ideas?" -- which often seems a mystery to those who read but don't feel inclined to put words on paper -- comes the question, "Do you do research?"
And the question is inevitably accompanied by the worried looks and wrinkled frowns that imply that research must be pretty distasteful. Doesn't it mean having to sit in a library all day and read dusty non-fiction tomes written by dead people?
Well, yes. Sometimes.
But it also means getting to go to Ireland or Fiji or the Bahamas or wherever your little heart wants to set your next book (provided you can afford to get there), and soaking up the local color and then reliving the experience through the eyes of your characters for the next few months.
It means getting to interview really really interesting people you might never get a chance to cross paths with otherwise.
Before I wrote books I never would have considered calling up the head athletic trainer at a Division 1 university and asking if he would mind talking me through the rehab of a major league pitcher.
Before I wrote books I had no idea anyone built sand castles for a living, much less would be delighted to talk me through the construction of an 11 ton Victorian house built of sand.
Before I wrote books I had only a passing acquaintance with the life of a rodeo cowboy. I certainly never expected to have one volunteer to design an itinerary for my fictional cowboy who needed to 'go down the road' from the end of May until the first of August.
Nor did I expect him to call me at one in the morning when he was fogged in at the Santa Barbara airport so we could discuss it!
Let's just say that my horizons expanded exponentially when I began to write.
"Doing research" does sometimes involve dusty old tomes -- but seen through the eyes of my characters, they very often become vitally alive and interesting. More often, though, "doing research" involves me in the lives of others -- trying to experience the world as they do, see what they see, say what they say, perceive reality a bit -- or a lot -- differently than I do when I look at it from where I normally stand.
A year ago this very day I was getting on a plane (in the middle of a blizzard) to head to Ireland where I was going to try to walk in the shoes of Flynn Murray, my here-today-gone-tomorrow hero in One-Night Love Child. Flynn had been a bit player in an earlier book of mine, The Great Montana Cowboy Auction. Back then he was a footloose journalist, a fish out of water in the Montana I know well. So I didn't have to do much research for him in that book.
But in his own book, he was no longer wandering the world in search of a story. He was the earl of Dunmorey and heir to a 500 year old castle that was crumbling down around his ears.
What I knew about the Irish aristocracy was zilch. What I knew about old Irish houses at that point was what I'd read in books.
What I had learned by the end of my visit was that Flynn was going to have his hands full. Covering a war might be easier than being an earl. And that was only part of his problem. This was, after all, a romance. He had a heroine to sort out -- er, to woo and win -- too
What did I learn on my trip? Lots about manor houses -- that's Ballyvolane House in Cork, by the way -- lots about rain, lots about what it takes to make a house earn its keep. And happily, I reconfirmed some things I did know -- like the fact that little boys with train sets and dogs with wet paws are the same the world over.
Mostly, though, I got details. Specifics. All the things I needed that I didn't know I needed, but which, when I got home, gave life and detail to the book I sat down to write.
I also met wonderful people while doing my research.
These folks aren't in my book. But they did answer my questions and became my supporters and my friends. One of them, fortunately, was a man who spoke Irish. I really needed a friend who spoke Irish. And this one gallantly spent an evening and a morning translating all the Irish I thought I would need. And before he left Ballyvolane House, he gave me his email address and said whenever I needed any more Irish translations, be sure to write him.
Believe me, I did. When I needed a family motto -- in Irish -- not to mention several other phrases that came up along the way, I emailed James.
Can you tell that for me "doing research" is probably the most fun part of the book?
It gets me out of my office into parts of the world that I don't normally get to. It introduces me to people I would ordinarily never meet.
It enriches my writing. Even more, it enriches my life.
Anne's upcoming book, One-Night Love Child, about formerly footloose Flynn Murray, now the Earl of Dunmorey, is a March release from Harlequin Presents and an April release from HM&B Modern. She'd like to know what you think of research? If you're a writer, what's the best time you ever had researching. Hers was going to bull-riding school!
And if you're a reader, have you ever read a book that has made you want to explore some other career or place or way of life? Which book? What have you been inspired to do? Did you do it?
Leave a comment and win a copy of One-Night Love Child. Anne's dog, Gunnar (in March he'll be going by "O'Gunnar" -- or as Anne says, "Oh, Gunnar!") will pick a winner from all the comments left before Tuesday, February 12th.
And don't forget to drop by Anne's blog, Kate Walker's blog and Liz Fielding's blog for a chance to win copies of all three of their latest releases in their second annual Here Come The Grooms! contest this month.