Monday, January 14, 2013

Research: Zip It! - by Camille Minichino


Please welcome guest blogger and dear friend, mystery author Camille Minichino. Camille has published seventeen novels, short stories, and articles. Her three series are: The Periodic Table Mysteries; the Miniature Mysteries (as Margaret Grace); and the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (as Ada Madison). Visit http://www.minichino.com.
Thanks to one of my favorite authors for welcoming me to the Silver Rush Mysteries blog!

If you've ever read a Silver Rush mystery, you know how much research blog hostess Ann Parker does! She makes me so happy that I don't have to worry about when zippers were invented. As a test, I looked it up and found out that a patent for the zipper was issued in 1893, and called a "clasp locker." But that's just one piece of information from one site. Ann and her ilk would collect at least 6 more references, compare and contrast, combine all the data, and then spend another month researching whether everyone used zippers or only the 1%. See what I mean? Not for me, but I'm glad someone does it.

But contemporary settings have their own problems with research. All of the books in my three series are set in modern times, the earliest only 16 years ago. You can carry your smartphone, with its Notes app and camera up and down the streets of a town, recording the names of streets and the foliage, but there's no guarantee that it will be the same tomorrow, and it's even less likely that it will be the same when the book is released.

Even the directions to my house have changed in the last 10 years. We used an enormous eucalyptus as the landmark to indicate which driveway to turn into. But—who would have thought?—the sick tree was put out of its misery last summer and all that's left is a large-diameter stump, apparently a big attraction as a picnic table for the nearby high schoolers. In this sense, writers of historical fiction don't know how easy they have it. If they have a photo of a eucalyptus at the head of the street in 1880, they can count on it as they write it into their story, even use it as a plot element (who killed the eucalyptus?); no one can go back in time and remove it from 1880. Wait—did eucalyptuses even exist in 1880? (Here we go again. Where does it end?)

The dangers of "too much research" are present in both historical and contemporary novels. "Write what you know" takes us only so far.
If we write to explain our research, the story will die like that high school history class taught by the football coach (oops, that was my high school). If we write to discover, learning on the way ourselves, the story will live.

Instead of a story about zippers, we'll have a story about people whose lives are different from the lives of those who don't have zippers.

NOTE: Camille/Ada is giving away copies of her latest Sophie Knowles mystery: A FUNCTION OF MURDER. Leave a comment below to qualify for the drawing, then check back end of the week to find out if you are the lucky winner...

25 comments:

llk10 retired said...

As usual,Camille/Ada, a great post. I am enjoying following your blog tour.

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks, llk -- it's fun to travel around this way!

Ann Parker said...

Welcome, Camille! It's always fun to read your posts. And you're right about research of contemporary vs historical settings... The past is "fixed" (well, in some ways, such as trees and so on), but the "present" is a moving target.

Susan C Sha said...

There are dangers in not doing enough research. We've all head authors lament the smart reader who knows that the old mansion in the center of town is now a mortuary! Zippers, though...Ann's science writing has taught her good research methods.

Dana Fredsti said...

I find that I've gone from no research to over-researching and trying to use just enough detail to keep it authentic/real, and keep savvy (and picky) readers from finding big, glaring errors...

Camille Minichino said...

Certainly a science or any scholarly research background helps, Susan. Dangers on both ends, as Dana points out. It seems it's harder today because of the multitude of sources - which are legit? which are mash-ups?

Malena said...

This was a fun post for me because Ann and Camille, you are two of my favorite authors. I anxiously await the next book in both of your series. I always enjoy historical details as long as the author doesn't put everything she learned about the time or the item in the story. Three pages on zippers would get boring fast.
Thanks both of you for posting and hosting!

Priscilla said...

Never thought of that, Camille, but writing contemporary may be harder. If I have a 30 year period, I can assume, evidence to contrary, that a certain tree would be there the whole time. In a contemporary book, there will be someone who writes to say that they KNEW it was cut down one year before since they watched it fall. Wow. I think I will stick with the really, really historical! As always, your blogs are a delight...

