Because I’m also an attorney and a history enthusiast, one area I often get “sidetracked” on is research. As I wrote Stars in the Night, my 2010 World War II novel filled with Hollywood stars and murder, my husband often asked if I was actually writing. It seemed every time he looked at my computer, I was on the internet researching something. That book had settings across the U.S. plus the added challenge of finding locations that existed in 1942 and would have been used by Stars raising funds for the war. Occasionally I did get side-tracked – like when I learned the hotel I used in Atlanta was also the site of the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history.
This year my books have been set in Washington, D.C., Mackinac Island, and Lake Ozarks. Here are a few things I’ve learned as I dove into the research to make the books as accurate and compelling as possible.
1) Don’t assume you’ve done enough research – even when you’ve visited the location multiple times. When I had the idea for A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, we hopped in the car and returned to the island. It’s a wonderful place to escape from the pressures of life and slow-down. As my husband and kids toured Fort Mackinac, I spent time with the chief of police asking how he’d handle a murder. Even with the time on the island, as I was writing, I realized there were details I was certain about. Since the island doesn’t have mechanized vehicles, I was ready to write a scene with a horse-drawn ambulance. Just to be sure I called the local clinic…thankfully, the doctor let me know the ambulance is fully motorized.
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2 2) Even when you set a book in a setting you know intimately, be flexible and keep digging. For Cherry Blossom Capers, my co-authors and I quickly decided to set the novella collection in Washington, D.C. From there it was simple to have the main characters be neighbors in a neighborhood that closely mirrors the one my husband and I had lived in. I sent lots of photos and links to my co-authors to give them a feel for Fairlington Village. My heroine’s townhouse is the one I lived in there…but we changed the name of the community so we could deviate where needed for the sake of story. I also needed a court for my characters to interact in…since I lived near Old Town Alexandria, I was all set to use the building off King Street…only to find as I researched that the court I actually needed is a modern building a mile or so out of Old Town. Moral? Keep digging and never assume that what you remember is the way things are today.
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3) Talk to lots of people if you’re writing about something you’ve never done. For Rainbow’s End, the connection is that each story takes place around a geo-caching competition. I’ve always thought that geo-caching sounds like fun…what’s not to like about a modern treasure hunt? But I still haven’t actually gone on one. Yet, that was a critical piece of the novellas and I knew if I didn’t get it right, I’d hear about it from readers. I talked to friends who’d done it and loved it. I asked people to read the book checking my details to make sure I got it right. I did the same thing when a book centered around baseball – not my sport. I’ve found if I talk to enough people, I will find people who are experts on an area. They love to share their knowledge. If I ask the right questions, then I know I’ll get the details right and the readers won’t be distracted.If you are a reader, have you read books that you knew had a problem with facts or setting? Did you keep reading? If you’re a writer, what tips do you have to share on getting the research right? And if you’d like a chance to read one of my 2012 releases, leave a comment stating which you’re interested in.
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Cara C. Putman lives in Indiana with her husband and four children. She’s an attorney, teacher at her church, and contract lecturer or adjunct faculty at a local community college and Big Ten University. She has loved reading and writing from a young age and now realizes it was all training for writing books. An honors graduate of the University of Nebraska and George Mason University School of Law, Cara loves bringing history and romance to life. You can learn more about Cara and her books on her website, Facebook, twitter, and pinterest.