How do you perform your research before starting a new book?

Well, title says it all. As I´m preparing to start writing my very first book I´m curious about what tools you guys are using when doing reserach. Do you visit the places you are going to write about and if so, what do you observe and how do you document your observations? Is there other good ways of research something than simply Googleing it (Google scares me)? Tell me every last detail, please...:)

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Good for you, Sanna. Welcome to Crimespace.

I.J.--yikes.
My apologies again. I had no idea you are Swedish and writing in Swedish.
Ha ha, it´s ok, I totally agree with you that controlling the language you are writing in is important.
They don't think you're a freak. They say, "oh, you're a writer. I've always wanted to write. I have the best book idea. How about I give you the idea, and you write it? We'll split the millions!"
Wow that sounds lovely indeed! :D
Well, what I have written is pretty much autobiographical and has been written from memory. And since 25% of my life has been spent in a drug and alcohol addled haze I often have to re-visit the settings - I have to check street names I have walked down a thousand times. Although I must say, most of the dive bars I spent my time in have now been demolished - the internet has been useful on this score.

In addition to this I do believe if you're going to set a book in a real place, yes: you need to soak up that environment. At least that is, if auhenticity is something you are after.

I am never without my Moleskine notebook these days. And I wish I'd always carried it with me. But when your one single life goal is to nullify your existence one does not consider such things.

Of course, if a book is set in 1794, then visiting the location will make little difference.
I'm very lucky this time out to be getting some support from my university. I wrote a grant this fall for funding to hire a student researcher, and I've got him doing some pretty edgy stuff--he's going down to Madison soon to talk first-hand with an ATF agent about arson investigation, for instance. He's also looking into the history of arson in Provincetown, MA, which is extensive, the physics of fire, DIY explosives, etc. If we run out of stuff for him to do on those fronts, I've got a UFO sub-plot in this one, so he'll start researching alien abduction stories. I love it--frees me up to write--I ask a question and I get a highlighted document back with an abstract stapled to the front. A little taste of how the other half lives.

My U also gave me some travel money to go out to the Cape and do a bit of research on my own--had a great time, talked to a lot of people, spent a couple of days in the library, took lots of pictures, etc. Really useful--just getting the regional speech rhythms back in my head was a huge help.
Wow! That's incredibly generous of the institution. Congrats. (Never got a penny from anyone, not while I was teaching, and not even for literary research).
It surprised me, I have to say. But I write a wicked good grant, and they've gone out of their way to honor the novels in the past, I think because of the national attention they've gotten (not a whole lot of high-profile creative work here--it's mostly a teaching university, with heavy course-loads, etc.). My department is a slightly different story--some of my tenured colleagues have sniffed a bit at the fact that it's genre, you know. My department chair likes to make cracks about how I'm "cranking them out"--stuff like that. People think I'm making a whole lot more money than I am, too. I wish!
Ah, yes. It sounds familiar. Anyway, enjoy!
For locations, I sometimes go to the city where the story will take place and, frankly, wander around with a digital camera. Take a few pictures, some notes. Nothing definite in mind, but you never know when it will come in handy. (And, once in a while, I'll look at a building and say, "Aha! That's Nick's office!")

As for interviews, I've done them over the phone and via email with excellent results. It's amazing how many people will take the time to help you. I was researching recovered memories on the internet once and came across the name of one of the leading experts. I dug a little deeper and found her listing at the university where she taught. Got her email address and sent her a note. We arranged a phone call and she talked to me for half an hour between her classes one day. Disabused me of a couple of ideas, confirmed one, and was generally a pleasure to talk to.

Once I emailed a man I found on a web site, to ask the difference between tracking and trailing dogs. I hoped for a couple of sentences. He replied with an email that ran three pages when I printed it, with things I would never have thought to ask.

The key is to be prepared, have things lined up in advance. I once did a cold call on some private investigators, I received a tepid welcome until they saw I wasn't just there to bullshit, but had a written list of questions and was taking notes. By the time we were done, they were telling me stories and pitching ideas over beers at the local bar. Great stuff.
This is a difficult question because there are so many ways to gather material. I do a lot of research for my mysteries, as I had to do for my historical novels. I make a list of all the things I need to learn about, knowing that I'll be doing very targeted research as soon as I begin drafting. I rely on books first, and use the public library and my college library to find material specific to the story before turning to the Internet. For example, in BLEEDER, I needed to learn about police procedure and police interogation techniques, and I found good books on this. I needed medical information and used WebMD to research leukemia and other blood diseases. To research the mystical phenomenon of stigmata, I used Google and the Catholic Encyclopedia online had the best info. I needed to learn about Catholic liturgy during Holy Week and an interview with a local parish priest was all I needed. I needed to learn about the process the Church uses to canonize saints and I found some good books about that. For VIPER, I needed to learn about Aztec myths and I found many good books in the library about this. I needed info on Marian apparitions and especially Our Lady of Guadalupe and found many good books about this. I had to learn how to fix a 1969 Dodge charger and my college library has a database for this. The toughest thing was learning what it is like to be a Mexican-American woman and I did a lot of Internet browsing for this, along with some books and interviews with Latinas. I subscribed to Latina Magazine. I feel like I'm wandering here - I guess my point is that at the beginning, the research is largely about the story premise and other background about police work or detective work and forensics, and much of this I get from books. Along the way, I need to get very specific and the Internet becomes more convenient then.
John
http://www.johndesjarlais.com

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