Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Romancing the Proper Stranger... For Professional Purposes ONLY, Of Course!!!

One of my standard jokes around historical authors is that I write contemporaries because no way on God’s green earth would I ever get caught doing research. Of course that’s a bald-faced lie because you can usually tell a poorly researched character/setting/plot/mood/situation by its lack of affect on the whole book. I hope that’s one thing I’ll never be accused of, LOL. Others????

Well, that’s another blog post, my friends!

In this day and age poor research is pure laziness. Quote me on that. Really. I mean it. Quote me. I think we should consider t-shirts, with that as our slogan. One of ‘em, anyhow. With the advent of Internet access to almost anything and anyone, expert advice is a push of a button away…

But what about BEYOND THE INTERNET. Historical authors can blame their sources for misinformation or plead lack of information, or variances of region. When you’re writing contemporaries, an expert's glimpse at your info might be just one reader away. We get one chance with that doctor/nurse/computer tech/daycare provider/geologist/cop/evidence tech, etc. One chance. And if we blow it, don’t think they won’t talk. Nothing bugs people more than an author messing up their profession, so let’s examine how to get it right the first time.

Bragging moment: Re: my phone call with Wendy Lawton when she agreed to be my agent, then suggested it might be nice if she actually READ something of mine. I sent the opening chapter of "Winter’s End" and she called me right away and asked if I was a hospice nurse. When I said no, she wondered how I’d hit it so exactly. Wendy had gone through hospice with her mother the year before. I had no way of knowing that. I had gone through it with my mom twelve years before, but twelve years is A LONG TIME. STOP AND THINK HOW MUCH YOU’VE CHANGED IN TWELVE YEARS, AND I’M NOT EVEN TALKING WRINKLES…

Enter Kathy Kennel, VNS, Rochester and Monroe County. When I decided Kayla would be a hospice nurse, I snail-mailed the VNS. I was unpublished but not afraid to laud my contest wins/places and whatever else I needed to grab the necessary help. I used the same technique with the Philadelphia Police Department for “Neither Race nor Creed” a contemporary romance about a police captain dealing with an inter-racial romance that would set his extended family reeling and a serial killer stalking University City. Detective John Moore of the Southwest Detective Bureau got in touch with me and acted as my expert, my advisor and a cheerleader by the time we were done. I set up a time to meet with him personally in Philly (I had two boys go to school there) and I took him fresh homemade cookies and my thanks. I used that same method this past month to procure an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist, a doctor who is probably way too busy to meet with me, but in the interest of accuracy agreed to see me this coming Thursday.

Here's a sample letter:

Dear Expert-of-the-Hour,

My name is Ruth Logan Herne and I am an award-winning local author. I am as yet unpublished but agented.

RUTHY NOTE: Do not say that if it isn’t true… sheesh… but that first line is where I sell myself. And if you don’t have all that much to sell yet, then fake it ‘til you make it. Don’t ever be afraid to respect yourself as a professional writer regardless of your current status. The office or professional you’re approaching does not know that two judges creamed you in the Genesis or that the Lonestar asked you politely to never, ever enter again. Sell yourself.)

I am currently researching a contemporary novel that pits the expertise of an off-the-cuff suspense novelist against the wiles of a somewhat jaded but totally hot police detective.

RUTHY NOTE: Get what I’m selling here? This is where I pitch that A: I know what I’m doing, and B: My work is savvy enough to hold a person’s interest beyond 2.7 seconds.)

Part of my job as a novelist is to accurately portray the chosen professions of my protagonists. To that end I need your help, or the help of someone within your department. (Unit/building/site, whatever fits the chosen profession) I have a short list of questions…

RUTHY NOTE: it doesn’t matter if it isn’t a short list, people love to talk about themselves and their jobs, at least the ones that volunteer to do this kind of thing do, so just call it a short list for brevity’s sake, okay?

that I need answered, and would like to be able to contact my advisor by either e-mail or phone as I complete the work. Properly representing the NYPD is very important to me.

RUTHY NOTE: And it should be, no matter how small or unnoted the job. If you’re giving it credence as your H/H’s profession, then take the time to comb the incidentals, even if there’s very little of it you actually USE, the background basis in knowledge is a huge part of presenting a realistic setting for the job/position and actions and reactions involved in your setting. With the exception of Tchaikovsky, (who used too many notes on a regular basis), each harmonic ping of a good song adds credence and depth to the listening ear. The same is true of a well-drawn novel. Tiny snips of professional background help augment the realistic nuances of your story. Remember you’re not using this to LAYER or OVERWHELM a story with boring, yawn-a-minute detail. You’re researching devotedly to be able to seamlessly weave pragmatic bits of the profession into the story so that it doesn’t feel like a twelve-year-old’s paint-by- number Christmas project. I’m just sayin’.

I’ve been able to find several credible sources through Internet and personal research, but I sincerely feel that true accuracy comes from going straight to the source.

RUTHY NOTE: This shows that you’ve already researched the job/profession and aren’t a complete dufus. No one wants to hold your hand, but most professionals are honored to be asked to act as an advisor on a project like this. And if they say no, you move on to the next prospect.

I will be happy to note the assistance of the NYPD and my advisor in the book’s acknowledgements. Looking forward to hearing from you, I am,


Ruth Logan Herne

To keep the letter to one page and not overwhelming, I put my name, address, phone, e-mail and website in the header. That leaves me a full page to play with including their business address in the upper left-hand corner of the letter. (Which is still good protocol.)

