Tuesday, October 21, 2008


If you've been in the writing community for very long, you've probably heard it suggested that you should "write what you know".

But there's also a different school of thought in that, as long as you research properly, you can write what you don't know.

Which group do you fall under?

I tend to lean more in the middle. I received a reader letter this week from a male (waving to Vince) who liked my writing and in fact said book two had the most intense opening of any book he's read in awhile. How kewl is that?

But he also in a kind manner brought to my attention something that I had already known (thanks to fellow Author Donna Fleisher who was also in the Air Force and had brought it to my attention) but found out too late to fix. That I probably should have made the hero in my PJ series a Tech Seargent or a Master Seargent. Though I did research this series intensely for five years prior to writing it, then also continued with the research during the writing, I still might have erred with this detail in the end.

As a rule, I have at least three different research sources (human) who are in the profession I'm writing about to go over it and answer any questions I have. In this case, I did have military people go over the work, but they were in a different branch than my main character. So in hindsight, I should have asked an Air Force person to double check my ranks. I needed the airman to be special operations and over the team yet low enough in rank to still go on missions. To this day, I am not 100% sure if I under-ranked him or not. I get varying answers even from Air Force people and even those in the PJ pipeline...who say his rank is fine. So, honestly WHO knows. LOL.

My point to this post is, sometimes...no...often...you will get differing answers. And most publishers do have fact checkers who will thankfully catch most of these errors. But still, the burden of proof still rests on the author so be sure we get this research right. Now, because of my books, I do have actual Pararescuers helping me with research. But before, I just had regular Air Force people and special forces from other branches. How can we be sure the information we're getting is accurate?

What are your methods for researching?

In addition to having at least three human sources to verify my research, I have actual real manuals and training videos from that profession and books and articles as well as other media that I use for research. I also ask to join private discussion forums so I can "hear" how they talk and become familiar with terminology. I did this with my F-22 story since I'm so obsessed with fighter jets. They actually let me on there. I didn't talk other than to ask questions. And I received a wealth of information. To the point that two editors swore I had to of been not only male but a pilot at some point in my life. No, I assure you I have never been either. LOL!

Nothing beats having a human being IN that profession currently to check your research. That will be kind of hard if you're writing special forces heroes or a sniper heroine (yes, I have one). Or CIA or FBI. Because most people actually in those professions don't tell people. If someone brags about it, probably they really aren't. LOL!

As a former labor and delivery nurse, it always bugs me to see scenes play out about a heroine having a baby...yet no one cuts the cord or dries the baby off. I know there is such a thing as fictional liberties, but also we have to keep in mind that readers in those professions DO care if we get the details right. They also care if we paint their profession in a good light or in a bad one.

Another thing that bothers me is when I read a word in a historical novel that I know didn't come into use for fifty or so years after the setting takes place. Yet it doesn't ruin the story for me. However it does distract me from the story for a moment while my mind tries to discredit the author's research. Until I remember all the mistakes in my own work and mercy kicks in. LOL! Of course I was never a critical reader until I started writing. And being in the writing community and seeing the high standards that the industry requires tends to make writers more critical readers I think.

Though most readers didn't pick up on the error in ranks in my debut novel (I promoted Joel in later books) the mistake still lives in infany. LOL! Most times story will trump the details. But details DO matter. So far the folks who have noticed it have been people who did serve in the Air Force. The reason it bothered them is that it stopped the flow of reading because they couldn't believe this guy was in charge of the team and going to retire in 8 years and ONLY a senior airman. So he should have probably been ranked up one more at least.

The reason my error hasn't bothered most Air Force personnel (or they're too shy to say so! LOL) is because (according to reader letters) the fact that I honored them and their great profession and the sacrifice of their service with the book and how I wrote the characters thankfully outweighed the oversight on my part.

But, of course it still bugs me that I made an error.

Once a book is in print, there's no going back to change stuff unless the book is reprinted. Even then, you may have slim chances of a do-over.

So I'd like to hear from you readers how much does it bother you when you do find research errors in books?

