Who says Research Isn’t Fun?

Jun 24, 2015 by

Who says Research Isn’t Fun?

Research. Can it make or break a novel? Maybe, maybe not. But in my opinion, there’s no getting around it. Before I start a new project, I make sure to do my research. I don’t want readers saying: “Obviously the author doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Don’t bother reading this book. She didn’t do her research.”

And so, before I write one sentence of a new book, first I do my research. I grab my phone and set up interviews. I visit sites in person. And I’m all over the Internet, devouring subjects that pertain to the storyline. In researching for a book, Google is definitely an author’s best friend.

Before I began writing Royal Secrets, I spent some time researching Las Vegas wedding chapels… in person. For our 20th anniversary, Steve and I had renewed our marriage vows at the Little White Chapel, so I was able to draw on some of those memories. We also visited five other chapels on the Vegas Strip.

Little White Wedding Chapel, Kathleen Irene Paterka

For my first novel, Fatty Patty, there wasn’t much research involved. I drew on personal experience while writing the book about twin sisters (one fat, one thin). The ‘fat’ part lived deep inside me (I was plump as a baby, chubby as a kid, and fat by the time I hit puberty). I know what it’s like to be overweight. And when it comes to the camaraderie between twins, I have personal in-house research assistants I can turn to for advice. My husband is an identical twin, and our daughter has a set of twin boys.

Chuck and Steve, Kathleen Irene Paterka

The story behind Home Fires involves an arsonist at work in the small resort town of James Bay. The hero of the story, Fireman Mike, was loosely based on Steve’s professional background as an active duty certified fireman. When I contacted the local fire chief (now retired) about touring our town’s fire station and living quarters for the full-time staff, I got a quick response. “Sure! When do you want to meet?” His ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour really opened my eyes to what firemen go through, and how lucky we are to have such brave, dedicated people on call, ready to protect us and our homes, 24/7.

In Lotto Lucy, the heroine Lucy Carter wins $70 million in the lottery. I bought a few lottery tickets, but dang! No such luck! But I did have lots of fun researching for the book. An interview with a convenience store operator gave me the background scoop about the Michigan lottery, and the pros and cons of selling lottery tickets. It also provided me with some great visual effects, and a line that made it into the book after I spotted a sign above the cash register stating “Free Ride in a Police Car” to those caught shoplifting. Later, in Las Vegas, I visited a Jaguar dealership. One flash of my author business card, and I was sitting pretty behind the wheel of a top-of-the-line Jag convertible, my dream car.

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“Want to take it for a spin?” the salesman asked. “I’m not buying, I’m only researching for my new book,” I reminded him, but he obviously didn’t believe me. I guess he (like most people) assumed that authors automatically become instant millionaires once they publish a book. Sorry to shoot that theory all to hell, but I’m here to tell you such is not the case (believe me, I have the bank statements to prove it).

In my 4th novel, For I Have Sinned, I again relied on personal experience as a ‘cradle Catholic’, plus 16+ years spent working for the Catholic Church. Three priests later, I decided I’d spent enough time in Purgatory on Earth, and left my job at the Rectory. But some of the bigotry and prejudice I encountered while working ‘behind the altar’ made it into the book… as did a license plate I spotted one day on a car in my own little town: “Never apologize for being white“. Hard to believe that racism was alive and well here in Northern Michigan, but the license plate made it into the book. And at least I knew my plot was spot-on.

Some of the research behind The Other Wife was easy, some not so much. Steve once again proved inspiration for the novel, when he suffered a heart attack in front of me early one morning while in the hospital. Lucky for Steve, he was already in the cardiac unit when his heart stopped. They called a Code Blue and managed to resuscitate him. Later, he had triple bypass surgery, and was hooked up to a ventilator for 48 hours. He’s fine now, but there were plenty of anxious moments involved, and some of them made it into the book.

Steve on Ventilator after open heart surgery, Kathleen Irene Paterka

When Eleanor, one of the two main characters in The Other Wife, is faced with a major life decision, she decides to go shopping… for a job. I went shopping, too… at our local department store. Once I hit the Home / Bed & Bath section, I whipped out my little notebook and started jotting down things. I’m a visual learner, and it helps me to see things in person. Within 30 seconds, the floor manager was at my side, asking… then insisting that he would help me. Honestly, I think he believed at first that I was a corporate spy from another department store. But after I offered him one of my author business cards, he instantly opened up, and told me anything and everything I wanted to hear. How does the cash register work? “I’ll show you!” he said brightly, and proceeded to do so. “What about the store inventory?” Off we went to investigate the loading dock. “Do you have a problem with customers?” He rolled his eyes. “Women are the worst,” he confided. “Especially when they show up at the store with their friends.” All of it made it into the book.

Eleanor Sales Rack

The past few months I’ve been researching for my upcoming book Chuck’s Tavern and Grill. It’s about a restaurant owner and his adult daughter who manages the place for her dad. A local restaurateur was kind enough to open up his bar, backroom, kitchen and office for a deluxe tour. Keg wine, anyone? It was funny, seeing how those ‘house wines’ that sell for $6 or $8 per glass are hooked up to huge kegs in the basement. How much money do you keep in the cash register till? He and his bar manager were frank and forthcoming, providing me with tons of handy info that would fit my plot (including how someone could get away with stealing money from the safe without being caught on camera).

Money in Cash Register

My last bit of research? It involves a plane ticket (already purchased!) and a September flight to Hawaii (no, I’m not deducting as a business expense; Steve’s going with me, and we’re celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary).

Airplane to Hawaii

When we decided to indulge with an anniversary trip to either Italy or Hawaii, it wasn’t hard to pick our ultimate destination spot. Hawaii plays a big part in my next book. Research won out. Hawaii, here we come! The only thing left to do? Pack my suitcase, and remember to keep my notebook handy while lounging on the shore of Waikiki Beach.

Hawaii Kathleen Irene Paterka

Who says research can’t be fun? Aloha!

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