02 February 2011

Research 101: Interviews

For those of us who don’t write fantasy or Sci-Fi, research is imperative. We need to know our settings, eras, props–anything that could ruin our credibility should it be discovered that we didn’t do our research. Even things we think we know or we think people won’t notice.

For instance, I once read about a man who stopped reading a police-procedural novel when the author had his character “throw the safety” of his Glock. Glocks don’t have safeties of the type the author described.

And another: I read a book set in the Texas Hill Country in which the author describes her MC discovering prairie dog holes. The part of Texas where her story occurs is too rocky for prairie dogs.

Or this one: an author of one of my most recent reads used the word “cronies” in a book set during the Roman era. That word didn’t appear in the English lexicon until the 17th Century.

Readers notice when the author is lazy.

When I was doing the research for Give the Lady a Ride, a romance in which my female lead learns how to ride bulls (actual bulls, not the silly little bucking machine), I wanted to know more about bull riding and bull raising. Between my house in East Texas and my mother’s in the Brazos Valley is a rodeo ranch, and during one of my drives down to Mom’s, I swung off the highway on a whim, crossed over the cattle guard, and parked in front of the ranch office. Before I took the time to think how crazy I was, I marched inside and requested an interview with the owner.

I got it.

We made an appointment for the next day, and I showed up right on time. He spent a good hour with me, explaining everything I needed to know, even inviting me back to watch them “buck the babies,” a private, invitation-only event where they put the one- to three-year-old calves in the arena to show off their bucking abilities.

This is Lesson Number One in research: Don’t be afraid to ask for an interview. People love to talk about the things that hold their passion.

Before you conduct your interview, have a clear idea what you want to ask. Having your questions written is a terrific help. Be sure to leave plenty of space for the answers and extra questions those answers inspire.

Be thoughtful of your interviewee’s time. Conduct the interview in an organized fashion and try not to extend it over an hour. You may wish to make an appointment for a follow-up interview.

A show of appreciation is nice–not necessary, but nice–and it goes a long way in creating good will and possibly gaining at least one new reader. I sent the ranch owner a CD of cowboy poetry, a genre entirely different from anything else and truly appreciated only by those who wear the hats and boots–or those, like me, who wish they did.

WARNING: Shameless Plug Time!

Don’t forget to check out my blog, 777 Peppermint Place. I’m holding a give-away every Wednesday until Give the Lady a Ride debuts in March. Leave a comment to enter the drawing!

Two-time ACFW Genesis finalist Linda Yezak resides in the state of Texas, where tall tales abound and exaggeration is an art form. Aside from being a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), she also belongs to Women Writing the West (WWW) and The Christian PEN. She lives in the heart of a forest with her husband, three cats, four ducks, and a pond full of fish.

1 comment:

  1. What you say about research is really good, bad research can really sink a good work. What you said, especially about the interview, is going to help me. But I must disagree on one point - for SF and Fantasy writers, research is more abstract and definite at the same time and also more imperative.