And from you writers, what are some ways that you "full proof" your research?

Chat away!


Cheryl Wyatt


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I write contemporary so my books don't always require a lot of research, except for the setting and for that I use the internet and order material from the nearest Visitor Bureau in that area.


Jessica said...

I'm sticking to what I know for now (re: professions) because I tried to write a historical and I loved the research, but found out later that there were questions I just didn't know to ask. Plus, I've been told my heroine is too forward for 1918. LOL

Ann said...

In contemporary settings, I've written about a riding instructor, a farrier, a dairy farmer and a cow vet ... all things I'm a little familiar with.

However -- and this is a big however -- if I resurrected those under-the-bed classics, I would have to revisit them.

In the years that have passed, I have stopped giving riding lessons, we no longer own horses and sold all the dairy cows. We still have beef cows but they are very self sufficient. We have the vet out about once a year rather than monthly.

Even though I have a background in those areas, I would need to update them. Time goes by, and techniques for riding, shoeing horses, caring for foundered horses or milk-fever cows would have changed.

Maybe none of it would make a readere toss the book aside but might make me look less than credible.

Good questions about research!

Lisa Jordan said...

I believe in write what you know, but if you limit your writing to those experience, how do you branch out, so I fall in between, too. The hero in my romance novel is a police officer. I go to church with a state trooper and when I explained my scene to him, he told me the biggest problem how I was using radar. I ended up scrapping that scene anyway, but it's good to know I have reliable sources to ask when I have questions.

It's good to write what you know, but if you have the resources to expand your knowledge, I say go for it. :)

Great post, Cheryl. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, man, Cheryl, you are hitting me right where it hurts. I just got back from a historical writers' retreat, and most of the women there are heavy-duty researchers (I'm talking actual trips to destinations or museums all over the country!). Anyway, up until now, I have done my research, but apparently not as diligently as I should compared to the tried-and-true veterans I just spent a week with.

I say all that to reinforce your wonderful blog. I always knew research was vital in a historical, but I realize now that it is essential in every story we tell and, in fact, it is a key basis upon which the author's very credibility rests.

Audra Harders said...

Wise words, Cheryl! Lack of research is the biggest faux pax an auhor can make, IMO. We are in the business of educating our readers, too. It so discredits a book (and author) when details are misrepresented. When I write, I want my readers to feel the mountains, smell the cattle, and enjoy the overall compelling effect of cowboys, LOL!!!

The double standard seems to apply in our household, though. When we're watching a TV program or movie, my husband picks apart all the incredible incidents he recognizes and explains why something wouldn't work the way the movie portrays.

Me? If the movie catchs and holds my attentions, I could care less if they stick in purple cows -- I still enjoy the movie.

It's just a movie, honey, not a BOOK!!!

So, there are flip sides to every issue. Research and details are so important, I'll NEVER disagree with that. But sometimes I think tasteful skitters along the road to happily ever after can make it a GOOD book, too : )

Great topic, Squirl!!

Kim said...

As a reader, I tend to breeze on by some of the nitty gritty detail if the story is engaging. After all, it is fiction, so I think it's fair to allow a little leeway. However, I have shared scenes with my husband who is a walking history repository, and he is very quick to tell me where the errors are in the research and it bugs him to pieces!

I guess it depends on how detail oriented you are before you ever come to the book as a reader to begin with. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who writes great historical fiction. It is my favorite genre, so it means a lot to me that someone cares enough to get it right.

It is fascinating to read about this from the author's point of view!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Hi Pamela! Thanks for stopping by. I don't think I've read a book that has a Visitor Bureau, so it sounds interesting.

I write contemporary books too, but my research is killer. LOL! Thankfully I LOVE doing it.

Jessica, I tried to write a historical once too. LOL! Although I did enjoy the research, I didn't have a great sense on what clothing, etc were in during certain time periods. I had difficulty finding that info and making sure the sources were credible. I love reading historicals though. They take us back to a simpler time. Well-written historicals such as Mary's and Julie's and Janet's amaze me.

