Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Researching the Paranormal

Recently, I was asked what I do when I write a contemporary paranormal: "Don't you just make it all up?"

Not really.

Well, you do have some latitude writing a paranormal. Of course, there is the world-building you have to do - your paranormal world should have rules and be consistent. It also helps if it overlays the world that exists, so the reader can place him or herself within the fictional dream. However, when writing any book, research is necessary.

When I wrote Sacred Guardian, I was hampered by the fact that it was based on events that were happening to me. I kept trying to write it as it happened, but real life can't be forced into a novel. My critique group found it too long, and worse yet, the heroine was way too boring. Ouch!

Once I gave up on trying to write it as I was living it, I knew I needed to bear down on a section of the experience, choose one angel, and tell his story. I was able to keep several scenes that actually happened to me in the book, but needed to do extensive research for the hero's life as a Lakota in South Dakota, both in the late 1960s, before he was killed, and current day Lakota life for the nephew he guides. I got several books on the Lakota language as well as tapes on how it sounds. I also got several books on Lakota life and scoured the internet. However, regardless of how much you research, there is always something you may not get quite right, so it is good to have an "expert" you can ask, which in my case was my aunt who lived near the area my hero was from and who read my book, chapter by chapter, asking her Lakota friends if it passed muster.

Another area where I used interviews of "experts" was for the death of my heroine's husband before the angel came to guide her. When he was in his twenties, my son's father was engaged to a woman who was hit by a car on Clement Street in San Francisco and killed right before his eyes. Enough time had passed so he could talk about this, but he told me that "it never leaves you." Losing a loved one who is killed before your eyes just does not go away. What I used from his account was the disbelief over what just happened, the small things that stand out in bold relief against something unimaginably painful and horrific. In the case of my heroine, I chose to have her attempt to get the exploded air bag from the car accident away from her husband's face "so he could breathe." She knew he was dead, but still found herself desperately pulling the air bag away from his face.

Researching the landscape of your book can include travel to the area or research online and in books. For Sacred Guardian I thought I had it easy. I set it in Berkeley, so all I had to do is walk outside, right? However, writing a book over time meant that businesses that were thriving while I was writing it disappeared in the economic crash when I sold the book, so I had to go back and make up names of stores my heroine passed on Shattuck Avenue to replace the businesses that were there when I started the book.

Research is really a fact of life for a writer, whether writing fiction or non-fiction. It is also a delight for people who love to dig deep into a character. Creating that character's life, where they lived and what shaped him or her, is part of the joy of writing fiction.

Write on!


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Researching Ancient Blood

When I started Ancient Blood, I had no concept of the amount of research I'd need for a contemporary. Sure, paranormal is wide-open, but the author creates her world as I did with Rhodes End.
Rhodes End is one kind of research we tend to skip over. Although its mine, I have keep details in a file so I can check that the cemetery is named St. Harriet’s and the Reverend is Father Michael. Do you turn right or left when you drive to the animal control kennel from Center Street? Where does the Police Chief live?
After that I walked into a werewolf society and need to know the rules. After time spent learning about wolves, I created my Pack Laws. Although I didn’t enumerate them in the book I needed to understand why the pack members acted the way they did.
Next are genetics. What happens when a werewolf mates with a normal human? Does it make a difference if the werewolf is the male partner? Female partner? I wrote both combinations and needed to know the outcome.
So here I am in Rhodes End and I need to know if Wolfsbane will kill a werewolf. Does Wolfsbane grow in New England? Is it poisonous? Yes and yes. Just touching the sap can harm you so gloves are recommended when touching it. It’s also a beautiful blue spike of flowers that was grown for its medicinal use.

