I’m not sure if I’m overly obsessed with research or whether I’m just really good at choosing locations and subjects for my books about which I know virtually nothing.
Over the course of writing my latest manuscript, I spent four months researching the housing costs, landscape, street names, cemeteries, restaurants, rainfall and average temperature, distance to other cities, architecture, politics, economy, demographics, history, churches with obscure services, vehicles, hotels, and a million other little details for the setting, even traveling to the location to do some last-minute verification and get a visceral feel for the place before finishing my revisions. Many other hours of research went into the court system, public defenders, plea bargaining, magical practices, mythology, poisons, alcohol, knife wounds, bleeding out, PTSD, and even underwear. (My Google search history, I’m sure, has landed me on all kinds of watch lists.)
As I started formulating a plan for my next manuscript even as I was finishing the last, I tried to pick something that wouldn’t require quite so much research, because I’d like to finish this one a little more quickly. No sooner had a ghost of an idea entered my head than I was off to the search engine, checking out property and land rights, maps, indigenous culture, bars, and male strippers (yep, just slipped that right in there) for a new setting. I’ve also chosen professions for my two main characters that I know nothing about. There will be agriculture and animals with large heads involved.
And as I google LGBT-friendly wedding vendors in, of all places, Billings, Montana, I have to wonder: why do I do this to myself? Why can’t I just, as the adage goes, write what I know? My mother gave me that advice when I was thirteen years old after reading a story I was working on. She was probably right in that case; I didn’t (and still don’t) know anything about what it was like to live near Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
It would be great if I could tap the experience of my personal career history and write an urban fantasy series about being a cop in Louisiana or a crime series about being a forensic anthropologist in Montreal. But writing about a heroine whose work experience spans essential oil boutique clerk, bowling alley snack bar waitress, data entry specialist, word processor, administrative assistant, web graphics designer, and editor just doesn’t have the same punch.
I write about what I don’t know because it interests me. Hopefully, I do a passable job of writing somewhat knowledgeably about the situations and places I put my characters in, though I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes. No doubt I could make my life easier by using the city I live in as a setting, and giving my characters jobs I’ve done. But I could also make my life easier by not writing at all. And what fun would that be?
Guess I’m all in for the next ride, environmental activists, gay cowboys, and all.