I think you can have a heroine who is forward in a historical. I've seen many of them in Cathy Hake's books. She's also a fav of mine as is Tracy Peterson, whose heroine's have quite the backbone.


CatMom said...

Great advice, Cheryl....thanks for these reminders! ~ I'm not a "critical person" by nature(well, my family may tell you differently,LOL!) but I have noticed that since I've gotten serious about writing I "catch" details sometimes and wonder about them...whereas maybe in the past I wouldn't have noticed them.~ And your speaking of the Air Force brought this to mind: I have a nephew who is a crewmember on Air Force One (we're super proud of him!!) and I would LOVE some details about his job and things he's been able to experience. But alas, he cannot tell us much at all--even though this aunt has tried to get some details*grin*. Hugs, Patti Jo ~ ~ P.S. I brought donuts for everybody...ALL kinds!

Cheryl Wyatt said...


I so know what you mean about needing to update the research. My books have medical details in them because the PJs I'm writing about are skydiving paramedics. And being an RN myself I know that every two years or so, medicine changes drastically.

Great thoughts! I would think your background in all those areas would make for interesting stories! Especially the farrier...that's a blacksmith, right?

Lisa, it's great that you have that research at your disposal. Every time I get a solid research helper, they get deployed to Afghanistan. LOL! Then communication is hard. Most of my research helpers are male, so I actually prefer to go through their wives to obtain my research. I e-mail the wife then they pass the questions along.

If they don't have a wife and are helping me with research, I CC my husband or one of my editors or agent with every e-mail. I'm just strange that way I guess. I had a situation where someone helping me with cave rescue research got a little too friendly and kinda flirty in the e-mail. EWE! LOL! That made me uncomfortable. So I keep other people in those discussions now.

It was great seeing you at the booksigning Lisa!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Julie, that's SO awesome you and Mary got to go to that retreat. I'm SO jealous! LOL!

I'll bet you got a lot done and learned a lot from those veteran authors.

I grew up in New Mexico so if you go there again, I might have to sneak myself into your suitcase. LOL! I miss the desert.

And I LOVE your writing style. It truly blew me away. You write in such a way that I can see everything play out in a movie. So I'm THRILLED Revell contracted three more books!


Cheryl Wyatt said...


I love cowboy books!!!! I can't wait for you to sell! Thank you for your thoughts on the subject. Once I started getting reader letters, it really made me know I needed to step up my research even more. And I was big on it to begin with.

One thing I didn't know (but found out from my publisher) is that they and movie people HAVE to altar the uniforms in military characters. It's illegal to depict the uniform as it actually is. So if anyone notices the seam on Joel's uniform is backwards...it's INTENTIONAL! LOL!

I also altared uniform details in my book and I haven't received one letter about that. PJs boots normally zip but I had him lace because I needed more time.

I don't notice medical errors as much in movies as I do in books. But if the author paints nurses in a good light, the research errors don't bother me as much.



Mary Connealy said...

Resaerch is something I do almost exclusively on-line but I think I need to do better at this.
I do hear horror stories from AUTHORS about how they're badgered by people pointing out their mistakes. I've never had this. Which means I'm either flawless OR (more likely) no one is excited enough by my work to bother complaining.

I've had the hardest time with trains. Where did trains go, what dates. Could I have gotten them by train in 1880-1883.
I dealt with Orphan Trains in Gingham Mountain and just found the info so sketchy. Could a train get from New York to Texas during the Civil War? Probably not, but it was hard to find details.
The big deal Golden Spike and all that history is clearly recorded but there were really TONS of shorter railroads, did you know that? Short stretches, like from the coal fields to the city. Or from Cattle Towns to some city, hauling in cattle.
Did you know there were REFRIGERATOR CARS from South Dakota to Chicago in 1880. Seriously, like the cars were giant ice boxes, the bottom packed with ice, the cattle butchered in SD, loaded on the cold cars year round and sent to Chicago.
I want more details about that, it sounds so weird but I read that. Since I don't need it for a book I haven't nailed it down.
I contacted the Montana historical society because I wanted my heroine in my WIP to arrive in Helena Montana by train in 1880.
Historical Society woman said said NOPE. She knew EXACTLY when the first train got to Helena, where it came from and just great details. So I think I'll use historical societies more. She seemed eager to help, very pleasant and interested in my story. Glad to share her knowledge.
Research, for me a love hate relationship. Because I find it fascinating and also because I find myself taking hours and chasing down weird bunny trails that catch my attention and have nothign to do with my book.