Not all research professionals need the formal approach. When I met Joan Marlow Golan in person in December, she’d just finished reading "Waiting Out the Storm" (which we're giving away TODAY, and is a really sweet book, have I mentioned that lately??? No??? My bad!!! Leave me your e-mail in your comment, 'kay????) and when she complimented me (YAY!!!!) on the story, she asked if we’d always raised sheep on our farm.

Nope. Never did. I don’t think I’ve ever even TOUCHED a sheep. Okay. Maybe once.

Was I a vet technician, she asked?


Then how did I know so much about sheep? About sheep farming?

The answer to that is fairly simple. I like to annoy people, (HUSH, CONNEALY)only some of them aren’t annoyed. Some actually like to have gab-fests and act as my experts. I found Mary Jarvis, a helpful sheep farmer and Maremma owner/breeder from Wisconsin via the Internet and used her for certain aspects of the story. I found Nancy Wood at the Marathon, NY Maple Festival, and then she introduced me (JACKPOT!!!!) to Al Ostrander (you can see Al and Rita’s B&B HERE) who ran the STAR program (an accelerated breeding program for innovative sheep farmers that I was featuring in the story) for Cornell University.

Al took me through the sheep barns, answered questions, showed me his personal sheep farm operation and helped me make sure that Sarah Slocum would be able to handle the work I attributed to her as a woman farmer, working alone most of the time, right down to the type of fencing she'd be able to use for rotational pasturing.

Ask everyone. Do not take ‘no’ personally. Ever. If that’s one thing my sales experience taught me is that ‘no’ is just a word that means you haven’t asked the right person.

Ask and ye shall receive. Eventually.

Knock and the door will be opened.

Remember, most people are honored to be asked. Those that aren’t are probably not the best advisors anyway. It’s better for both of you for you to look elsewhere.
Strong stories begin with characters who go more than skin-deep by the very definition and delineation (had to get a big word in there somewhere, sorry…) of their profession and professional setting. Remember, once it’s in binding, there is no second chance to get it right.

I’m here all day today so if you’d like to throw your requests, letters, ideas by me, post ‘em. Do not ever be embarrassed in Seekerville. We’re here to help.

Well. Mary’s here for the food, but she PRETENDS TO HELP…

Grab some coffee and some sweet bread (NOT THE ITALIAN BEEF BULL-PARTS KIND, THE LIKE REGULAR SWEET BREAD... LIKE FOR DANISH, KIND... and let's figure out how to lasso in those experts together. Great minds think alike. Or maybe they are just better at conniving. :)


Tina Pinson said...

Research... you mean I have to do more than just write. It's fiction anyways. Made up...

that is why Sci-fi can be so lovely to write.


Wait, I've had to research for that too. You're right, Ruthy, research is important. And I suppose I could always do more.

Great post.


Sherri M said...

Wonderful advice. Thank you for sharing. I never would have thought to ask 'experts' to help me in research. When other authors mentioned their research of locations, that was about the only time it occurred to me to do more than internet research. Thank you for broadening my horizons!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Hmmm, so that is what I do spending so much time on the internet finding little known facts about everyday things I think I should know more about! Research to me is just plain fun.

But it takes more than research to adequately convey a scene or a character...which you do wonderfully.

Can't wait for the next book whether I win it or buy it!


Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

The description "pits the expertise of an off-the-cuff suspense novelist against the wiles of a somewhat jaded but totally hot police detective" totally makes me think of Castle!

Great post!

Keli Gwyn said...

I am a historical writer, and I do tonz of research. It's one of the things I love about writing. In fact, I've been known to leave my manuscript to pin down a fact and return an hour later with far more information than I needed about a number of subjects.

As you said, I can't exactly interview the man who built the shop my character owned in 1870, but I was able to talk with a contractor in our area who has done repairs to some of the historical buildings here in California's Gold Country. He was a wealth of information and helped me ensure that a major event in my story is realistic. He was so happy to answer my questions that he volunteered additional information, which I was able to use to great advantage in my story.

I tried my hand at a contemporary once upon a time. (Not a good memory. Don't ask.) My hero owned a Jeep and went rock climbing on the Rubicon Trail up the mountain from where I live. Two men from my church do the same. They were happy to tell me about their hobby, er, passion, and one gave me a guided tour of his Jeep Rubicon, pointing out all the features.

I used to have a hard time making small talk at parties. Ever since I began writing, that hasn't been a problem. I ask people about their work, hobbies, collections, etc. I've learned some great things that way and know who to contact if I need more information about their areas of expertise at a later date.

Helen Gray said...

I've not made the kind of contacts you describe, but I've sure asked a lot of questions.

I've stuck to settings that are familiar to me, and used professions in which which I know someone personally I can nag for information.

But the bottom line is: yes, research is important--a part that I enjoy even though I don't write historicals.


Vince said...

Hi Ruth:

I love your letter to get an expert’s interview. Do you think it would work with Derek Jeter? I think one really needs to see his eyes up close and personal before writing about them. Contemporary research. Speaking about research: here’s some good news. When you get older, you can do historicals from memory.


P.S. My wife and I would like to buy you coffee in Crested Butte in June.

Camy Tang said...