If all this makes you curious, Ancient Blood is a May 27 release from the Black Rose at The Wild Rose Press. Visit for an excerpt
Contest:In celebration of Ancient Blood's release, I’m giving away an e-book copy of Ancient Blood on May 27th. Just go to one of my May blog appearances and leave a comment where I’m appearing from May 1- May 27, 2011 or at my blog. Enter often. After leaving a comment, please send an email to so I can notify the winner. The winner will be randomly drawn on May 27, 2011 at midnight.
May 1 Visit The Steam Room at
May 9 at
May 25 at The Black Rose blog or

Friday, April 22, 2011

Research - Where Good Ideas Begin

An idea flashes before your eyes. It’s good, maybe great enough to ignite those creative juices. You begin to write, sense the mood, the tone of your author voice and the type of tale it will become. The genre you write has parameters or notable traits. As authors, we explore those qualities to bring characters, settings, even situations to life. One way a writer does this is through research. 

Classified a noun, research is more an action: methodical investigation into a subject in order to discover facts, to establish or revise a theory, or to develop a plan of action based on fact. It’s safe to say that no matter what you write, be it time-travel, mystery, historical, or paranormal, you simply hunker down and do some homework. If the plot hinges on a left-handed adversary, you’ll need to explore the distinct differences between him/her (in the case of paranormal or sci-fi – it) and a right-handed villain. 

I learned the value of thorough research the hard way. In fact, just the mere thought of scrutinizing information made me cringe. Sitting for a second masters, each course required weekly in-depth and lengthy journals, and the dreaded persuasive power point presentations. The culminating assignment was a thesis based on a relevant topic, which entailed extensive study and action research. Ah… There’s the "R" word that made me shake. But digging up information on my chosen topic held more than I expected. It took the paper in a slightly different direction. Digging even deeper into the importance of arts education in our schools, a secondary subject of teacher validation turned my thesis into an award winner. Solid research painted an indelible image of talented teachers put on a chopping block when school budgets get tight. Like a demon feeding off its prey, art and music were the first subjects sucked out of children’s lives. Looking back, this may be where the paranormal author in me emerged strong and feisty, enough to actually inspire me to sit down and write a book. And although my genre is paranormal, determination to flesh out facts before bending reality proves research a necessary ingredient in any form of storytelling. 
Let’s be honest. I know I’m not the only one who runs into the store for milk and comes home with two bags of extra items! Well, often in the midst of research, something other than the subject under scrutiny steals your interest. Maybe it’s related. Maybe not… Go with it. Follow the thought as if it were a psychic lead. It may help the plot race along or possibly enhance the drama. Facts lead to other facts. Some reshape a storyline; some add depth. And while the purist may procrastinate, the passionate author will welcome seemingly unrelated research to infuse the story with new possibilities. 

Here’s an example of how factual research created a ‘real feel’ in His Soul to Keep, Book Three of The Champion Chronicles (release date: 7/22/11). Michael, the main character, still fears the sire he single-handedly destroyed ten months earlier. Cyril, his sire, was a Slovakian who had escaped eternal oblivion for 800 years. Enter the importance of research to add a plot twist. I came across a set of thirteen murals by artist Alfonse Mucha entitled The Slav Epic. Immediately curious, I had to know more. 

Hmmm… Thirteen is the perfect paranormal number. Would the artwork fit the plot? And what did Mucha’s style look like? A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art had me fascinated with his use of vivid colors and hues in an unrelated painting. The World Wide Web allowed a virtual tour of The Slave Epic, a massive work permanently housed in a Czech museum. Each mural had a specific sentence to depict the scene. Would the captions work with my story line? Suddenly I felt that proverbial chill snake up my spine, tingle my brain. The captions for paintings XII and XIII would foreshadow major events. Something tangible, even visible to heighten my hero’s fear and add suspense. Mucha added a nice touch to the tale :)

Research takes time and a certain sense of stamina. But an afternoon at the old laptop can explore a lost civilization or allow you to view the sunset on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. A trip to the library could be the difference between brilliant and blasé. In world-building for fantasy-fiction, legends as well as scientific data may be ‘what-ifs’ that turn your novel into a terrific read. 