When I should be WRITING.

I spent about a half a day researchign LOBOTOMIES recently and it has NOTHING TO DO WITH MY BOOK. It was just interesting.
Horrifying but interesting.
I got my heroine to Butte, and sent her on by stage coach, but it took a LOT of work to get that done.

Audra Harders said...

Mary, I love the details in your books. I laugh through story so I don't realize I'm learning stuff : )

I'll have to remember the historical societies. I hate sharing my book plots for research, not that I think anyone is going to steal them, I just wonder *who cares?*

Gotta work on that self-esteem issue. . .

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Kim, thanks for stopping by!
That's funny about the walking history repository. Wish I had one of those around here. LOL!
My husband doesn't read AT ALL!
Thanks for stopping by!


Thank you for stopping by. A crew member in Air Force One! How kewl! But due to security, I'm sure he can't say much.

I'm not a critical person either, but hanging out with other writers has made me a more critical reader. Not sure if that's a good or bad thing. LOL! Writers need encouragement too. And who are we to say that a book is bad when maybe God wanted one person to be touched by it. I try to keep that in mind when reading a book I don't care for.

Not everyone will love or even like my books. Angie Hunt said, "We won't be everyone's cup of tea."

And that has really stuck with me.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts!


Cheryl Wyatt said...


That's hilarious about lobotomies. And I LOVE your attention to historical detail. Your research shows.

It's not like you can ask an 1800's sheriff to read your passages. LOL! So I imagine most historical research has to come from online, or history books, etc.




Cheryl Wyatt said...

Okay everyone...

There are pancakes with homemade maple syrup, fresh strawberries and sliced bananas on the Seeker brunch banquet table. Dive in. Fresh-squeezed OJ, milk on ice and hot coffee.

There's sausage and egg casserole there too.

Dive in!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Oh...Patti's donuts are GOOD!

Everyone grab one!



Mary Connealy said...

What I'm really wanting right now is a doctor's bag from 1880. I'd like to really see on, see what's inside. I've done so much research on this. I did visit a museum with a doctor's bag from 1890 or so, there was seriously WEIRD stuff in there, so now I don't know how off that info is, I mean ten years is a lot.

There were just DOZENS of vials of strange medicine in there. Tiny vials about a half inch diameter and three or four inches long and the labels on there were completely obscure.

so did a doctor in 1880 have all that stuff, too?
I haven't been able to find an 1880s doctor bag contents list.
If I find something, a medicine or instrument, I can research that and date it. But I have to find that medicine or instrument first. How many of them am I missing?

I did research on Dr. Lister (think Listerine) he invented Carbolic Acid just around the Civil War and it killed germs. So I'm having my 1880s doctor dump Carbolic Acid on every wound. I hope that's accurate. :)
I'm sure it was scarce and expensive too, so I should be using it more sparingly.

Mary Connealy said...

Here's something else.
(okay, I'll shut up about this soon, I promise)

Did you know there was an intense debate about the existance of germs?

No one could see them.
Some people considered believing in germs on a par with believing in witch craft.
So sterilization was extremely hit and miss. Some doctors opposed sterilizing things with an almost religious fervor.

There was some hospital (the name escapes me) that was doing ground breaking work with cadavers, discovering how the inner workings of the human body looked by dissecting dead people. This practice was also considered by many to be sacrilidge.

BUT the cadaver hospital didn't wash up after they'd dissected the cadavers. They'd use the same knives on the cadavers they'd use to operate on live patients.
So the patients had a terrible death rate because germs would transfer from the cadavers to the live patients.
I suppose they'd wash the knives like you'd wash any dishes, but not sterilze them, even by boiling.

