I think we can all agree that doing the proper research makes or breaks a book. Glaringly obvious mentions of places, events or details that haven’t happened yet are akin to all of us Wisconsinites watching Titanic and realizing that Jack Dawson could not have been ice fishing on Lake Wissota in Chippawa Falls in 1912…as there wasn’t a lake yet.
Alright, maybe I’m one of the few that is obsessed with accuracy in any movie I watch, but you get my gist. Research can not only authenticate your world building, but it can imbue your characters with truth, and a genuine placement in their surroundings. Even if you only mention something in passing, it adds a rounded, 3-dimensional depth to protagonists and antagonists alike.
If, say, your novel is set in the Civil War, even if your characters aren’t fighting in battles or even on the same continent, they’d likely hear about it in the news, or people would discuss it in passing, much like we do about major political or social news today. (If I had a quarter for every time my husband came home with a tidbit of celebrity gossip I hadn’t had a chance to hear because…babies…I’d be so rich!) Using research to allow characters to notice details, such as the pattern on the spongeware china, or the particular cut of a bodice, tells your reader that not only are they learning something, but that you did your homework.
I don’t suggest we all dive in as deeply as, say, Jean Auel did. But we can all probably create just one more small layer of richness to our novels. Those handfuls of tiny additions can really add up to one accurate story whether it is the ins and outs of a wedding planner’s job, a more involved description of a hunk’s financial schemes and clients, or the daily lifestyle of an obscure tribe in Antarctica. (I don’t think there are any…but then again, I haven’t done any research.)
So where do we get that research? Certainly the first thing that pops up in Google searches these days is some sort of Wikipedia link to potentially faulty information. But the internet is still one heck of an amazing tool with which we can supplement our information, check our facts, and hone our craft from the comfort of our laptops and pajamas.
With some time, you don’t even need to head to the library, though I’m a full-fledged believer in checking out at least one or two original volumes that might help you with some in-depth research on your most detailed subject. The internet can be completely used for research as long as you do a handful of things:
Beyond the internet hunting, however, discovering information for your book can also be a lot more interesting and interactive. Want to know exactly how to write the language of Pocahontas’ tribe? Reach out to the nation itself and ask for help. Care to get a taste for life in Revolutionary times? Go to a local reenactment (or better yet, ask if you can join in for a weekend in costume). I know Molly Maka has spoken to that notion and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Or at the very least, reach out to a few of the groups on Facebook and inquire about your needs – many old-timers will be more than loquacious enough for you.
Do your characters have a specific trade or job? Run in circles you don’t touch? Reach out via Facebook, LinkedIn, or even through your own network to get some good insight. We are authors, but we are also observers and questioners – we wonder, wait, watch and then write.
Remember when you do reach out to be:
This is not to add to the never-ending list of requirements aspiring or published authors have already. I’m merely hoping that this is just a nudge to remind you of easy and relatively painless and quick ways to incorporate accurate details in your novels and manuscripts to add flavor, desire and depth.
by Sara Dahmen
Sara Dahmen is the award-winning author of Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper, a metalsmith, American cookware designer and manufacturer, and a mom. You can reach her @saradahmenbooks or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her next novel, a romantic drama, Wine & Children, is due out by November 2016.
Rich information for writers, rich food and experiences–that’s what Bouchercon was about in New Orleans, September 15-18, held at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street in the French Quarter. This is the same hotel where RWA held a conference several years ago.
Bouchercon is what everybody calls the Boucher conference, the worldwide event sponsored by Mystery Writers of America.
About 1,800 or more authors, new writers, and reader fans attend every year, including many authors of romantic suspense and romantic mysteries, including me. I have to admit it made my conference when a fan tracked me down in the book sales room to get an autograph. Then in a panel workshop, I sat next to a fan of fudge from Minnesota, so we had a nice chat, too.
What I love about Bouchercon is the easy access you have with famous authors (not me yet!), publishers, and reader fans. Everybody mills about in the casual break room, or book rooms (sales and freebies) and autographing areas, hallways, and hotel lobby. I had breakfast, for example, with this year’s guest of honor Harlan Coben. He sat down at the open chair at my table. (He fuels his writing of suspense and thrillers with fruit, mini-quiches, juice and coffee.)
During the conference Harlan shared a lot of wisdom. The just-published Home is his 30th novel. Harlan didn’t get on the bestseller list until his 10th book.
