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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, May 26, 2008


So many great research tools, so little time. I used to spend entire weekends in the library. Now I can do the same amount of research with just the click of a button.

Google and Wikipedia work well for me when I need a quick detail.

For instance, one of my characters in my wip referred to the voice of the Robinson Family robot on Lost in Space. To check when the show was aired to make sure my character wasn't too young to refer to the robot, I GOOGLED “robot on t.v. show” because I couldn’t remember the name of the show. Wikipedia popped up and there was all the info I could ever need about Lost in Space.

In another scene in my WIP, my heroine notices all of the lights on the police cars as she pulls up to a house. I want to get the details right so I look up “lights on police cars” and not only do I find great pictures of different police cars on Wikipedia, I see that the lights are also referred to as “beacons” and “light bars” and, of course, “emergency lights.” These aren’t the best examples, but at least you get the picture.

From my WIP:

She could see the house at the end of a cul de sac. With all the emergency lights flashing it was hard to miss. Three police cars served as a barricade and an unmarked sedan took up most of the sidewalk.

Other info regarding police cars came in handy too: “Police cars have nicknames such as (police) cruiser, squad car, prowler, radio car, panda car, area car, scout car, patrol car. In some places a police car may also be nicknamed a cop car, a Black & White, a cherry top, or a jam sandwich. Depending on the configuration of the emergency lights, a police car may also be called a marked unit, RMP (Radio Motor Patrol) or slick top. Undercover cars can be called "Silver Bullets".”

Another research tool I love to use are the Books for Dummies or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to… The con is that these books can be costly. I like to use them to learn about my character's jobs. For example, in one of my 2008 Golden Heart finaling manuscripts, Better Late Than Never, my heroine is an award-winning nutritionist. I have her win the same award the author of the nutrition book won in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Total Nutrition. By the time I’ve read the book or heavily skimmed it at the very least, I have a better feel for my character and what she does. Here are two examples from my manuscript where having those extra details, IMO, added to the scene:

No wonder the NFL franchise was worried about him. The man needed serious nutritional help. She took the slices of bagel and tossed them into the garbage with the butter. Next, she reached around him for the package of hot dogs and held them in front of his face. “These frankfurters are made from muscle meat. They have all the essential amino acids, B vitamins and iron, which is good, but they’re loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol.” She shook her head. “A definite no-no.”

Max snatched the package of hotdogs out of her hand. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” He let out a hearty chuckle.

And another scene…

He grunted. “I have a better idea. How about I write you a big fat check right now, you certify me as nutritionally sound, and nobody need ever know otherwise.”

“And jeopardize my career, my reputation?” She shook her head. “Not in this lifetime.” She was having fun now. Max Dutton obviously thrived on control and she’d bet her good standing with the National Heart Association that this was the first time in his life he didn’t have the upper hand. “Don’t worry about the little green apples. You’ll get great big juicy red ones and yellow ones, too. Lots of variety--just like you’re used to.”

So what internet research tools do you often refer to? Any research books or tools you’d like to share with us?

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At 8:29 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Cultivating real, live people is golden. One on-line group, Crimescenewriter, is full of people who share information based on their careers in law enforcement, medicine, the legal profession, etc. Or blogs maintained with a similar purpose.

I hang at Lee Lofland's "The Graveyard Shift" a lot because he brings in guests and there are lots of pictures.

I've bought beer for homicide detectives and soldiers in return for brain-picking.

Google is my friend, and Wikipedia is a jumping off point, as long as you know that anyone can put up stuff, so it might not be accurate.

Since I write romantic suspense, my bookshelf has things like, "Forensics for Dummies" (Doug Lyle); "Police Procedure & Investigation" (Lee Lofland); "Book of Poisons" (Stevens & Bannon).

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Oooh, thanks for all the great sites and books, Terry. I am focusing on romantic suspense now, so I need to start filling my book shelves with these types of books! I went from medieval time travels to romantic comedies and now to romantic suspense and even a gruesome thriller, light on the romance. I'm having loads of fun. Thanks for the reminder about Wikipedia not always being accurate, too.