Camille Minichino said...

Nice to see you here, Malena (and I paid my SinC dues, so I know it's not to nag :) .)

Priscilla, I got caught many years ago with a "real" setting where a street had switched from two-way to one-way. Funny that my next 2 series are set in fictitious towns where I get to say how the streets run, and leave them that way!

Linda said...

Great post Camille, and I agree that the research is important, but oversharing it in a story can get boring fast--that's why I enjoy authors like you and Ann ;-)

And you had a history class "taught" by the football coach, too? Mine was a hoot--he taught world history so showed us Greek/Roman myth movies all semester (Jason and the Argonauts, anyone?)...we never even got to Hadrian's Wall LOL. Even decades later, I remember and laugh.

Camille Minichino said...

Our history class was a long list of names and dates. I remember that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066.

I have no idea who the Hastings were or what they fought over! :=)

Sounds like your experience, Linda!

Other Lisa said...

Very interesting! Me, I generally go the "two much research" route, because I don't think it's too much. It's like that 7/10th of an iceberg, or whatever it is (not gonna research that!) -- maybe you only use a little bit on the surface, but I think it grounds your work in greater authenticity.

Llyn Kaimowitz said...

Love your books, Camille, and glad to discover yours, Ann. Speaking of discovery, I liked your closing, Camille, about writing to discover -- a great tip to help us keep our writing in perspective.
Llyn K.

Patty said...

Loved this -- as a reference Librarian I know the value of good research. I'm often accused of spending too long on a question but if someone wants to know the answer I want to do my best to find it!

Camille Minichino said...

I can't remember that fraction either, Lesa, but I know it's small for me. One binder of information equals a line in book!

We all want writers like Llyn and librarians like Patty!

Camille Minichino said...

An independent panel of judges is at work choosing 2 recipients of A FUNCTION OF MURDER.

Camille Minichino said...

OOPS, the judges apologize for jumping in too soon. Commenters have until the end of the week.

Judy Dee said...

Every time I see a periodic element table, I think of you, Camille. I never took chemistry or physics, so your books are lessons. I love miniatures but I've yet to read one in your series, but I'm hopeful. I'm writing a biography and my memoir so I'm research addicted and often get off track, discovering new stuff. If I learn something about history in a mystery, that's such a plus. Thanks for the helpful tips and contest. This is my first time to this blog.

Jane Kirkpatrick said...

Another trial for contemporary writers is that readers all bring some experience to Starbucks, let's say or smartphone usage. Historical writers in some ways create those details and the experience readers will have with them. I've only written one contemporary and think those who do are wizards indeed! Jane Kirkpatrick

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks for the good words, Judy. It's always great to meet someone new and I'm glad you took physics through my books :=)

Jane, what a good point! Writers of historicals probably never get "that's not how my Starbucks looks!"

Ann Parker said...

Thanks everyone for checking in... :-) There's still one more day to comment and be eligible to win a copy of A FUNCTION OF MURDER! Winner will be chosen sometime later in the day on Friday.

kathy betty said...

So glad I found this blog!! Just love staying up to date with the silver rush mysteries!!

Ann Parker said...

Hello Kathy! Glad to see you here! And everyone else too, of course. :-)
I'm planning to post regularly on Mondays. That will give me the weekend to pull something together. This coming Monday I'm talking about cures for insomnia, circa 1880.
Fun!

Ann Parker said...

And the lucky winner of a copy of A FUNCTION OF MURDER is... [drumroll] .. PATTY! :-)
Camille will be in touch to send you your book.
Thanks everyone for dropping in.
Come back on Monday for a ramble through some of the 19th century "cures" for insomnia!

Camille Minichino said...

It was great to visit. Thanks for hosting, Ann.

As an insomniac for most of my adult life, I can hardly wait for your next post!