“Don’t get caught up in marketing. Your sales are gonna suck until they don’t.”
You’re also not going to get rich at first. He received a $5,000 advance for his first book, and by the fourth book he received a whopping increase to $6,000.
How do you know when your book is ready to send out? “You don’t. Your kid [your book] will get knocked. You learn through experience when it’s ready to go.”
He also said, “You can’t fix no pages; you can only fix bad pages.” In other words, write, write, write and then revise.
Do less research. Researching delays the writing. It also avoids allowing you to use your imagination.
“Believe it’s your best book yet or don’t write it,” he told the crowd.
He also doesn’t tell people what he’s working on. “Save that energy and use it to write and finish that book.”
Coben is currently working on two TV series’ deals in Europe, one of which will likely end up on Netflix in the United States soon.
One of the delights of this conference was going to the annual Sisters in Crime breakfast on the 41st floor, in the River Room, at 7:30 in the morning. Champagne flowed for several toasts.
I highly recommend Sisters in Crime and its Wisconsin group if you’re writing romantic mysteries or romantic suspense. The information you receive via emails is astoundingly good. Celebrating 30 years, Sisters in Crime is a support group leading the cause on issues such as more and better reviews for books by women writers and more diversity within the publishing industry.
At the breakfast, you sit down next to great authors–and fun coincidences sometimes. At my table, I introduced myself to Brad Smith–who turned out to be the husband of Nancy Raven Smith. She was a script finalist over 15 years ago when Peggy Williams and I won the Slamdance Film Festival. We hadn’t been in contact since then. Brad and Nancy and their daughter Lynn–all of them at my table–have written a new comedy memoir together called The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill. I grew up on a farm and had picked up “Bradford Smith’s” delightful bookmark by chance prior to Saturday, not knowing who he was, or knowing I’d be sitting next to him and Nancy at the breakfast.
Nancy also got her time in the limelight with Harlan Coben at one of the Mardi Gras-themed parties during Bouchercon, one of which was hosted by Heather Graham. She’s familiar to us in RWA for historical romances and over 100 novels of every kind it seems. Heather moderated the final panel on Sunday.
Some other tips from the many panels over the four days:
Humor–push it further. If you’re subtle, the reader won’t get it. Let the editor decide how far to take it.
What makes a novel cinematic and worth selling to a TV or movie production company? It has to have a “rich stew” including rich emotions, surprise potential in the scenes, and universal themes that speak to audiences.
Create more characters who might be in a wheelchair, or struggling with PTSD or autism, or other things. In general, don’t call the character “disabled.” Focus on how they’re living and coping and taking action.
Editors are looking for more multi-cultural diversity in stories and characters.
In YA books, avoid specific social media references because they change too fast. YA books have to feel current.
New forms of novels are more acceptable now, such as using a prose poem as the format for a crime novel.
On the issue of professional jealousy, Harlan Coben said, “No one has to fail so you can succeed. We’re all in this boat together.”
When you don’t have an outline, how do you start your novel? Ask “Why?” That’s the key question to push plot. Why are they where they are and why now? Start the page there.
Think only one page at a time. Otherwise, it’s too terrifying to think of 300 pages.
What makes a good book? It’s entertaining; has a main character with “voice”; and has a truth in it.
Besides the conference, Bob and I did sightseeing and ate our way around the French Quarter and on the waterfront. For those traveling to New Orleans for literary events or vacation, absolutely do not miss the World War II museum, which is one of the best museums in the country. This was our second visit to that museum and it seemed even more important to us than last time, considering the state of our world. There’s also a great narrated paddle-wheeler ride on the Mississippi, a terrific New Orleans history museum at Jackson Square in the French Quarter not to be missed, wonderful music down on Frenchmen Street, and of course we found a Packer Bar (The Irish Pub) on Decatur Street. Try the Hilton’s bar near the waterfront and convention center for happy hour; it has the best free munchies plus some say the best grilled seafood starters. We agreed!
There are endless restaurants and shops. And don’t miss the beignets at the popular Café du Monde near Jackson Square. There’s always a local band adding to the flavor of the warm, savory powdered-sugar treats.
Everything is within walking distance if you stay near the French Quarter. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott just two blocks from the Marriott. It was a quiet, sleek, contemporary and friendly place for much less dough. We didn’t rent a car this time and instead relied on the streetcars, which are cheap at $3 for hopping on and off all day.
