Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Researching a Setting You Already Know Well


Romance writer Pamela S. Meyers is a coauthor with me in a couple of novella collections, so I can tell you for a fact: this woman knows what she's talking about. I'm honored that she would join us on AuthorCulture and share some of her secrets in researching.

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, she lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her works include the novels Thyme for Love, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin,  and Second Chance Love, and a novella, What Lies Ahead, in the Romance collection, "The Bucket List Dare." When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.

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For me, researching for a novel is a love/hate activity. I love all the interesting facts I learn, but hate the time it takes to do the research. I just want to start writing and not go through all the preliminaries. It’s even harder when I am already very familiar with the setting because I tend to think, what more is there for me to know? A lot, so I’ve learned.

Several years ago, I wrote Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, which is set in my hometown. Since the story takes place in 1933, I couldn’t write what I knew from when I grew up there or how it is now. The best place to learn about the town in 1933 was through microfilms of the weekly newspaper from that time. Hours were spent at the microfilm machine at the town library, meticulously going over every page, including advertisements and want-ads. I needed to make sure the stores I remembered as a child were there in 1933. (Surprisingly, many were, but others were not.) I also made note of what movie was playing when my characters go to a movie and found clips on the internet to watch.

The other facts I needed for the story regarded the construction of the new recreational building at the lakeshore. Known as the Riviera, the structure figures predominately in my story. I’d grown up seeing the building almost every day, but never knew how many bricks are in the Riviera (70,000) or that an interesting surprise went into the naming of the building. If I hadn’t done such a thorough job of researching, this surprising fact might never have come to my attention.

In my current release, Second Chance Love, is set at a rodeo that takes place in southern Illinois every Labor Day weekend. I’ve attended the rodeo annually for over ten years, but I didn’t let my sitting in the stands as a fan all those years be my only resource. Last September, I investigated all parts of the arena, to be sure I had the description correct. On Saturday morning, I went to the empty arena and video taped the arena from all angles and asked questions.

I also had to be sure I had the descriptions of the town and outlying areas as correct as possible. My friend and I drove the routes my characters would take to get from one place to the other. I also took pictures of the interiors of restaurants and studied their menus, making notes right down to what my characters ordered when they dined there.

There is always poetic license, which allows an author to insert things from their imagination, but I wanted my story to be as accurate as possible. One place I did not enter to see what the interior looks like is the local hospital. I didn’t feel comfortable asking to see their ER exam rooms and their surgical waiting room. I made sure to state in my author notes in the book that the hospital interior is from my imagination.

So, just to recap:

  • Search through the library's microfiche for fun facts: the movies showing during your story's era, the songs that were popular, the fashions, foods, and hot topics.
  • Look for specifics: when relevant buildings were constructed to keep your novel authentic to the time, what stores existed during your time frame.
  • Go to the site with a camera and a notepad. Take pictures, learn terms. Gather sensory information.
  • Investigate the town as a whole and its outlying regions. Travel the routes you character will travel, visit the restaurants and stores. 
  • If you have the courage to do so, explore the interiors of places generally considered off-limits. If you can't make up the setting--put that artistic license to use.
This is the same as researching a place you've never seen before, but it's important not to rely on your memory about places you know well. Go the extra mile in your fact gathering. It'll pay off.

I think my next story should be set in a place I’ve never been to. Hawaii sounds like an intriguing location. I could do a lot of research there over a couple week’s time.

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Second Chance Love by Pamela S. Meyers

Chicago lawyer Sydney Knight and Texas bull rider Jace McGowan have nothing in common but everything to lose when they are thrust together during a weekend rodeo in rural Illinois. Neither one of them would have imagined two years ago that the deep attraction they sensed during a day-long outing would resurface when Sydney’s boss assigns her to Jace’s legal case.

Sydney has been through a world of hurt since losing her dad when she was sixteen, then being dumped the morning of her wedding. She’s sworn off romance and instead devotes her time toward a partnership in her father’s law office.

Jace has found faith in God and wants out of his sponsor contract with a risqué restaurant chain that requires him to pose with scantily-clad women. He’s about to bail on the contract and pay steep penalties—something he can ill afford, given that his deceased father left the family with unpaid taxes.

Sydney is determined she’ll get Jace out of his contract and return to Chicago with her heart intact, but Jace is just as determined to help her see they are meant to be together. Can a city girl with roots deep in Chicago and a bull-riding rancher with roots deep in Texas give themselves a second-chance love?
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5 comments:

  1. Helpful information! Thanks Pamela:)

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  2. Pam, great article! I'm sure that actually seeing anew the places you already know about brings an immediacy to your writing, as well as updates (or backdates, as the case may be) that provide accuracy. Thanks so much!

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. The best road trip I have ever taken was researching for my historical novel! I happened across Captain Marcy's diary. He had a map of the southern route he charted for a safer, faster, journey for those heading to California to seek gold. It was open in 1850. I followed that map and it was fantastic! Great info and imagination ghosts. :)

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