I started writing in the ‘80s. My first books were basically “Write what you know” books: teaching, Santa Barbara, Michigan, a farm community, and a local township supervisor who made me angry. I did do a little research: I talked to the local (female) banker about how the men in the community were reacting to having a woman in that position (this was the ‘80s, after all), and I drove to an area in Indiana where I’d set No Room for Love.
By book three I knew I needed to do much more research, so I went to the library. Encyclopedias, National Geographic, how-to books, biographies, and librarians became my resources. This continued into the ‘90s, along with calls or visits to anyone who could give me information about a profession or location. (I even took guitar lessons while writing Sounds Like Love.)
However, by the end of the ‘90s the computer and the Internet were changing everything from how I submitted a manuscript to how I did my research. Now I could find information about (almost) anything by using one of the search engines. (I prefer www.Google.com) My biggest problem was learning how to ask a question so I’d get the answer I wanted.
In the last decade plus, the Internet has made research even easier. Now not only can I find information about a town, I can see the streets (Are they one way?) see the buildings (even in 3-d in many cases) and read reviews written by people who have been there. I can tap into on-line newspapers, watch videos, and hear interviews.
Does that mean a writer no longer needs to visit locations or participate in an activity? Yes and no. Yes, I can get a lot of the information I need by going on-line, but I still feel I gather much more information by visiting a place in person or actually trying to do something I have my hero or heroine do. What the computer can’t give me (at least not yet) are the smells, the sounds, or the feel of a place. (New York City vibrates with energy.) There’s the tactile sense of strumming a guitar that I needed to actually feel, the recoil kick of a pistol, or, for me, how difficult it is to pull the trigger on a revolver.
Right now, however, I am loving my computer. I visited Skagway, Alaska, back in 2007 so I could do some research for a suspense I was writing. That story was set aside, and I’m just now getting back to it. I remember how it felt to be there, (the beauty of the mountains, the port and the tourist shops, the layout of the police station, etc.) but so much time has gone by, it’s great that I can check and see what has changed and what’s the same. It’s a lot cheaper than going again (though I wouldn’t mind a return trip).
So yes, research is easier than it was thirty-four years ago…but if you want to pay for me to take a trip to Skagway, I won’t refuse.