Awesome post, Ruthy! I didn't realize you had really gone through that many people for your research! Now you've gotten my wheels turning about who I can contact for help with some book ideas I have. Thanks!

Ruth Ann Dell said...

Hi Ruthy

Many thanks for the super post.

I have never been to America, but my protagonist is American, so my research is very important.

Hmmm- anyone ever been involved in a Quilt Barn project or know much about Quilt Barns? I'd love to hear from you if you have and don't mind giving me a hand with my research.

Please enter me in the drawing. Thank you

ruthanndell (at)mweb (dot) co (dot) za

Sherrinda said...

Ruth, one of the beauties of writing medieval is that while there are things to research, you can take certain liberties, because who really knows for sure what happened? ;)

All kidding aside, research is very important and you can always find someone who is an expert in the field you are writing about. Your letter was EXCELLENT and is a great resource for researching.

Thanks for a wonderful post!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Katie Hart, YES!!!! YES!!! You made me smile because it was my one-line take on Castle... Good girl!!!!!!

Tina, 'morning!

Sherri, I always ask experts. That way I can share the blame, LOL!!!

And no ever covers ALL the bases. There's always someone out there whose experience is different and they'll tell you so, but if you do your best to reflect current expertise, you're gonna hit the nail on the head most often.

Julie!!! Thank you, galfriend!!!! What a lovely compliment. I'm beaming and I'm only on the first cup, but then I did just finish writing Reunited Hearts and I LOVED IT... LOVED HOW IT CAME OUT, LOVED THE EMOTION, LOVED THE STORY....

I'm such a freakin' sap. Totally. Over the top. Possibly mental.

Keli, you made great points about how writing helps to open you up. Isn't that true? Even the quieter ones among us seem to morph into beautiful butterflies to gather info for their work. S-W-E-E-T!

Wait, I'm pausing to make more coffee here. Oh, and there are a bunch of wonderful new creamers. And caramel syrup. We're doing a Build-Your-Own-Machiato bar. Could life possibly get any better than that?

I submit that it cannot!

And lemon cake. I had to make a practice lemon cake, using my mother's recipe that probably came out of a women's magazine back in the day, but I don't care. It was the cake my mother always made for summer gatherings. So yummy.

Helen, I think we all do that when we're newer. We kind of cling to what we can glean without stepping out of our comfort zone. Early on I realized if it was going to take me a gazillion years to get published, I'd better jump-start myself into moving beyond that circle and spreading my wings. I think that kick in the butt really helped.

Can we say 'butt' in Seekerville when we're not talking about ham???



I'm kidding, Mrs. Vince, I know you're a sweet, wonderful and gracious lady and I'd L-O-V-E to have coffee with you guys but I can't make the Crested Butte gig although I do believe you'll get to meet my buddy Kaki Warner there. Give her a hug from me. We've never met but I became a big fan of hers when we were both unpubbed and her work came to the Seekers when we judged The Barclay single title and historical.


But I am traveling to Harlequin Distribution Center in June to hang with the warehouse crew, chat it up with them, eat with them, and sign copies of Winter's End...

And I'm addressing the Women's Retreat of the Greater New York Salvation Army in mid-June on Long Island, and I can't wait to gather with that lovely group of pastors and swap stories. Wonderful!

Vince, we'll catch our coffee at some time. Promise. Neither one of us is allowed to die first, 'kay???

Oops, gotta check the printer!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Camy, 'mornin' or 'evenin', whatevah!!!!

I know, I play it down, but I'm anal enough (whoa, now I've said "butt" and "anal" in one day.

I'm depraved.)

...to really want to get it right. And like I said, I may use very little of the information I glean, but if I don't have it, how do I present things with depth and accuracy?

And readers KNOW. They're totally savvy. I just found two reader letters from Winter's End in my very-clogged-with-new-Facebook-friends (yes, I've done it, I'm on FACEBOOK... Come friend me. Please. Pretend I'm immensely popular. For quite some time, Connealy was my ONLY FRIEND. It was pathetic, really...) who are both North Country natives but from different ends of the USA now.

And they loved how I did it, how I described the land, the people, but if I hadn't annoyed people like the Ostrander's (did you guys go to their link??? It's a LOVELY B&B and if you're ever up here, or 'seeing the leaves', book a night or two with them. You will not regret it!) or Mary, or Detective Moore, or Nancy Wood (who makes goat milk soaps) or Mary Connealy (she and Ivan, in absentia, talked me through Marc DeHollander's beef business) or Kathy Kennel, or the Children's Heart Center, or Chris Muscato, one of my local cop buddies, or Bobby Urtis, an old 10th Ward guy who's now an FBI Anti-terrorist Unit connection...

Ask and ye shall receive. Think Montana to Rice (football reference) and GO DEEP...

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ruth Ann, I hope someone jumps in with Quilt Barn info.

I've got a quilt shop in the new series. I love quilting.

I do not quilt. I don't have time. Quilting is something I will do when people (read: editors) decide they've heard enough of me and my kind and let me slip into the cracks of yesterday's news...

So if I say: "I'm taking up quilting", that's code for: "I've failed utterly and I'm creeping into the corner to lick my wounds."

Ruth Ann, I love to see my across-the-pond buds stop in and chat! Hat's off to you, m'dear!

Kav said...

Ruthy you mean you aren't a hospice nurse who runs a sheep farm in your spare time when you're not writing????? I'm so disillusioned!