Another method of research is demonstration. Pause and step back. Not everything you discover will be suitable for your current WIP. Keep it on file for future reference. Yet be it Karate or Italian cuisine, find an expert to interview. Take a class or two for hands-on experience.

Within every writer, the seed of an idea sparks creativity. That idea may come in a dream, during a conversation, in a news article or tending a garden. However it happens, research roots the seed in believable fact – no matter what genre you write. A good idea leads many places. With a bit of research, a good idea can blossom into a gripping story. 

Once again, I have to apologize for being late. Happy Easter to all! ~ Mickey Flagg

Friday, April 15, 2011

Love of Research

One of the best aspects about being a writer is the research. I love research! Research encompasses many elements of story-making, from creating the story idea to the setting to character sketches, and all the elements needed to make that story believable, as well as the business-side of writing.

Some of the best ideas I get are from doing research. I'm an avid reader and I read anything. Sometimes in just reading about a certain event in history, my mind begins the 'what if' scenarios that my characters might encounter. My interest in history spans from present-day settings to those stories set in ancient times. I read history books and watch documentaries. When I read novels, I write down pieces of the historical information I find and do further research on that. I often watch movies or television shows for inspiration, and to get a feel for the way the characters of a certain time-period spoke the language, and dressed, and interacted. I then take what I learned from the film and do more reading to find out if what I saw really happened.

Creating characters is a truly fun part of writing, but to make the characters come alive on the page, I really have to understand them and why they do or say the things they do. Motivation is a very big element in creating characters and I have to understand their background and history. How did they grow up? Where? When? What happened to them when they were children? How did they learn the things they did? Psychology and how the brain works intrigues me and I use the information I find to create my characters. I also read many books on relationships and the differences between men and women.   

Reading and watching television isn't the only kind of research available. Traveling is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to research! I love to travel almost as much as I love to read! I can take anything I see in my daily life and use that in a story. Or, when I'm on vacation, I can visit a particular location that I might possibly use as a setting in a future novel. My camera is my best friend on those expeditions and I take as many pictures as possible to record the images so I can look back for sudden inspiration. And when my finances don't agree with my exotic overseas vacation plans, well then, travel guides are a good source to use.

As well as researching for the story itself, a writer must research for the business-side of writing. The internet is a fantastic tool to use for researching the writing industry and the different publishing houses. Simply typing 'calls for submissions' in a search engine can bring forth possible writing opportunities. Also, it's vital for a writer to research writer's guidelines if they're thinking of submitting a manuscript to an editor. I also read a lot of articles on the internet about writing, such as grammar and editing. There are also a lot of workshops many authors now provide to help a writer in any given stage of their career. This is all considered research, as well.

And then, sometimes I consider research just giving myself the excuse to read something when I really should be doing something else. Should I read that paranormal romance or wash the dishes? Well, I need to research the romance market. Ya know, see what's selling nowadays. It's very important for my business....

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Research. Research. Research.

Research in writing is important to make characters and settings realistic. It can also help inspire story ideas. 

For His Hope, Her Salvation, I knew I wanted the story set in Georgian England. But, Georgian England covers over a century. Many readers are familiar with Regency England, which spanned from 1811 to 1820, but the period is really a subset of Georgian England, which covered the reign of the House of Hanover from George I to George IV. (Readers can get a brief overview at Wikipedia of the House of Hanover,, and Regency England,

During my search through Georgian England, I found a biography on William Pitt the Younger at It inspired a thought about what if the rogue had come back to save the Marquess of Rockingham (,_2nd_Marquess_of_Rockingham)  and thereby prevent Pitt from becoming Prime Minister again. While I eventually discarded this plot in favor of something else, it did give me a time period to work with…the early 1780s.

Next, I searched for articles on fashion. Doing a Google search yielded, a website describing fashion of the eighteenth century,, which is an interesting write up on the Act against the Highland Dress and has absolutely nothing to do with my story, and the reliable Wikipedia link to fashion from 1750-1795,, which is where I ended my search.