So, while this hospital is doing it's ground breaking work, it's being accused of using these anti-God dissection practices and the same hospital is ignoring sterilization becuase THEY say the whole idea of GERMS is heresy against God.

So, because all these people were dying, the whole idea of research on cadavers was very slow to earn respect.

Cheryl Wyatt said...


I have heard that too...about the battle with sterilization and the witchcraft. Heard it in nursing school in fact. When we studied the history of nursing from its inception. I learned more about Florence Nightengale (sp?) than I could have imagined. LOL!

I'm just glad modern day nurses don't have to keep coal fires going while caring for patients! Those women worked HARD!

EWE gross about not washing the instruments. You know how many clamps and scissors get thrown away every single day in US hospitals after a single use in surgery? THOUSANDS. But our hospital started cauterizing them at the request of missionaries who take them to overseas hospitals. I mean, they're solid stainless steel. Some third world places are in dire need of that stuff.

So we've come a long way..thankfully!!! LOL!

I do remember when I first started working that we used to have to keep the bagged placentas in the same freezer as the icecream. YUCK! That always bothered me. I would scrub and scrub the individual ice cream tubs in my typical OCD fashion. To the point people started calling me Miss Asepsis. LOL! I'd use the after-surgery or post-delivery room disinfectant that, when left undiluted would eat through a twelve inch thick mattress. No kidding. That stuff they clean with in hospitals will kill anything. I had fully diluted mix drip on my arm above my glove once and my skin blistered instantly like an acid burn. But it made me feel better as a patient that the cleaning chemicals are so strong.

They also don't keep placentas anymore. That was back in the late 80s when placental substances were still being put into cosmetics, lotions, etc. The AIDS scare took care of that though. LOL!

One of my family members had an old bottle of lotion I wished I'd have cleaned out and kept. Because in the ingredients, it said, "Placental substances". Yick. LOL! Most cosmetics prior to around 1990 still had that in there.

Now that you're all thoroughly grossed out....there's still food left!

I tried one of Patti's chocolate donuts...no placental substances in there. Promise. And they are oh-so-good!


Cheryl Wyatt said...


there's a doctor here whose office is decorated with old historical doctor's bags. He has several in every room inside lighted curio cabinets with the items strewn around the bag on the glass shelves for display.

There are items in there that look more like torture devices. LOL!

But I'll have to ask him about the bags. He also has historical articles preserved and on the wall in glass frames. Very neat to look at while you're waiting to be seen.

He's huge into research with medicine. So I'll hit him up about the bag.

I could get lost in research (and have). It can overshadow the writing time sometimes. LOL! But so many books can come out of one research session.


Cheryl Wyatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl Wyatt said...

Weird. NO idea why that last comment posted twice. LOL!

Blogger's burping today. Must have gotten ahold of the casserole.

And...blush..that should have been "altered" not "altared".

I hereby deem Seekerville as a NO-EDIT-ZONE. LOL!


Cheryl who needs to proofread her comments before sending.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Pam, did your story contain a Visitor Bureau? Or you just use them to find out details about the areas your stories are set in?

I thought about that after I commented. LOL! I probably misunderstood. Anyway, I'd think that would be a unique character career.


Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Cheryl! The thought of researching for a historical wears me out. I can't imagine. I do enough with contemporaries.

So far, I've been lucky enough to know someone to ask questions about my settings and jobs, etc. A banker, a person who worked at the craft school in Gatlinburg, a nurse, a person who lived in Charleston and could give me a nice restaurant there. Things like that. My next book had a physicist. But since I don't have him in the work place, I didn't really need to know too terribly much. Just enough to know a few terms he would use. So I researched the MIT website and other big-name college websites, delved into their physics departments and read articles on current research. I was actually a physics minor in college so had a ball doing that!

I can really get sidetracked if I don't watch it! LOL


Melanie Dickerson said...

