Friday, June 11, 2010

The Lure of Research Part I

When I first wrote for publication, I sucked at research. I admit it. I never really learned how to use a university library. I'm a nurse. Nurses didn't really read extensively on a subject. We played with things. To make it worse, I'm a triage nurse. Kind of like a Jeopardy champion. We know a little about everything, but a lot about nothing. One of my friends likened our intellects to oil slicks. Because there was just so much we had to deal with, we only learned as much as we needed to across a breadth of knowledge that can be, quite literally, staggering.

So, when I wrote my first book, a Silhouette entitled PLAYING THE GAME, I basically wrote Singing in the Rain with me and Tom Selleck, set it in St. Louis, where I live, and made the heroine a nurse. It was the trifecta of no research. I figured that I knew how to write (been doing it since I was ten), but I didn't know how to research. So I'd write about subjects I knew until I could learn how to research subjects I didn't.

All in all, the plan served me quite well. I did made one almost disastrous mistake. Before I was ready (I could wipe on, but couldn't wipe off), I tried to write a historical romance set at the very beginning of World War II (no, the fact that nobody reads books set in World War II wasn't that mistake. It was another one). I set out to learn what I could about Europe at the moment Hitler invaded Poland in August of 1939. I got books. I trolled the library. I found myself absolutely fascinated by the history involved. And after months of this, I actually heard myself thinking, "Well, this information is vital to how the continent came to be the way it was when Hitler rose to power. I have to start the book farther back." The information was the Treaty of Versailles. Which was signed in 1919.

I put away my books and notecards and ideas until I could figure out how to discipline myself around interesting information. I wrote another book set in an Emergency Department. I wrote a book set in Hawaii, where I'd been on vacation. I wrote one in Alton, Illinois, which is right upriver, and deals with an author of children's books. No. Not exactly a huge stretch.

It was the suspenses I write that broke me free. First of all, I still got to set them in the Emergency Department. I set the hospitals in St. Louis. And since I don't have to do an inordinate amount of research on either, I got to spend my time learning forensics (okay, so it also helped me keep my nursing license up to date) (and I'd been fascinated with forensics since I was a pup in training). I got to talk to really interesting people (detectives, medical examiners, arson investigators) and play with things (lock picks, dead bodies--and no, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. I'm not Dexter--guns). It was wonderful. I began to appreciate research. The problem is, I began to fall in love with it.

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