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Neck deep in travel blogs, books, and pictures

Depending on the topic of your book, you may need to do more or less research. The prompt for day 11 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe how they handled the research for their books. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 11 writing prompt:

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the Internet play? If you didn’t do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

When I wrote this prompt for the Author Blog Challenge, perhaps subconsciously I remembered interviewing some friends for background on countries my main character visits. It definitely wasn’t an overt thought – I was just ticking off the possible ways for an author to do the research necessary to complete any book.

My main character, Stan, travels to 23 different countries over the course of about 18 months (no, he’s not related to Flat Stanley). I have personally been to five of them, including the USA, which meant that research wasn’t an option, but an absolute necessity.

Stan's path

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, back in 2004 when I began writing this story, the Internet was still young and sites like TripAdvisor.com and LonelyPlanet.com hadn’t yet made their appearance. But there were Lonely Planet, Frommer, and loads of indie travel guides, and I used them heavily in planning Stan’s trip.

My novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest, the rules of which prohibited contestants from writing ahead. Participating authors were, however, permitted to construct full outlines before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest at the Phoenix Public Library, ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, mapping out Stan’s travels and determining how he would get from one location to the next.

When you read this novel, you’ll notice that Ireland gets a lot of air time, as that’s one of the countries I have actually seen in person. I relied on Google images to help refresh my memory, but I was able to construct many of those details without a whole lot of research.

travel icons

Since I’d never been to most of the other places Stan visits, and subsequently had no first-hand knowledge of them, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his stops off the main tourist thoroughfare. For instance, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, or Rome – perhaps in a vain attempt to prevent too many “that’s not how it is there” comments from readers who’ve actually been to the places Stan goes. Mapping his journey was lots of fun, and I used second-hand knowledge to do much of it.

  • For instance, my closest friend through high school and college was Korean, having come to the United States at about age 4. Incidentally (yeah, right), Stan has a close friend from South Korea, and makes a lengthy stop in Seoul and Incheon.
  • Another good friend lived for some time in Dubai, so Stan’s Middle East travels take him through Dubai.
  • A friend I knew at Lehman Brothers married a gal from Malaysia – in Malaysia. So naturally, Stan visits Malaysia.

Of course, each of these stops along Stan’s journey still required scads of research, which enabled me to flesh out the story.

Then there were the people still in my life who are originally from a couple of the countries Stan visits. Others have traveled to some of Stan’s stops fairly recently, and I was able to sit down and interview them about the things an American would notice on his first trip abroad. These tiny details add flavor and realism to the story that I might not otherwise have been able to capture.

  • My friend Sunil is from India and told me about the lack of air pollution regulations, and that the exhaust would be an instant and insidious annoyance to an American.
  • Joey was born in the Philippines and still visits fairly regularly. He explained the “Jeepneys” in Manila and some of the more interesting dishes of his homeland.
  • My friend Janet visited Machu Picchu about eight years ago and lent me a jump drive with her amazing photos on it.
  • My friend Tom travels regularly to China for business and has regaled me with some interesting observations about the people.
  • A good friend whose husband is a professor has spent a great deal of time in Turkey and aided me with some of those details.
  • And then my niece visited Egypt about a year-and-a-half ago, and provided a couple of important pieces that allowed me to inject a bit of humor into the story.

Which leaves all of the rest of the countries: Sweden, Belarus, Greece, Sudan, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and El Salvador. Every detail of those places was aided by some combination of travel blogs, travel sites, Google images, travel books, atlases, digital maps – oh, and perhaps most important of all, my imagination.

Guess my next step will have to be planning my own world tour to see how my descriptions hold up to me!

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will talk about how I could make Stan a nonfiction book if I were so inclined.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to the right investigative reporting for your next book!

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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My LIFE was the research for my book

For the next 21 days, we’ll be taking a little detour from the traditional marketing posts you’ve come to know and love on the Marcie Brock blog as I lead by example and follow my own writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge. There’s still time to register. Join today and qualify for drawings for daily giveaways for every day that you post.

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Day 8 writing prompt:

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the Internet play? If you didn’t do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

My LIFE was the research for my book

OK. That’s admittedly a bit of a smartass response, but it’s also true. When it came to compiling 1,001 real-life questions about being a woman in 21st century America, much of the research came from simply taking notes on the day-to-day occurrences in my life.

But I did not, in fact, experience every situation mentioned in the book. Some of the questions came from incidents that happened to my friends or things I read in … gasp … women’s magazines. That was the first part of the book. Then came the Notes, where the Internet figured heavily into my research.

As mentioned previously, I’m quite aware that this is not the first book of its kind. Besides being a book about being a woman by a woman, the other significant thing that makes my book different is its resource section at the back.

Because the book deals with every issue imaginable facing women today, it felt nothing short of unfair to raise issues, put women potentially in a position to consider dealing with them, perhaps for the first time, and then just leave them hanging. Not every question has an accompanying resource. But the ones raising serious issues (e.g., rape, domestic violence, eating disorders, depression, etc.) do have websites and /or toll-free numbers that might help those who need further guidance around these specific issues.

As the savvy Marcie Brock readers surely know, keeping current tabs on the Web is a thankless job and an often unattainable goal, but I’ve done my best to be sure the resources are and remain current. (I definitely don’t envy the people who put together products like Writers Market, where you can be sure the information is obsolete by the time the book goes to print.)

I cut my teeth as a research librarian at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. That was back in the days before the Internet when we kept hard copies of news articles in drawer after drawer after drawer after drawer of manila envelopes and called people on the telephone to verify facts. When the Internet came along, I was one of the earliest adopters, and I remain in awe of its perpetually updated cornucopia of information.

Research is an essential skill – especially in the age of the Internet. There’s a lot of really good stuff out there, but there’s also a lot of pure, unadulterated rubbish. Trust but verify, a phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, is a great rule of thumb for any researcher-cum-author.

So get yourself a good search engine; get thee to the library; and get out there and live a little!

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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