I write medievals (or have been for a couple of years) so it's hard to fact check everything, although you'd be surprised how much reliable information is out there. But the thing that drives me crazy is when someone tells me I'm wrong about something when I'm actually right. GRRRR. That's so frustrating. There's misinformation out there about the middle ages, and if you haven't done tons of research, you don't know what is misinformation and what isn't.

But there's always going to be someone out there more obsessed about medieval times than I am who are going to catch an error or two. I just hope they will give me grace and enjoy the story anyway. I've gotten both criticism and praise over how well I got my facts straight, so I don't think there's any way to please everyone.

I have read some historicals that had words that were too modern for the time period, but if the story is good, I can get over it.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Do we appreciate how blessed we are to have this machine at our fingertips, with its wealth of connections and information????


Think of what earlier writers had to do to conduct their research pre-phone.

Or even post-phone and pre-computer.

I love that you can hook up with people (like Cheryl said) who are experts in their field, and 'listen in' on their chats.

And that people are so willing to help, even if you're unpubbed.

I had one judge not too far back offer me a list of corrections on a story. She insisted she just wanted me to 'get it right', but:

I actually had commandeered a Philadelphia detective to advise me on that book. Great guy. He gave me a heads up on procedure, protocol, etc. and read the book as I wrote it for accuracy. Since the book was centered in his section of Philly, and used his detective precinct, I was pretty sure I'd represented them well.

And since I love cop heroes and heroines, I've bugged police agencies here and there. Some protocol might differ, but the relationships are remarkably similar from place to place.

I'm loving the donuts, Ann, and Cheryl, darling, pass me that sausage and egg casserole. Now there's an Atkins friendly dish!!!

Yum. Double yum. Hey.

Anybody got a diet Snapple?


Lorna said...

Great post, Cheryl! It's a good reminder about how important the details are. While I love research, it is hard to get someone from the 1870's to tell me if I'm using the right sailing terms of the day.

Mary, I completely get what you're saying about the medical bag. I have the whole Dr. Quinn video collection if you want to see them .:) (That was closest thing I could think of to a personal interview.) I don't know if you've seen this site by a medical instrument collector, but I ran across it the other day. Maybe it will help. phisick[dot]com

Erica Vetsch said...

As a writer of historical fiction, I tend to do a lot of research on my setting that never makes it into the novel. I read lots of books (esp. those published by historical society presses and university presses, as those tend to be compiled and published by academics and pathological fact-checkers :-) ), I read fiction from that era that was written as a contemporary in the time frame I'm trying to recreate, and if possible, I visit museums and locations for myself. Treasures of information abound in county historical society museums. These museums are usually staffed by people just waiting for someone to walk in the door who wants to talk about the local history they are so passionate about.

The most difficult thing I've run into has been when you get two conflicting reports on an historical figure's actions. What one newspaper article from the time might have promoted as genius, a diary entry, letter, or now-in-hind-sight historian might paint as the highest of insanity. Which is historically accurate? Can you just use the view that fits your story best?

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Missy, I LOVED the setting details in your debut. Especially the diner. You seemed to have the perfect amount of information.

It reminded me of Mel's Diner...remember that show? I love when I can read a book and feel like I'm there. Unless of course the book is set in a dungeon. LOL!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ruth, I know. I am SO spoiled by the Internet and computers. Can't imagine how much paper or white-out I'd go through retyping pages when I'd make a mistake on the last line.

Man do we have it easy or what?


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Melanie and Ruth,

I HATE it when I KNOW I'm right and some contest judge calls me on it.

I one had a pubbed author judge tell me my story wasn't plausable because the situation in my opening COULD NEVER HAPPEN according to her.

But it did because I based my opening scene on something that really did happen to me and my coworkers one night.

A tornado was on the ground heading for the hospital...and we were in the middle of a life-threatening, life-saving emergency surgery.

The only details I changed were the type of surgery and in my book, the patient wasn't pregnant.

Yet the judge reamed me saying that no surgical team would be put in the position to have to choose between their lives over the patient's.

But we most certainly did.

So let me add to that...



