I write about geeks and brainiacs, so it's not surprising that I'm often asked how much technical research is required for my books. Do I research it or do I make it up?
Well, the answer is (drum roll)…I research. A lot. Since my heroine is a hacker and her closest friends are brilliant computer nerds, I know I have to get it right. Lucky for me, my immediate family is full of geeks. I bounce ideas off of them once I have an overall plot in place. I ask dozens of questions about computers, networks, hardware and software. Not only do I need to know the types of computers my geeks would use, but how they would use them. Moreover, my characters can't just act like nerds, they have to talk like nerds, too. So I listen, eavesdrop, and make mental notes when members of my family discuss computers and technology issues. I purchased the New Hacker’s Dictionary (yes, there really is such a book!) and read it so my characters could speak in actual geek lingo. In terms of the technology, I know where I want to go and I have tons of ideas, but alas, many of my hopeful scenarios have been squashed because they weren’t technologically feasible. But I don't give up. I quiz my family ad nauseam until I find something that works.
In terms of the spy stuff...well, I almost joined the CIA
right out of college. (I opted instead for international journalism.) I got an M.A. in International Affairs with a specialty in Russian Language from George Washington University in Washington, DC. I attended a year of grad school at the University of Warsaw in Poland behind the Iron Curtain when it was still the Cold War. As a student, I smuggled out Solidarity pamphlets and letters to officials in the West. Eventually, I worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and disseminated information that helped topple the Berlin Wall. So, yeah, I really, really dig the spy stuff.
Have I made things up for my series? Um, yeah. Some. The novels are fiction, after all. But the devil is in the details. I really do try to make it as plausible and accurate as I can while providing a fun, light and entertaining read. But I do love to research!
So, how about you? How important is accurate research in making a story both believable and enjoyable? Can you tell when an author hasn’t done his/her homework? If you are an author, how much emphasis do you put on research?