Someone should start a writer research pool. We could all put in our professions and then we'd have all kinds of information at our fingertips!

And just a plug for your local library (and librarian). They live to help you with your research and have access to a multitude of professional databases. If you get stuck ask a librarian. :-)

Oh -- and I've already done a bit of research before breakfast even! I had to google 'Machiato' to figure out what you were offering up this morning.

Jessica Nelson said...

Awesome post Ruth! I've done some research but mostly over the phone. I like how you've set up your letter. Great idea! Thanks for the tips.

Karnold said...

Hi Ruth, Great post on research! What I find amazing is how helpful people are. I sent the U.S. Marshals an e-mail requesting assistance, and thinking it would be weeks before I heard back if I ever did (I'm unpublished and don't even have the awards to back up my story). Within a day they contacted me asking me to e-mail my questions and then turned them over to one of their historians. He answered as many as he could (some he couldn't because they don't disclose that information), but he also suggested other sources that would help.

What I love about research is all the other great ideas that come from it and other doors it can open.

Thanks for the coffee and the insights! Oh, carmel Machiato my favorite.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Who IS that in the last photo anyhow????

Ruth Logan Herne said...

The mystery woman in the last photo is none other than our very own (MUCH YOUNGER AND PROBABLY NICER) Mary Connealy.

Photo used with no permission at all. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Oh, well. What goes on the Net, stays on the Net!!!

Oh, the U.S. Marshals are amazing, aren't they???? I've found that other than one very recalcitrant (is that a word and have I used it correctly) FBI dude (Pam, you reading this????) I've had wonderful luck with law enforcement. The one thing I stress with them is that my goal is to make their job easier, not harder, and since most people in law enforcement are two thumbs up, I'm not looking for a Woodward expose'. I'm more likely after a totally hot hero with the courage of a tiger and the soul of a lamb...

And handcuffs.

(I did NOT just say that out loud, did I????)

Janet Dean said...

Excellent post, Ruthy! You laid out the process for hooking a resource beautifully! Winter's End proved you knew your stuff. Can't wait to read Waiting Out the Storm!

Like you, Ruthy, I've found people are eager to help writers get it right. To research the setting in my first two books, I contacted Noblesville's county historian who gave me a wealth of information. I visited the historical museum and the volunteer answered questions and showed me around. I wasn't able to get to Iowa to look at the area when I was writing The Substitute Bride, but I chatted by e-mail with a resident who knew the terrain and what farming was like in the old days. I still do lots of reading--Internet and books.

Love the sweet bread!

Is that cutie our Mary??


Nicola said...

Hi Ruthy

Thanks for your great post! Research is great, it gives us the opportunity to explore new and interesting subjects and breathe life into our stories and characters.

The sample letter you give is really helpful - you've got such a wonderful, clear and fun way of explaining things. :-)

And I loved Winter's End - the characters, the setting, the storyline were all so authentic.

I can't wait for your next book! Please enter me into your drawing. :-)



Lisa Jordan said...

Research is important? Man oh man, I thought I could just make stuff up and be done. So much for a writer's imagination.

I'd be lost without my internet for research. In my last book, hubby and a close writing pal were my police experts. Plus I found if you put out a plea on writing loops, *someone* will know something or else know someone else who knows something about your topic.

I just emailed the sister of a friend who went through not one, but two house floodings due to leaky toilets. Just so happens my character opens her coffee shop for business and finds the ceiling in her kitchen has caved due to water leaking from the upstairs apartment. Bummer.

lisajordanbooks at yahoo dot com

Lisa Jordan said...

Oh, I forgot to mention...Hubby is a professional fly tyer--imitation insects for fishing. I read a novel by a well-known Christian fiction author who referred to them as "fly ties." Nails on a chalkboard...couldn't even finish the story. They are tied flies. And I have an expert in this area for one of the novels in my series. :D

So I totally get how someone will find out your mistakes.

Rose said...

I'm so surprised it took someone so long to comment on Mary's picture! Now, we need to know...just what are you doing in that picture Mary, that you could take time out to flash a big smile to the photographer?????

Ruth...I write business letters all the time for my day job, so they never trip me up and I think all your examples are great and present a very serious 'business' approach to your writing career. I've yet to approach a stranger as an expert.

My full that was request by Heartsong, is about quilting. Since my mom was a quilter and I dabble at it, I know a lady that runs a machine quilting business and could ask research questions in casual conversation. I actually went to school with this gal, so I also know if I need clarification on anything, she'll help.

Great topic.

RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, man ... I just HATE it when you're more anal than me because then I have to admit how outstanding this blog is and how impressed I am with the way you do research and how I wish I could be just like you when I grow up. Sigh.

Regrettably I never will be, because you sure pull the stops out, girl, in nailing down the research, and I for one am in awe. I do all my interviews and walk-throughs with the Internet, I'm embarrassed to say, but you have motivated me to change that in the future.

The one time I did go out on a limb for research was with my upcoming book, A Hope Undaunted when I actually contacted the Boston Children's Aid Society (where Katie & Cluny work together in the story), Boston Public Library, The Bostonian Society/Old State House Museum among others and I have to say that the historical richness of this book far exceeds that of the others as a result.

So, you (and Patty Hall) have made your point admirably and won a convert. I'm just sayin' ...


P.S. LOVE the picture of Mary!! Where the heck did you get that -- off her website???