Cheryl-still miffed about that. LOLOLOL!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

...and Ruthy...FWIW...I LOVE your cop heroes. Noble profession and I think you do it justice.

Some editor's gonna be exceedingly glad to have secured you for their readership someday.


Cheryl Wyatt said...


Great thoughts. Thanks for the link and also for spending time with us in Seekerville today.


Cheryl Wyatt said...


I (obviously by my post) also sometimes get conflicting info. Sometimes from seasoned professionals and sometimes from newbies.

I tend to try to get an odd number of people to go over it...that way I can do a tie-breaker on conflicting issues. LOL!

Or I try to tone that aspect down in the book or make the wording as general and as vague as possible in those cases.

Thanks for your thoughts! I appreciate you stopping by.

Obviously you're doing a LOT right...all those contest finals!

And didn't you receive Barbour's contract for unpublished this year at ACFW?




Cheryl Wyatt said...

I love sailing stories and stories on the high seas, Lorna! I particularly love stories set on the outer banks.

I want to go there someday. For now, I let books take me.

I'd love to hear more about your story.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

By the way...the patient and her baby lived. But they wouldn't have if we'd stopped the surgery.

We concluded that we were there to save lives and if the patient was gonna die if we stopped operating, we wouldn't stop, even if the tornado did hit the hospital.

Four blocks before hitting us, it lifted. Took the hospital generator with it. We operated by flashlight. But no one broke scrub to run to the basement, though we were given the option to do so and everyone lived.

Of course I didn't have kids then. That decision to stay would have been MUCH harder had I been a mom whose children needed her at the time.

So I inflicted that scenario on my character. LOL!

Can u tell I'm still bitter at the judge? Oy vey...must get prayer.


Seriously though it IS frustrating when someone questions something you know is right.

Burns me. LOL!


Debby Giusti said...

Cheryl and Mary,
Sounds like you both should be writing medical horror stories!!! :)

Great post, Cheryl. Research is so important. I feel lucky to live with a former military guy, and my son's still on active duty. Usually one of them can solve any military questions. Plus hubby knows guns and that helps with my suspense stories!

Cara Slaughter said...

I find authors sometimes makes glaring mistakes when their characters come from an area of the country they're not really familiar with. Often it's the colloquial expressions that trip up the writers and sometimes it's the customs.

I live in the South and have lived in Florida, Texas and Virginia for a total of 14 yrs. Yet I don't know enough about the people or culture to write a southern hero or heroine. I have to stick to Yankees!

Missy Tippens said...

Thank you, Cheryl! My diner was totally fictional. But I love to eat at little diners here in town. Plus, I did have Mel's diner in mind! In fact, my heroine used to be more like "kiss my grits" Flo! But a pubbed friend had me tone her down a few years ago (said she was cliched). Then, I had to take out a refeference to Flo during edits since it dated the story (and me!) a little. LOL


Pam Hillman said...

Great post and wonderful discussion. I picked out 4 research books today that I want to buy, so I'm right there with you guys!

Cheryl Wyatt said...


I think I know more about guns than my husband. LOL!

Of course I got my first BB/pellet gun when I was 5 or so.

I think MIA-Missing in Atlanta-is one of the most clever titles I've ever heard BTW. Love it.

Did you try the donuts?



Cheryl Wyatt said...


I agree.

That's especially hard if the editors want the season of the book changed. That's why I stick with settings I've lived in or been to a LOT. Or know people who live there year round.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Pam, I'm drooling over a couple of research books right now on Amazon.


Mary Connealy said...

Cheryl, take pictures and get details next time you go to the doctor.
I know you well, you'll be there soon anyway.

I want a LIST of what might be in a 1880s doctor bag. And pictures if you can manage. I give you permission to use it as a blog post here on Seekerville, not because it really fits, but because it will give you SOME use for the work.
Thank you.

Vince said...

Hello All:

This is a wonderful blog.

On the question of “Write What You Know”, I think it is important to point out that this is advice to new writers.

