Today I am pleased to introduce our special guest star, Cie Adams. Cie is a USA Today bestselling author who writes both individually as C.T. Adams and with her friend and longtime collaborator Cathy L. Clamp under the pen name Cat Adams. Her/their novels include: Road to Riches: The Great Railroad Race to Aspen (historical fiction); the (currently) eight volumes of the Tales of the Sazi series, the Thrall trilogy, and the ongoing Blood Singer series. She currently has two books in production: The Isis Collar (the fourth Blood Singer book) and The Eldritch Conspiracy. In addition she has contributed to a number of anthologies. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, her blog, and at both her individual website (http://adams-jamesauthors.com) and her joint website with Cathy Clamp (http://www.catadams.net). Please welcome her to Magical words!
AHA! As usual, when I bring up that word at least half of the audience’s eyes have glazed over—probably a result of those high school “research” papers you were required to write that were (for most of us anyway) seriously hideous, and involved things like index cards and footnotes.
But it’s not that bad in real life. And in writing it’s essential.
I primarily write urban fantasy and paranormal romance. There are large swaths of stuff I get to make up. But because my stories generally take place in the actual present, with a few minor changes I have to make sure my reality is reality. Which requires . . . research.
For example, at this moment I am doing edits to the next Celia Graves book. Because of a couple of requested changes I need to add some information on the tunnels the cartels in Mexico have across the border, and wedding planning. Having never been involved with the cartels, or visited the tunnels, and never having planned a wedding, I’m hitting the books and internet. To get a better grip on the tunnels I’ve read magazine articles (sadly, I can’t be specific on this one, as the magazines were in the lobby at my day job and the issues got thrown out), looked at a photo essay on the drug tunnels at Time.Com, examined regular and topographical maps, and consulted Mapquest for mileage. For the wedding planning segment I contacted a bride-to-be. She referred me to a wedding planner, gave me a copy of Brides magazine and a list of websites to visit. I purchased a wedding planning book, and since the wedding in the upcoming book is a royal wedding, I also visited a few websites and ponied up for a video regarding the British royal wedding.
By the time I write those pages I will be able to accurately portray what is needed. Because if I want people to believe the fantasy portions, they have to believe the reality. Readers are not stupid. I repeat: READERS ARE NOT STUPID. Never underestimate them. Show them the respect they deserve. They can tell if you’re “faking it.” (And the result is just about as fulfilling for them as you would expect.)
You may not use all of the information you get. (In fact, you shouldn’t. Beware the dreaded “info dump.”) But knowing the answer will color the description and the tone, changing the whole passage. Having seen photos of the tunnels in a magazine essay, I can accurately describe them. Having fired various guns, I can have my character swear when an unfamiliar weapon kicks and makes her hand raw because the ammo was different than what she was used to. It will make sense that her first is shot less accurate than she would’ve liked so that she is forced to grapple with the vampire in the alley. Knowledge is powerful. If you know, your wording and descriptions will be far more powerful and believable than if you’re just guessing.
Looking for information takes time, a commodity working writers rarely have in great supply. But it’s time well spent. You will write better and faster if you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Confidence improves speed. Knowledge improves confidence. But make sure you have balance. Use multiple sources, but stop when you have enough accurate information to do your job properly.
When you write the fantastic your reality has to be exceptionally real. You can’t skate by. If your character is going to fly from JFK to LAX, you need to find out how long the flight is. What are the layovers (if any), what does each airport look like? Are the rental cars on site? Which floor? What hotels have shuttles? How do you get to them? You need to know because your readers will know. At least some of them will have actually flown from JFK to LAX, been in the airports, the security lines and the bathrooms. If the flight is listed from 6:40 a.m. to 10:10 a.m. arrival you can’t have the character at the hotel pool at 9:00, and you can’t forget that you’re passing through time zones.
Why bother? Aside from being anal about accuracy and showing readers the respect they deserve, you’re trying to draw them in. You want them turning pages, completely immersed in your world, dying to know what happens next. An error, particularly a glaring one that could’ve been avoided with a few minutes of research, pulls them out of the story you’re telling. You lose credibility, and risk losing the reader, possibly forever.