Not long ago, I blogged about how writers, whenever possible, should do first-hand research on the setting of their books. By seeing it yourself, you not only get the atmosphere of the setting, you can get the layout of the land, the slang of the people, even the feel of the city. Austin and Dallas are not that far apart physically, but I can’t imagine Dallas having the motto: Keep Dallas Weird. The two cities have a very different “feel” to them.
Sometimes you can’t do the actual research yourself. Or what you need to know is not available on the Internet or it’s available but you’re not sure you can trust it. Sometimes you have to turn to friends.
Now here I’m going to tell you something you might find calculating or perhaps even distasteful -- write things down. You’re already keeping a contact list, right? Shoot, no one’s mind is so good you can remember everyone you’ve ever met, so you undoubtedly have a contact list somewhere. What you may not be doing is making notes in that list. Under the listing for your good bud Lawrence Boozer, you note that his daughter Vodka Boozer is a paramedic and his grandmother Tipsy Boozer used to be a dancer on Broadway. Right now you have no need to know the slang and life of a paramedic or what Broadway used to be like in 1940, but should you ever need that information, you’d have a “first-hand” source to ask.
If I need to know about life on a ranch, I’d turn to my uncle. But if I wanted to know about life on a huge ranch, I’d turn to a friend. He doesn’t have a ranch, but he has a good friend who does. I’ve never met my friend’s friend, but I know he exists because my friend talks about him. And I’ve noted that relationship in my contact list.
I have three sisters, but if I wanted to know about life in a big family, I’d turn to another friend. She has so many brothers and sisters, if I didn’t have their names in my contact list, I’d never remember them. I’m surprised she can.
If I wanted to know about electronic voting machines, how they can be manipulated, how they’re set up and what goes on long before and after voting day, I’d turn to another friend. Although he lives in another part of the country, he’s told stories that make me shiver.
Sometimes I’ve needed medical information. In that case, I turn to my cousin. She, a nurse, and her husband, a doctor, have been helpful. And they don’t seem to mind my crazy questions. Family ties are wonderful.
If I need to know about day-to-day life in Los Angeles, New York, Minnesota, El Paso, Sheridan, Phoenix, Mississippi, Alaska, and on and on, I have people I can turn to.
I have sources because I try to note things that may one day be of interest to me. Unless you are just obnoxious with your questions, this is not a distasteful thing to do. You probably already do it. Maybe not book questions but you turn to people you know with other questions – because you think they will know the answers. But if you don’t note the name and connection of the friend of a friend of a second-cousin who is a veterinarian specializing in hippo digestive systems, how will you know who to turn to when you write that romantic suspense book about the vet at the San Diego Zoo?
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