My story ideas usually start with the characters. And I always find that giving them a name helps solidify them in my mind. (Yelling at someone called Hey You can make several people perk up.) I always used http://www.babynames.com/ as my rule of thumb because you can search by a meaning (courage, dragon, etc.) and find names that go along with the topic. (Remember how I said I wanted all of the Dragons’ names in BELIEVE IN ME to reflect that? This is how I brainstormed the large number of names to christen them.) However, they have reorganized their site and it isn’t as user friendly as it used to be. While I was brainstorming CRASH INTO YOU (the novella I sent to Samhain) I stumbled across http://www.behindthename.com/ which not only gives the searcher the meaning, but also interesting bits of history about people associated with the name. (Try Samson or Maeve to see what I mean.)
Then my mind usually moves the characters around like chess pieces to determine what their conflicts are and how those situations will best show them as well as help engender their love. My settings for romane have ranged all over. One of the coolest I researched was Aachen, which is linked with Charlemagne, who showed up in the opening of JUST ONE LIFE .
I also enjoyed researching the herbs and home remedies I used for Ravin’s pastime in ALL I EVER WANTED. I’d give you a source, but most of what I learned came from books I borrowed from my aunt. My sister’s plethora of mythology books helped with my heroine (and leading line-up) in LOVEMAKER and one of her relationship self-help books planted the seed for the love techniques in PERFECTION NOT REQUIRED. Though I mooch others books, I do also comb my local library for sources. In fact, I was intrigued to learn that May Memorial (which I included a pic of in my June post) carried a reference book about witches. Hmmm…who knew?
Talking of witches, the most research I ever did was for JUST ONE LIFE, due to the historical settings and because I wanted to make sure that I did my spells and other witchly things correctly. I ended up with two 3-inch binders of information (though all of that didn’t make its way into the book). I kept them under my coffee table and was always worried a guest would come in and think, “Oh, reading material,” flip open the cover and see what was inside. Then of course I’d have to profess that I’m neither Wiccan nor an evil sorceress, though the characters I was molding like clay were.
At the end of writing the first draft, there always comes the time to go back to the highlighted or starred sections of my manuscript to make sure my MO or details are correct. For CRASH INTO YOU that meant hours of research about biker outfits, because if I’d described something that wasn’t available (since this is set in present day) the reader would go, “What?” and possibly chuck the book. Since a writer never wants the reader to come out of the world they’ve built, I had to do a little digging. In the end, I found out I was wrong and had to change the hero and heroine’s first meeting accordingly. For the novella, I also had to do car research (since my bf ultimately got tired of my gazillion questions).
While I was working out the nit-picky issues my editor marked on edits of TIES OF VALOR, I did a lot of looking at http://www.wikipedia.org/. It was one-stop shopping for questions about windspeed for aircraft, vortexes versus sandstorms and what used to be held in ancient silos. (I know it’s a strange combination.) I’ve also learned from a fellow writer that http://www.wikihow.com/ exists to tell people how things are or should be done.
When I was writing about NY in LOVEMAKER, I hadn’t been there in twenty years. So I went to their official website which was a portal into the city. I was able to find out tons about the city that never sleeps including train schedules, visitor info, where to be and what to see. One of the coolest things I discovered were street cams like this one where you can actually see what’s taking place in almost realtime.
Overall, I think the most fun I’ve ever had with research was creating codes and learning about spy techniques for DECODER & THE WORLD OF YESTERDAY. Of course, I started with juvenile how-to books, then worked my way up. My bf gave me very strange looks when I went on a hunt for packets of lemon juice to test my theories of using everyday items to concoct hidden codes. While researching DECODER, I also got the 411 on texting language and a bit of Leetspeak.
With all of this knowledge tucked away in my brain (and harddrive), I guess I truly am a jack of many trades, but master of none like my ex-boss said.