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ruth, this is why I like to write medievals. Because I'm too shy to ask people anything. I once interviewed a lady I was barely acquainted with for an article I was writing on spec. I was scared to death. I just don't make a very good interviewer. I hate calling people and asking them questions. The whole meeting people face to face and demanding their time and expertise is too intimidating for me.

Fortunately, there aren't any people who are still alive who lived in medieval times. Therefore I can get all my information from the internet and from books. It's great.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Can hardly wait to hear how Ruthy plans to vilify me.

Debra E Marvin said...

I love finding someone who is actually willing to respond to my silly questions.

Ruthy, your letter is so well done,it makes me want to be an expert in something, just to help you out.

Mary Connealy said...

That baby picture didn't exactly go with the post, darlin'.

And no, I'm not talking about the DJ. Though she was almost a baby, too.

Mary Connealy said...

And can I get in this drawing, please?
I want that book.

I don't see why SEEKERS never get to be in the drawing.

Mary Connealy said...

That picture of me actually came off someone's website?

Crystal Miller? When she had me on doing, "When I was just a kid."

I sent her that for my baby picture.

We were really poor. I didn't have any younger than that.

(okay, I couldn't FIND any younger than that, but we were really poor)
I was a DJ in college.
It was where I learned to fear and loathe public speaking based on real world experience.

And yes, I was nicer back then.
A lot of the 'nice' got worn off through far too many years as the mother of teenagers, combined with contest judges comments and editorical rejection letters.

I got tough to survive and I think we can all agree it was vital.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Fly ties????

They really used that?????

Oh, man, Dave's my fishing expert but he doesn't tie flies or fly ties... ;)

But that's a hoot. And yet I won't poke fun because I've found from friends that sometimes mistakes are the result of insiders who change things, thinking their way is right... Ooops.

And I'm so glad the letter idea is helpful, guys. Sometimes we're to blame for making this business more difficult than it needs to be. Simple, direct, and don't be afraid to shout your achievements from the mountaintops. Nicely, of course.

hey, I just brought some chocolate biscuits in, those spiced Italian thingies. They're store bought...

But great for coffee brunch!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Nicola, thanks for the shout-out, babe!

Grinning in upstate...

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Rosie-Z, hey there. You're right, a good business letter that doesn't waste time and resonates confidence (even if you're not, especially if you're not, LOL!!!) is clutch to gaining help from others.

And I keep them in the loop as things unfold, and they're pretty darned pleased now that I'm published, contracted and moving along.

Great way to get to know people and build your "tribe"...That's a shout-out to Seth Godin and his wonderful work on building/selling yourself.

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Dictionary. com....


ah, defame.


Oh, wait... I'm live??? You guys SAW that????


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mel, we're all afraid.

Go back to "fake it til you make it..."

I meant it in all seriousness.

We're all shy to a degree. But yeah, I expect you (and Jules) to go beyond shy.

And again, it builds your tribe. It gives you a broader base.

No comments on how broad my "base" has become since I'm spending more time on this machine.


Mary, love you THIS much...

And more.

Leigh said...

Great post, Ruthy, and thanks for the sample "plead for research help" letter.

I'm a corporate writer by day so interview people in person/on the phone/by email all the time. I'm more shy about interviewing people for my novels, so need to be more confident there. The few times I've asked, most people were happy to help. People do like to talk about themselves and their interests! :-)

And I like Keli's suggestion of using small talk at parties as a chance to research. Maybe keeping that in mind will help me next time.

Angela Bell said...

Great post! I guess I need to abandon my comfort zone and actually talk to people. No more hiding behind my laptop. :)


Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Ruthy! I think I may just use that letter next time! Of course, I'll change the name and all. :)

And yes! I knew that was Mary!! I'm so glad I got it right. :)

Mary Connealy said...



Myra Johnson said...

Excellent post, Ruthy! I plan to copy all your letter parts and save them in a file where I can plagiarize endlessly whenever I need research help.

Keli! What a great idea for breaking out of my non-conversational shell! All I have to do is ask questions and call it research!

Erica Vetsch said...

Excellent post, Ruthy!

I ADORE research. :) Good thing, huh? Since I'm writing those historicals and all.

Right now I'm looking at photos of the First Congregational Church of Denver, circa 1885. For one line in my WIP.

That picture of Mary is priceless. I recognized her right off!

Patty said...

Ah, research--something that is near and dear to my heart!

I love talking to experts--one of the best interviews I had for my novel that's on Melissa's desk right now was with a B-17 bomber pilot who flew out on D-Day. Not only did he give me some great material to think on, he put me in the cockpit of a P-51(just like my heroine flew during WWII) and taught me how to take off and land!Talk about knowing things first hand!

Right now, I'm exchanging emails with a barnstormer for the next book in the series--it hasn't sold but might as well get the next book written.

Great post as usual, Ruthy!

Cara Lynn James said...

Great advice, Ruthy! I love to do research, but I've done most of it on the internet or through books.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Nice thoughts on research, Ruthy.

It takes guts for sure!


Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Great post, Ruthy. Enjoyed reading the part about Southwest Philly Police District and University City. Great to know that someone here was willing to help with your research.I have Winters End and expect to get to it soon. I write historicals, and I love the research so much so that I get lost in it when I should be writing the story. Some of the research I do online, reading personal diaries and through interviews with WWII vets. I've also visited sites both in the U.S. and U.K. to get a feel for the time and place. Today I've been pouring through old newspapers from 1938-1945 kept by an elderly gentlemen I know. Very
useful for completing my new WIP.
Pat Davis In Philly

Dawn Kinzer said...

