How To Know More Than Your Readers

First of all, I’m pretty smart, but I don’t assume that I’m smarter than my readers. I don’t want to give that impression.

Well, actually, I DO want to give that impression. That’s the point of writing books. You know something that the reader doesn’t know. They come to you for your knowledge and you share it.

But just because I have a terminal degree, been writing for several decades and have a couple dozen published books to my credit doesn’t mean that I automatically assume I know what I need to know to write my books. In fact, when they were handing out my doctoral degree, I remember them saying, “This signifies that this person is a scholar, a person who knows how to do research.” And what’s funny to me is that every book I write includes a significant amount of research in it. And amazingly, I find that the most fun part of the process.

I just got finished writing a very research-heavy historical novel. It starts off in 1926 in the middle of the night with a black man and his white wife escaping the Ku Klux Klan by catching the train out of town in Victoria, Texas. One of the first research questions that came up was: “What railroad ran through Victoria, Texas?” followed by “Did they allow white or black porters in 1926 in Texas?” and “What did the passenger cars look like at that time?” The more I wrote, the more I had to research. The story went to California through the 20s and 30s, then went to the Spanish Civil War in 1936 to 1938, and then ended in San Francisco in 1939. Every chapter involved research. I researched race issues, how to graft walnut trees, geography in California and Spain, specific lynching events, Stanford University, boxing, etc., etc. You get the idea.

If you didn’t enjoy research, it would be something that could really discourage you. And there was a point where I talked to a friend who is a history professor about getting a student to do an internship with me as a researcher. My biggest concern was that the constant research slowed the writing down. And I ended up compromising: I did some research as I wrote, but other things, such as fashion and architecture I decided I would add or change later.

When you’re dealing with historical fiction, these details really make the story. But now that I am going back to Christian suspense, don’t think I don’t have to do any more research. My next novel involves a multilingual girl in Austin, so I suspect I will need to use Google Translate as well as some real-live bilingual translators, as well as do some other research.

But I became a professor–yes, I’m a professor–because I enjoyed being a student. And research is just an extension of that.

Besides, it’s fun.