This is because, if what the unpublished writer knows is of sufficient interest to a marketable audience willing to pay for that information, then this fact alone increases the chance of the book being accepted for publication.

For example, your story of being the maid of Hollywood stars might easily sell to a publisher even though the story itself, without its juicy insights, would only merit a rejection.

An experienced writer, on the other hand, can write about anything – as long as the writer researches enough to ‘known’ the key information relevant to the scope of the writing project. (Can you tell I write nonfiction?)

It might help to consider the logically equivalent negative expression of “Write What You Know” which is “Don’t Write What You Don’t Know”. The experienced writer should know enough not to write about what she does not know.

Not all mistakes are created equal. Some mistakes momentarily distract from the suspension of disbelief while others have legs and can prove annoying for many pages or entire chapters. The problem is, if you don’t know it’s a mistake in the first place, how are you going to know whether it’s a big mistake or a trivial one?

Some ideas:

Ask at least two people currently in a position to know. If you are dealing with FBI or CIA or any area where you cannot talk to such people, try talking to people who have recently retired. They are often very willing to talk about the time when they were “listened to” and “important” – rather than just a nuisance around the house. Check AARP and other senior services. There’s a group of retired executives who offer advice as well.

I also find reading the Letters to the Editor in publications brings you right up to date with what is happening now. This is especially true when there are ongoing disputes about issues or products. These disputes can spice up your story with realistic controversies.

Reading letters from ordinary people is a great aid in writing historical novels. People write about trivial things which provide some of the best insights into everyday life. Try to read personal letters and of course diaries. Lots of diaries are now online.

Use the Internet for all its worth. Not long ago I was surprised to learn that Shakespeare was always rewriting his plays. I read that the first few productions of Hamlet were not very inspiring nor that good. I was able to find on the Internet the actual first published books of Hamlet and could see how the famous “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy changed from almost ordinary conversational English to the great piece it is now. I actually viewed photo copies of the actual books from some English museum website.

Another thing I like to do is hold in my hand Roman coins minted from the time period I am writing about. Psychologically this puts me in touch with my subject and makes me feel connected to the past. I strongly recommend that you try to buy some coins from the time period you are writing about. Just think about it: people from the time period you are writing about held these same coins and used these same coins to buy food and drink. Now how do you beat that? Some genuine Roman coins go for only a few dollars! Check them out on Ebay!

These are just a few ideas. Great to be here!



Mary Connealy said...

Hi vince, wow great advice.

You want to be a guest on Seekerville? We could just about use your comment, there's enough good stuff in it.

Email me.
mary at maryconnealy dot com

We'll get it scheduled.

Cheryl Wyatt said...


I'll get right on that.

Vince, thanks for dropping by! How'd you know I have a maid-to-the-stars heroine? LOLOL!

Mary, great thinking snagging Vince as a Seekerville guestblogger


Patricia W. said...

Great advice, Cheryl. I've learned about so many professions by reading about them. I assume the author has taken time to do research and trust that she's gotten it right, unless I know otherwise.

Similarly, it's important to research settings. For example, I'm from NY. The suburbs but I've spent a lot of time in NYC and know it very well. I love books set in NYC but hate when they get the details wrong. Like famous places on the wrong street. Taking the wrong subway to get to a place. Describing a certain section of the city as bustling in the middle of the night when it's anything but (it's not all Time Square all the time, you know). Things like that.

Cheryl Wyatt said...


One of the first things I had to revise in my debut novel was the setting. Changed from another state to the state I live for precisely that reason.

So I'd easily be able to tap into setting details should the season of my story change.

Great thoughts! Thanks for dropping by. Always great to see you in Seekerville!

If you haven't read Glynna's grand post yet...head on up. Her post today is not only wise but cleverly-written.


Janet Dean said...

Cheryl, late responding, but thanks for the fantastic post on getting research right! To write Courting Miss Adelaide, I talked to the County historian, visited the town and its historical museum. So far no reader mail saying I got the facts wrong. To avoid modern words or idioms, I check the date of usage in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and American Heritage's Dictionary of Idioms.