Hi, Ruthy!

Awesome post! Having your letter as an example is so helpful.

I write contemporaries and am constantly using the Internet to research.

But, in my current WIP, my hero is a burn survivor. I joined a support Web site for burn victims and interested people.

The result was that I hooked up with a young man who was very willing to correspond through e-mail and answer any questions I had. What a priviledge!!!

Pepper Basham said...

I'm printing this off RIGHT NOW!!!
I mean, um...after I comment.

Someone asked me 'why do you need to research for contemp fiction?"

HA!! As much as I'd like to claim omniscience- I can't. Wait, maybe I really DON'T want to know everything.

Thanks so much, Ruthy. As usual, you're post is filled with useful information and loads of personality :-)

Getting inside some people's heads would get WAY TO MESSY. How does God do it? Whew. :-)

Right now I'm trying to stick with settings that I know about and maybe someday, I can branch out a bit.
The Blue Ridge - I know.
Derbyshire UK - at least I've visited there
WWI Europe - okay, not there, but I've done a WHOLE lot of research
Angoria - fantasy. And I had to research certain types of fantasy creatures. Really cool.

Regina Merrick said...

I'm a contemporary writer, too. I love to read OTHER people's historical research, but honestly, so many times I skim through the historical stuff just to get to the dialogue, the romance, etc. I like the clothes, too. Shallow? Me?

BUT research is important. I once started a book that I will not name. It was about a librarian in a small town (like me), and in a fit of anger and grief she literally turned over all the book cases in her library.

Nuh-uh. Not going to happen. It made me angry. You KNOW who had to pick UP all those books? ME, THAT'S WHO. I couldn't finish the book. And she was just a minor character... That was nails on the chalkboard like the "fly ties" to a professional fly tyer.

Great post!

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Great post! You've given us all the tools to get the info we need. And I loved your answer to someone saying no. Just keeping asking until someone says yes. Sounds perfectly simple and yet it takes a lot of courage and perseverance.

EvaMariaHamilton at gmail dot com

Walt M said...


This is a wonderful post. I have had some success in my historical reasearch contacting professors by, in my opinion, proving that I'd done my homework ahead of time. However, as I'm also working on a contemporary, I was wondering how I would do this.

Ah, the chance to win a Ruthy book. Does this mean that, if I'm the lucky person chosen, I don't have to sleep out in front of Wal-Mart again? :-)


Lyn Cote said...

Ruth, Whenever I do research, I always realize AGAIN that truth is stranger than fiction. It's always funny when an editor says that could never happen--and it really did! I can show her.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Leigh, Angela, so nice to 'see' you guys!

Yeah, it's easy to get comfortable these days with the wealth of quick-touch knowledge on the Internet, but it's never as solid or dead-on as the real thing. And even if what you find is accurate (I also keep a Questia membership for research; that way I can pop in there and check things from various experts and then confirm it with real-live-talk-to-'em types.)

And it's also good to venture out of that comfort zone because it DISAPPEARS once that call comes...

And that's something you need to be prepared for.

I need a frappuccino. I took a couple of cuties to the zoo... So fun. Rhinocerouses are really weird looking, know what I mean??? Oh mylanta. And the polar bears were swimming up a storm. Awesome.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mare, mare, mare.... the baby picture was because I said 'Yawn a minute' or something witty like that....

so I put a YAWNING BABY pic in the post.

I hate when I have to explain my witticisms. Makes 'em so much less witty.

Of course, no one else complained. Didja notice that, Connealy?

Ruth Logan Herne said...



Oh my stars, you're SO going to get me into trouble....

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Erica, I gotta agree, Mary is/was and ever will be adorable.

And doesn't that look just like her only even cuter, if such a thing is possible? And can you imagine Mary as a DJ? How much fun would that be, her pokin' fun at everyone and everything while she's droppin' discs.

Well, now she'd just be pushing buttons.

But still. To hear Mary over the radio...

Be still my heart.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Patty, I love the sound of:

A. Those books and
B. The research.

A barnstormer.... Tell us more!

I love having that inside track, the excitement that someone who REALLY DOES the job puts into it.

And that really comes alive if you've delved deep.

And huge best of luck to you with your submission. YES, get that next book written. And the one after that. If nothing else they're money in the bank at some point in time. Think big. Plan big. Work ahead of the curve.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pat Davis, a shout out to you in Philly!!!

I love Philly. Love the area. Love the city. I hate that it's been having increasing problems with violence. I've spent many a good time in University City, Mt. Airy, Independence Park, Manayunk and Germantown. And I love the mall on Market Street. If only other downtowns had tried that. So fun!

And the police there have been wonderful. Can't say enough about them.

Delving into old papers...

And not dozing off. ;)

This is just one more reason why I write contemporaries, LOL!

(seriously, I've got books of old stuff here too. Sometimes the best way to set a modern day book is to KNOW what went on before...)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Dawn, you get the triple crown for annoying people on the Internet and tapping into their brain! I knew I liked you, girl!

Yeah, that's just what you've got to do to get the low down. And it's up close and personal. Good job, girlfriend!

Pam Hillman said...

