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Friday, March 11, 2011

The cost of research

Above my desk, I have a sign that says (in dark, frightening capitals): WRITE - DON’T RESEARCH.
Many people believe that knowledge is free. Take it from me - they’re lying. 
Years ago, researching stuff for my stories was easy. It meant jumping in the car and driving to the local library. I’d set off with a long list of questions and return home with a long list of answers. Easy and inexpensive. 
These days, when anything I need to know is only a couple of mouse clicks away, it costs me a small fortune.
This isn’t to say I have anything against research. I know it’s a necessary tool for a writer. We all have to get our facts straight, right? Write about what you know, they say. Well, yes, I wish I could, but it’s not every night that a murderer drops in for dinner. 
Like it or not, every writer has to do some research. And for me, it’s frighteningly expensive.
Take yesterday, for example. I was working on an outline for a future Dylan Scott mystery. The story involves a brief (very brief) mention of a rented beach cottage in France so, of course, I needed to check it out, didn’t I? Two hours later, I’m telling my husband that I’ve found the perfect place for our next holiday.
For a book with my other publisher, I needed to find out all I could about expensive, handmade chocolates. My bank account - and waistline - is still recovering from that particular piece of research.
Another idea I have involves a wine connoisseur and that’s a truly terrifying thought…
What about you? How do you cope with research? Are you good - or does your credit card take a hammering?

22 comments:

Debs Carr said...

I'm researching an historical novel at the moment and can't wait to go to London to do a little research (next month) and then Paris later in the year (being taken as a treat, so not costing me anything) to do more there.

I tend to buy books more than anything when I research, but I'm going to have to think of a reason to invest in more chocolate.

MaureenAMiller said...

Research can be costly, there's no doubt about that. Although I like Amy Atwell's research. She goes to Las Vegas all the time! :) Depending on how strong you are, that HAS to be costly.

Barbara said...

My best research consisted of 2 days in Stratford with a visit to the theatre thrown in. Remember it's tax deductable!

Shirley Wells said...

Debs - I couldn't risk writing historicals. I'd fill my house with vintage furniture and fabrics.
Enjoy Paris. I once went to Italy for research. Ah, wonderful!

Maureen - Las Vegas? Hmm, there's a thought. And I'm not strong at all. :)

Shirley Wells said...

Barbara - it's ages since I went to the theatre at Stratford. That's a real treat.
Yes, thank goodness it's all tax deductible!

PD Singer said...

Giggle -- that's how I justify half my skiing, and all of my book purchases! It's research.

Toni Anderson said...

Shirley--did I tell you I attended the Writers' Police Academy in North Carolina last year--for research? Or that I have so many books on so many different subjects I WANT to write about I don't have time to read them? Why aren't research books $6.99 The one I desperately want is over $130.
The great thing about my life (LOL) is that I try and use the places I'm going/been to set my stories. Which means I'm way behind on France but have a kickass idea for Vancouver Island. And Australia. sigh.

Wynter Daniels said...

That's funny! I'm pretty good about not taking my research to the in-person level. I did take a trip to Savannah to research the city as the backdrop for a story I wrote a few years ago, but it's only 5 hours away and the family was due for a vacation!

Maria Zannini said...

LOL. That's diabolical, Shirley. I think I'll have to tell my husband that we MUST go to Italy this year. :)

Elise Warner said...

I tend to get carried away when I research--sometmes getting so interested in another aspect of the subject that I come up with another new article. Spend time in the library and check facts with people who know. When I needed to find out about French coins in the 15th C., I found a numismatic group that kindly helped me out. Usually, for me, a vacation leads to an article or short story.

Marcelle Dubé said...

I see that I've been doing this research thing all wrong. I've been using books (yes, expensive ones, Toni) and the internet and my friendly neighborhood library. From now on, however, I plan to GO on site to do the research. Wish I'd thought of that BEFORE I wrote the Moroccan thriller...

Shirley Wells said...

PD - Oh yes, I claim that all my books are for research. We have to keep reminding ourselves how it's done. ;)

Toni - that's the trouble with books for research. I have dozens on forensic science and psychology that were ridiculously expensive.
Australia? What a coincidence. I have a brilliant idea for a story set there too. ;)

Wynter - Visiting places that feature in a story should be obligatory. As should buying all books about the place. And buying a whole new wardrobe for the visit... ;)

Shirley Wells said...

Maria - Ah yes, Italy. It's about time I went again. Hmm, must jot down an idea for the Italian book. :)

Elise - How great to find the numismatic group. I had a lot of help from a local history group and I must admit that police officers are always keen to help out.
I'm usually very good in that when I travel, I make sure I get an article or a story out of it. I really should stick to researching in the library though.

Marcelle - Ha! You can't smell the heat of a place unless you go there. Or buy all the lovely souvenirs... :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm pretty good about not spending money but I do spend time. The library would at least close at night so I couldn't stay up to all hours researching.

Jayne said...

Good post! Back when I was researching my novel, I paid out for books I just 'had' to have, DVDs to help research, DVDs that blatantly didn't help research, eBay items to check ancient tube maps to prevent an Embarrassing Mistake (let's not go there), and all sorts of other things. Most I needed, to be fair. Probably not the box-set of '24' though. :)

Julie Moffett said...

I'm a research junkie. I really like to have an authentic feel, so I research A LOT! Some requires travel, must most I do online, in the library or interviewing people (I'm a former journalist). Great post!

Pauline Barclay said...

Smiling at your research and the need to confirm it is what it should be...enjoy the wine research...hic! x

Clare London said...

*lol* I can see your problem!

I've been accused in the past of my writing being very "stage-y" i.e. all in a couple of rooms and a limited number of scenes.

But now I can say it's because I'm saving the research costs LOL!

Shirley Wells said...

Susan - Yes, the library closes and I found that meant I didn't/couldn't get distracted on all the interesting, but irrelevant stuff. :)

Jayne - I'm sure the box set of 24 came in very useful. Ah, if only we could just buy the stuff we need. If I look up anything to do with Italy, you can bet your life that, within 5 minutes, I'm looking at a website that sells gorgeous handbags. :)

Julie - I so love interviewing people. And I just love it when research involves travel. Great to go somewhere new - all in the name of work.

Shirley Wells said...

Pauline - You know me. I'll put my heart and soul into researching all those wonderful wines. ;)

Clare - LOL. Now, if they said that to me, I'd be setting scenes in chocolate factories or vineyards. And, um, I'd be broke. ;)

Mike Keyton said...

Google Earth street view of Rome, heating turned up and a bottle of cheap Chianti. Who needs the hassle of airports?

Shirley Wells said...

Mike - that sounds like the perfect night in. :)

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