Some friends and acquaintances have said that it must be nice writing fiction because I don’t have to do the research nonfiction requires. They have no idea.
For example, the setting requires research, maybe a visit. I have to acquaint myself with the geography, the scenery and the architecture--sometimes the colloquialisms and accent. Even when I choose a familiar setting, such as Maine, where I live, I have questions during the process of writing the book.
Recently, I’ve moved my stories onto a larger stage. In Breaking All the Rules, the hero and heroine go from Washington to New York City to a private Caribbean island. I had a lot of fun with creating the proper mood and details to make those places come alive. My August release, Deadly Memories, takes place in Italy, a country I haven't visited in many years. To research that setting, I sampled Italian wine and food (yum!), borrowed guide books and maps from my sister-in-law, and read books set in Italy. If you haven't read the mystery author Donna Leon, do pick up her books. Her detective is a Venice commissario, or police investigator. Not only are the mysteries intriguing, but you are immersed in Venetian culture and ambience.
I keep folders for the various topics needed for a given book, not just for the settings. Breaking All the Rules required folders on New York City, arms dealing, stolen uranium, luxury yachts, Caribbean plants and geology, and high-tech surveillance devices. For Deadly Memories I needed information on amnesia, the Italian language and slang, weapons-grade uranium, Etruscan tombs, and of course food and wine.
The Internet has made researching anything so easy that it's tempting not to do first-hand fact finding, like interviews and on-site visits. But there's nothing like being there to acquaint yourself with a place and people. In my next project, my museum-director heroine and adventurer hero must return a cursed Mayan figure to its temple in Central America. I've always been fascinated with the Maya, so it seemed logical to take a trip. My husband and I visited the Riviera Maya, with guided tours to two ancient ruin sites, Chichen Itzá and Cobá, as well as to a primitive village in the jungle of the Yucatan. Websites and books couldn't have given me the smells, sounds, and tastes of the region, nor the acquaintance of the smiling, friendly Mayan people. Think I was jazzed to write that book when I return? You bet!
Research is necessary for authenticity, but can be a trap. A writer must be careful not to make the book a dump for all she’s learned. The story is the characters and the plot, not the research. But you’d be amazed at the trivia I’ve accumulated!