Great post, Ruthy.

The only thing that jumped out at me when you mentioned my name was that it was in the same sentence with "US Marshal".

Because...the other night, my 21 yo texted me...

"I'm going to be a US Marshal."


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Regina, I know what you mean. I had the same reaction to a farm book and the author is a smart gal. I've read some of her other stuff, but she dropped the ball on this because the farmer could not possibly handle the head of milking Holsteins she credited him with, the flock of sheep, the chickens and turkeys, the crops, the hay, and keep a spotless house so his mother would be proud of him.

I distinctly remember throwing up, just a little, in my mouth...

Oy vey.

My husband thought it was funny. I didn't.

But then he's the NICE one of the family!

Mary Connealy said...

I've got other young cute pictures of myself.

I really oughta put them on my books, too.

And let my MOTHER attend the conferences, yeah...that's the ticket.

Mary Connealy said...

I thought maybe it was Lijah.


We need more pictures of him.

And honestly, girl, it usually falls to ME to explain your jokes, so really, seriously, it's your turn.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pepster, I think most of us start with stuff we know and branch out. And I incorporate things I know into all kinds of works because if you've lived as long as I have, had as many jobs as I've had (a vast array of hairnets and nametags, nothing you'd call a career) you've been immersed in all kinds of everyday cool things.

So I just balance all THAT with other real stuff and it kinda sorta works.

I think.

But the second book isn't in people's hands yet. What if the first one is a FLUKE????

Oh my stars...

Mary Connealy said...

There's a TV commercial on right now, full of computer animated farm animals. I can't remember what they're advertising. But my husband always rolls his eyes and says, "They're milking a Hereford."

And they are. That's a beef cow.

Of course, how many people know farming anymore. You can probably get away with most farm mistakes these days.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Eva Maria (whose name sounds like a song...)

that's it in a nutshell.

We keep asking until we get the first yes. And it's amazing to me how that first 'yes' leads to others. People love to hook me up with other people.

Mostly so I'll stop bothering THEM, but at least they're polite about it.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Lyn, girlfriend, it is so nice to see you here!!! Thanks for comin' on over. I'm halfway through Her Patchwork Family and I'm sweatin' through the hot Louisiana sun.

With no deodorant!!! I love Camie (Camy, you listenin'???) and what a great group of kids.

I love writing kids, Lyn, and you did a wonderful job with this crew in this book.

And oh my stars, there is no way Melissa or most self-respecting editors would let us write some of the bizarre things that happen on a daily basis.

And maybe that isn't a bad thing, LOL!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

That Cheryl snuck on in here and there's a gal who goes over the top wonderful with her research for her military backgrounds.

My guess is she's gotten to chat it up with some cool dudes over the years!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pammers if he becomes a US Marshal, then we've got an additional "In" for research.

Those marshals?


'sall I'm sayin'.

KC Frantzen said...

Howdy y'all!

Where do you get these great ideas for posts and those photos? Each one is a treat.

Ruthy ~ Thanks for all the time and effort.
You're making me feel a bit better. I have files and files of "stuff" for book 2 (If I can ever get MOTW finished.)

I carry biz cards around and hand them to everyone. It's amazing the people you meet and what you can learn. A lady asked Mom's and my opinion about a hat she was contemplating yesterday in Cracker Barrel. It looked great on her. So after awhile I got out my card and turns out she is an avid reader and gave me some ideas of other books to check out. (She bought the hat by the way. They're having a great sale right now!)

When we were in Luxembourg City last fall at the American cemetery (Gen. Patton is buried there) - we met a couple of guys who, it turns out, had some experience with what I need and are helping me some with book 2. You just never know! Sure is fun though.

Winter's End was most enjoyable. Would love to win another well-researched Ruthy tome. may at maythek9spy dotcom

Virginia said...

Great post, I loved it. Also love the covers of your books. I am not a writer but i do enjoy researching things on the internet!


Dianna Shuford said...

Catching up with y'all a little later today becauase I overslept this morning. But, better late than never...totally cliched but true.

Very good advice, Ruth. Thanks for sharing. I'd never thought to send a letter to someone for research. Now that you've pointed this out, I'll have to do better.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

KC, I'm not surprised you're commenting on people's hats in Cracker Barrel...

Not a bit. ;)

I would be more surprised if you DIDN'T....

But yeah, darlin', the more contacts you make the easier it is to transition from writer to author/marketer/presenter/signer.

Once that contract comes you should be a full fledged partner in your career. For the most part, your publisher deserves no less, so it's good to practice on unsuspecting professionals.

Guinea pig by proxy so to speak!

Pics of Lijah...

You're right. I'll get on that. He's so stinkin' cute.

And I could have taken one of him yawning if I were ahead of the game, but I wasn't. Duh.

I would put pics of you everywhere, Connealy. Everywhere. Kind of like the whole Flat Mary thing we talked about...

And you can use either baby picture you want. Really. They're both nice. Except for the spot where they wiped the strawberry jam off the side of the one pic. Can they fix that in Kodak Photo labshop????

Ya think?

Oh, I saw that stupid commercial where they're milking a Hereford...

Dave just scowled. And I'm really trying to get him not to do that because I can't afford anti-wrinkle cream for BOTH of us.

Sheesh. That stuff's pricey.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Virginia, isn't it like the greatest tool for someone that likes to learn? I mean, it's RIGHT THERE at your fingertips.

