The title quote, by cartoonist Stan Sakai, says it all for me. But what some people don't understand is research isn't what they think it is. They have this idea of sitting in a musty old library, surrounded by boring research books that are eight inches thick and will put you to sleep just by cracking the cover.
But while you can do it that way, I'd rather take a more active approach to research. To me, research isn't an activity. It's a lifestyle. Zora Neale Hurston, the famous American folklorist, anthropologist, and author said that... Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.
And I agree with this, 100%. Whenever I research a book I'll use anything that I can to make my world--whether it be a contemporary, fantasy, historical or a sci-fi--completely believable. And my favorite way to do it, is to go out and explore that world personally.
Now granted, I can't journey to the fictitious Mayall II, in the Upsilon Andromedae Gallexia where I set my upcoming book, Justifiable Sins. But I CAN go to NASA in Cape Canaveral, Florida and experience the exhibits there to get a feel for space travel. And I can go to the observatory at the Space Center in Singapore and explore their interactive display on planets, galaxies, and stars.
For me that's the best kind of research. Getting my feet wet and REALLY becoming a part of the story. I made a promise to myself years ago when I sent in my first story to be published that I would only write about a place I have experienced personally. So when you read one of my books, you can be assured I've actually been to those areas I speak about.
But what if it's a fantasy or, as I mentioned above, a sci-fi? I can't really go to the Upsilon Andromedae Gallexia, nor can I go beyond the faerie mist as I did in my bestseller, Eyes of Fire. But I CAN dream up those worlds and then find a place that I've been or will go to that fits the description of what I've imagined. For example, Justifiable Sins', Myall II was based on the Mojave desert in California, and The Mylari Chronicles: Eyes of Fire's faerie world was based on the California redwood forest.
I've wandered, explored and camped in both. Learned what I needed to make the worlds in my books not only sound real, but feel real as well. For me, that is the most important part of a story. Making it FEEL like a place that really exists.
I just finished up a book where part of the story is set during the French Revolution and the other part is set in one of the most famous graveyards in the world. To research that, I spent time in Paris. (remember I'm traveling with Cirque du Soleil) I went to museums where they spoke about the "Terror", I visited the site of the Bastille, I toured the catacombs and graves of King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette, and visited the palaces where they lived. I spent hours at Père-Lachaise, the biggest cemetery in Paris, getting the perfect spooky ambiance I wanted to portray.
And I loved every single second. What other job can you do where you can travel, explore, and enjoy so many different experiences and still call it work?
Just yesterday I visited the Fashion Museum here in Antwerp, Belgium. It had all kinds of historical women's fashions from the 1700s through the mid 1900s. Seeing them...actually being able to look close at how they were made will really help me describe the clothing in the historical book I'm thinking about setting here.
Research doesn't have to be stuffy or boring or unnecessary. Like Ms. Hurston said, it's got a purpose. To satisfy your curiosity. And the nicest thing about research is it can be fun.
All you have to do is find a way to make it so.
Until next month...