MJ’s Musings: The Importance of Research

Any author worth her royalty check knows the importance of research.  Many authors I know would rather research than write. They get caught up in learning something new. I’m the same way.

I’ve had a couple of  “run-ins” with others when it comes to research.

The first two were from my contest diva days. I entered a lot of writing contests sponsored by RWA chapters.

A contest judge told me I should rename the region in which my story was set, because Thousand Islands sounded too much like a salad dressing.  I live in upstate New York, about 90 miles from the US-Canadian border, which runs through the middle of the St. Lawrence River,  the stretch of which is known as The Thousand Islands. The salad dressing was created there. Much later, a couple of people I met produced a documentary on the origins of the salad dressing. The judge should have done her research.

Another contest judge marked me off for not doing my research when I referenced a laser ID number on a diamond. “Impossible,” she wrote. “Diamonds are the hardest substance on earth.” True, but they can be cut. And yes, the diamond industry does laser ID their stones. My former brother-in-law worked in Manhattan’s diamond district and confirmed this for me. I’d done my research. The judge had not.

At my very first book signing, a woman started haranguing me about romance authors not doing their research. I countered with very specific examples. She huffed and puffed and claimed, “Then romance authors need to let people know this.” I should have countered with, “Do you demand the same thing from Sci-Fi authors? Mystery authors?” Why should why romance authors be held to a different standard?

If not for Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Wolf and the Dove, I would have lost many games of Trivia Pursuit, because I might not have otherwise known the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066.

Sometimes, though, even with the internet  authors don’t get the research right. One of my favorite authors in one of my favorite books, put the Mayo Clinic in upstate New York. Yes, the Mayo Clinic is in Rochester–but Minnesota.

Research matters.