Where did you find a homicide detective to buy beer for? Good job!

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I took the local county Sheriff's Office Civilian Police Academy course. VERY helpful, and I made some good contacts there. Highly recommended for first-hand 'real' information. Listening to the cops talk over beer was more book fodder than the actual answers to my questions. I wrote that scene, only slightly fictionalized, in Hidden Fire.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

That's great. I know Allison Brennan recently attended the FBI's Citizen Academy and loved it.

Terry, have you been to a shooting range or was that included in your Police Academy Course?

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I took a gun "safety" class and went onto the range. The RWA Kiss of Death chapter also had a session on firearms at the Atlanta RWA conference.

I wanted to know what a character might feel if she was forced to fire a gun.

I also learned how frighteningly easy it is to get a concealed carry permit in Florida. Check my July 15, 2006 blog entry if you want to know what it was like. (you can do a search on 'concealed weapon' if it's easier to find that way.)

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

My favorite online research tool is which is more focused than Google and helps me get to historical sites without wading through commercial ones. It brings up Wikepedia but also other encyclopedic sources.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

The internet can be a fabulous research tool sometimes. Look at the description below of Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumberland in the 11th Century:

"Powerful, rich, bold, fierce in war, haughty, he despised his equals and, swollen with vanity, disdained to obey his superiors. He was of great stature, strong, swarthy and hairy. Daring and crafty, stern and grim, he was given more to meditation than speech, and in conversation scarce ever smiled".

Such detailed descriptions of people from this period are rare and hard to find, and it is astonishing that Orderic Vitalis went to so much effort to paint such a complete picture of de Mowbray. Even kings are not usually described with such detail. But this description is so compelling I just had to put the man in my paranormal historical. It would have taken me a very long time and possibly lots of money to find this information if it were not for the internet.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

And speaking of tools, I love atlases, maps, and books related to geography, to provoke my imagination into creating vivid settings. It helps that I have a degree in Geography, I'm sure. But I love to look at a topographical map, and associate pictures with it, to imagine a journey my hero makes, or the forest where he makes love to the heroine, or learn if a river is swift or wide and gentle.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Diane, I have never tried I am going to go try it right now. Thanks!

Delle, Wow! That is a superb description of your guy. And you have a degree in!!! Did you always have a passion for geography?

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

You probably realize by now, I'm pretty indiscriminate about my passions. I didn't really discover Geography until I went to college, but I've been passionate about it ever since. I wanted a double major in Geogrphy and Anthropology and I had the credits for it but they wouldn't give it to me, so officially Anthropology became my minor. Surprisingly, I hated History in college, but that was because it was so badly taught.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I second Teresa's "COOL" Delle! A degree in Geography just sounds so interesting and I can see how it could become an obsession. I love to study about faraway places. My thing is languages so I am always interested in what languages are spoken in which countries.

Wow! What an awesome description, Delle! No wonder you couldn't resist using him! Amazing.

I am still new at this. I am gradually learning how to use Googlebooks. I spend a lot of time taking notes on sites like this when people mention specific research sites. Most of the stately homes in England have websites and they contain a wealth of information. And places like the Yorkshire Moors and the English coast have websites as well.

Of course my favorite is and always will be research books, especially those written by people who lived in the time period in which I write.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Theresa :-)! What a lot of great tips here today. I'm going to have to check out and pick up a Dummies book when next I need to research a job. Loved hearing about Terry's drink-for-info exchanges, too :-).

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

I love those Dummy and Idiot books, too. I used the one about Ghosts and hauntings when I was writing a YA last year. And dare I admit, I bought one about ballet. I'm trying to understand my daughter's passion, and it explains everything about ballet in a way even I, a dance challenged person, can understand.

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

That's great, Maureen! How wonderful that your daughter has that passion and how great of you to by the book to understand her more clearly. That's wonderful. Your such a great Mom!

I recently bought the Forensics for Dummies and Idiots guide to Private Investigating.


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