“Did you have to do a lot of research?”
When I have opportunity to do an author interview, this is a common question. It arises because my Avenue of Dreams series is historical and my Valley of Choice series has an historical thread that intertwines the contemporary story. Readers I speak with in person are also curious about my research process.
I do get caught up in research! Sometimes I wander in far deeper than I need to for the point I’m looking for, but I can’t help it. One curiosity leads to another and there I am: distracted.
Here are some of my favorite ways to start the research process. Keep in mind that on any given project I’m likely to engage in all of these endeavors, and they wrap around each other.
1. Small museums. I can hardly drive through any small town without nosing out the local museum often housed in the historic home of a town founder or early leader. It’s like stepping into a snapshot and getting to look around while you’re in there.
2. Old books. I like the feel of an old book, a thorough record of tidbits I never would imagine were out there. A turn of phrase, a chapter title, a photo caption—the beginning of a story can rise from any of these.
3. Photos. That saying about a picture being worth a thousand words is so true! Whether I find the photo in a book, in a museum, or on the Internet, it’s akin to discovering gold in terms of helping to create a world.
4. True stories. The older I get, the more I appreciate the memories of my older family members and friends. They share perspectives of decades they lived through that I’ve only read about. Sometimes that gets me going on a trail backward through time to eras even before they lived, and I research something I would not have known about on my own.
5. Internet. Of course. You knew I was going to say that. But I left it till last for a reason. While the temptation is to start with the Internet with my feet up in a recliner, sometimes it makes more sense to find that museum or book or photo first, and then I know I’ll have a better idea what to put in the search bar when I’m ready for the Internet.
One thing leads to another, and the more I learn the more the story takes shape. Ultimately that is the destination of research, but it is lovely that the journey is so stimulating!