Please note, I don't rely strictly on Wikipedia as the information is not always reliable. I also cross check the information with history books from my personal library. Books such as The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England by Antonia Fraser, a brief synopsis of the reign of each of the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II. I find her writing to be interesting and informative. She likes to throw in juicy tidbits every now and again. Royal Paramours by Dulcie M. Ashdown. I picked this book up for a couple of dollars and found it vastly amusing since I have an avid interest in torrid historical royal affairs. Who can resist a book with a chapter titled “The Maypole and the Elephant”? Georgiana by Amanda Foreman. A beautifully written book about the Duchess of Devonshire, whose life was flamboyant, but sad, at least to me. It covers the period from her birth in 1757 to her death in 1806. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Research or Not to Research

Hi! I believe that you should research the background of your story, especially if you are writing an historical. You don't want to state that something historical happened in your book when a savvy reader can verify that it did not happen at that time in the past. This is a good way to get readers to stop reading you.

That said, I don't do a lot of research for my stories. However, I do have to do some research, even for my fantasy novel. Even though I made up the world, I still needed to know about swords. Something besides they are long and pointy and if you stick it through someone it's not a good thing. I used the internet to determine some differences between swords. Another good place to go to look at swords is your local Irish Festival. Or Renaissance Faire. I've never been to the Scottish Festival, but I bet they have swords too. There are several booths and the sellers are more than happy to talk about their types of swords. It gives you a look at the size of them too, much better than pictures on the internet. IMO.

Since my werewolf stories are set in Montana, a state I've only been 1/2 a mile into, I had to look up settings, scenery, and a couple of laws to make sure my heroes weren't breaking obvious laws. Again, time for the internet.

For another story that is currently camping out under a pile of items in some closet, I used the library as I couldn't find the info needed on the internet. I suppose that makes me a multi-media user. :)

What's your favorite place to do research? Internet or library?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Researching the Story

First, my apologies for not posting on my assigned day, but my dad had some issues after his hip surgery and he was in the emergency room on Monday--the day I was supposed to post. But he's on the road to recovery now and life returns to normal...whatever that is!

But I guess normal for me includes writing. And no writing is worth publishing without research. If a book is poorly researched, readers will know. And they most likely won’t buy the author’s next book.

Good research is especially important when writing an historical. And while every reader isn’t going to know that a noble bastard cannot inherit the title even if the nobleman adopts him, a devout historical reader will. And that reader will tell anyone who’ll listen that the author was "ignorant" of certain historical facts.

But it’s not just historical writers who need to do their homework. World building is an integral part of writing a good paranormal or urban fantasy romance. And world building requires research.
When I wrote Out of the Darkness,I wanted an explanation for vampirism. Although, I got the original idea from reading Dean Koontz and watching Universal Soldier, I needed to research vampires and vampire origins.

I wanted a believable plot despite the unbelievable nature of the story. And although the science in the story is fictional, the basis for my "pseudo" science is real. Besides my old science text books from college, I spent hours on the “net” researching vampires, viruses, and xeroderma pigmentosum. And I got lost in the vampire legends.

Experiencing locations first hand and taking pictures is another way I like to research. And while I couldn’t afford to go to Transylvania or Bosnia while writing Out of the Darkness, I visited Portsmouth Island, located on North Core Banks in North Carolina while writing my historical, Slightly Tarnished.

Core Banks is one of North Carolina’s barrier islands. Cape Lookout is on South Core Banks. And far on the other end—the north end of the island—is Portsmouth Village.

The island was established as a colony in 1753 and Portsmouth Village was settled soon after. Several hurricanes and the changing economy after the Civil War took its toll and residents began leaving the island. The last permanent residents left the island in 1971, and it’s now part of the National Park Service and the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
As a writer, I wish I could visit every location where I set a story. But since I can’t, I’ll have to contend with reading travel books and researching various locations on the internet.