The next Bouchercon is October 12-15, 2017 in Toronto. If you want to be on a panel, moderate, or volunteer in any way, get your ideas and registration in early. Also book hotel space early. This conference fills fast.
by WisRWA member Christine DeSmet
Christine DeSmet is a past RWA Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), and Golden Pen winner with her romantic suspense, Spirit Lake. She’s the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery series set in Door County, Wisconsin, and has a new mystery series being marketed by her agent. Christine just sold the rights to her 9 “Mischief in Moonstone” romantic mystery short stories set in Wisconsin to Writers-Exchange Publishing; those are forthcoming in late fall or winter. Christine teaches novel writing and screenwriting at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. (email@example.com)
Are you wondering what the Greater Green Bay group is up to? Well, on September 7th at 11:30 a.m., at the 1951 Restaurant, the talented Randi Alexander is coming to town to help us learn to write steamy love scenes. Randi is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and she’s chosen to spend her valuable time with us! We couldn’t be more thrilled.
Here’s a little interview I did with Randi to get to know her better and to gain a little insight from her.
Q: What or who inspired you to write steamy romances?
A: I’ve always loved reading romance, since I was a teenager, and I soon realized I enjoyed the spicier books more than the ones with the closed bedroom doors. Writing books with a number and variety of love scenes – to me – is telling the whole story of a romantic relationship. What happens between the sheets gives us insight into our characters, sometimes in a way that non-love scenes can’t.
Q: Do you have any unusual writing rituals?
A: I do. I pull my hair up into a bun, put on comfortable clothes (usually a muu muu) then I have a snack before I start writing. Oh, and the room has to be very quiet.
Q: What for you constitutes ‘sexy?’
A: Sexy is not just a running description of what part he has where, what thing she’s doing to him, etc. Its scenes written with emotion that reveal our characters’ deepest feelings, scenes with lovingly detailed description of the physical connection between our characters, and long, sweet afterglow scenes where so much can go right…and wrong!
Q: Who is your favorite character from one of your stories and why?
A: I’m having a lingering girl-crush on the last character I wrote. In Saddle and a Siren (an August 11 release in Sable Hunter’s Hell Yeah! Kindle World) I made Kally Zappa a strong, competent rancher who cusses, handles 2,500 bulls, but is still sweet and funny enough to attract the undivided attention of Paramedic Clint Black. I began the story with this independent, capable woman finding herself vulnerable and in dire need of rescue, and made her first-responder fall crazy-in-love with every contradictory inch of her.
Q: What advice would you like to share with new writers?
More About the Program – Writing Sexy Love Scenes with Randi Alexander
Keep your readers engrossed in your stories by creating love scenes that are romantic, emotional, and sensually descriptive. In this interactive, hands-on workshop, we will focus on: 1) building sexual tension throughout your book, 2) producing physical love scenes and climaxes that are emotional, unique, and unforgettable, and 3) ways to give your readers the impact they crave during the quiet moments of afterglow snuggling. You’ll learn to ask yourself two easy questions as you write, and the answers to these questions will make every scene emotionally gripping, sensually gratifying, or both!
More About Randi
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Randi Alexander knows a modern woman dreams of an alpha cowboy who takes the reins, and guarantees they’re rode hard and put up satisfied. Published with Cleis Press, The Wild Rose Press, and self-published, Randi writes smokin’ hot romance with heroes who’ll have you begging to ride off into the sunset with them. When she’s not dreaming of, or writing about, rugged cowboys, Randi is biking trails along remote rivers, snorkeling the Gulf of Mexico, or practicing her drumming in hopes of someday forming a tropical rock-band.
Forever an adventurous spirit with a naughty imagination, Randi is also family-oriented and married to the best guy in the world, her own cowboy, Kick. Give in to the allure of erotic passion, strong but vulnerable heroines, and irresistibly seductive cowboys, as Randi’s emotional love stories sweep you off your feet and leave you breathless with passion.
Saddle up! And prepare yourself for the sexier side of happily ever after.
We can’t wait for Randi’s workshop!
Wednesday, September 7th, 11:30am
at 1951 Restaurant in Green Bay
For more information, contact Green Bay area coordinator Val Clarizio (valclarizio @ yahoo.com).
by WisRWA member Val Clarizio