A world full of information. When I think what I spent on World Book Encyclopedias so that my kids would have resource books on hand...

Oh my stars, my laptop cost less. (not that I bought it, lawyer boy gave it to us for Christmas last year, but I'm using a comparative for example. Very instructorish, don't you think????)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Dianna, yes. Do it. Even if I wasn't a bossy twit, you should do it.

So much of what I learn from these folks gets used in one way or another in one book or another.

Dream big. Plan bigger.

Pepper Basham said...

Is your new book out in June or July?
I'm sure the first one was not a fluke?
101% sure.
And I'd really like to sit and listen to you delve into the stories about your life. Whew...bet that's colorful :-) Rainbow-colorful. On steroids :-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Walt, darling, would you REALLY wait outside Wal-Mart???



You're such a goof. I can't wait to return the favor, big guy.

Tippin' my researcher's cap your way.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Deb Marvin, you could be a professional ANYTHING and I'd come runnin' just to get your opinion.

Because it's worth that much. Probably more.

And did I have a dream about you in a braid????

Or was that real?

A long, blond braid.

Oh, man, I need sleep.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Pep, it's out in July BUT the subscribers have it now...


And it's a great story of how families ought to work, despite the odds. In Ruthy-speak, of course.

I hope people love it. And love this family. It's just another step in the Ruthy-self-therapy unit and I gotta tell ya', if you can find people to PAY YOU TO CONDUCT YOUR OWN PYSCHO-THERAPY, that's a pretty sweet deal. I'm just sayin'...

Sandra Leesmith said...

Sounds like you all had fun today. sorry I missed out. Thanks Ruthy for another great post. And goodies of course.

Cindy W. said...

Hi Ruthy,

Awesome advise on research. Especially for someone like me who is just starting out. Thank you so much.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Nikki Studebaker Barcus said...

I'm in the beginning stages of researching/compiling 3 book projects and not 10 min. b/f I read this post, I prayed for direction. One of the next things on my to-do list is to contact a source. I didn't have any problems doing this, but now I have a sample letter as a cheat-sheet. Thanks so much!


ebookauthor said...

Great post. Just one comment. Never forget the expertise in your own house. I mentioned one of my historical heros to my hubby, saying something like he shoots this guy, yada, yada, and hubby asks what kind of gun? I told him what I'd written and he shook his head. The gun I'd named wasnt invented until a year after the setting of my book. Just one year, but hubby knew that. Of couse I asked what he should be shooting and hubby kindly describe and named exactly what my sea captain would have been carrying. I always verify weaponry with him now; should have then. I know he knows all that stuff. I thought I knew too, but I was off by a year. A year can be very important. Always check. Maybe you don't have to check any further than with the guy in the recliner next to you.

Project Journal said...

Hey Ruthy,
Sorry I missed you yesterday, we had a match over 2 hours away last night : /

Ah well, this post is exactly what my internship teacher tells us about. He is all about jobs, internships, SELLING YOURSELF so you get the job. It's like him on a page *grin*

Maybe next week at my meeting I'll show him your post, lol!

I can't wait to read your new book, Ruthy. I don't think I ever told how much I loved your debut. By the end, I was filled with a wonderful sense of peace that I think can only happen when you feel like (or you actually do) relate to the people/place/experience/etc. and so forth. It was brilliant, not that I expected any less *grin*

Thanks a bunch!

rbooth43 said...

I'm sure research plays a very important part in gathering information about areas of expertise in any field, and you learn so much more about the subject. Then the writing become an exceptional book.
OMG! I agree that the totally hot police detective" makes me think of Castle. What a great show.


Project Journal said...

CASTLE!!!! GREAT show!

Too bad it's done for a while *tear*

Hate Castle right now! Grrrrr....


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Nikki, I'm so glad you found us!!!

The thought that I might be the answer to ANYONE'S prayer will make the rest of the Seekers laugh themselves silly, but that just shows what THEY know, girlfriend!

Yes, use the letter. Please use it. Change my name to yours because you don't look like a Ruthy. Sorry. Just sayin'...

But yeah, go for it! Fake it 'til you make it, Sister!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Connie, you're so right. When I was writing the fishing scene in Waiting Out the Storm (and yes, I've fished with him before, and every now and again we actually... fished...)

Anyway, I had him read the passage over to make sure it sounded right to a fisherman and he finished it, sent me one of THOSE looks, shook his head and said, "Let the kid catch a fish."

That was it, but he was right. I went back re-wrote the scene, and it was a scene Melissa referred to as "Loving IT!" when she contracted the book because letting the scene play out made a world of difference in the healing.

He's also helped me with farm stuff, forestry/woodcutting/logging and he's my hand's on consultant for writing what a pain in the neck men actually are.

Between him and four sons and four brothers, oh mylanta, I've got ammunition from now until forever.

With little or no embellishment.

So nice to SEE you, girlfriend! Thanks for stopping by!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Hannah, darlin', good to see you!

And never apologize for being young, beautiful and busy. You just mosie on in whenever. Always hugs and cyber food waitin' on you!

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Ah, Hannah, lass, I love you too, darlin'!

And I hope you like Waiting Out the Storm just as much. Very country, very animal and kid friendly, very pastoral.

I love using that word: pastoral. Bucolic. (although doesn't that sound like someone might be about to get sick? A little????)