Friday, November 03, 2006

Research for Dummies by Diana Holquist

This is going to be a short blog, as I’m struggling through final edits for my next book, Sexiest Man Alive, due next week. And the kids have another half-day of school. Grrrr….

Anyway, I wanted to talk to someone about an itty, bitty problem I might possibly have as a novelist. Here goes: I wanted to set my first book, Make Me a Match, in Baltimore because I had great memories of that city.

Memories from fifteen years ago!

But no matter. I wanted to write the Baltimore of my memories. It honestly didn’t interest me a hoot whether or not they re-did that awful Penn Station or pushed the strip clubs off The Block. When I needed a set of steps at the Inner Harbor, I put them in. I wanted the story to flow—blast the reality. It took place in a modified Baltimore. My Baltimore. I didn’t think twice. It was fiction, after all.

I have no idea if anyone cared or not. Did it ruin the book for Baltimorians that the waitress at the real bar with the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling is thin and hates baseball? Did it bug them that the grandmother’s house wasn’t made of Formstone because no where else in the world but Baltimore does anyone know what the heck that is?

So now, as I plow through my next edits, I wonder. This book is set in NYC. I lived there TWENTY years ago. How important is it to update that city to present reality?

Tell me ---- quick! What do you authors think? Readers?

Does a novel have to be true to place or you throw it at the wall or do you give creative breathing room?

Make Me a Match, in stores now
Sexiest Man Alive, coming fall, 07


Lori Wilde said...


I think it depends. If you're writing a story where the setting is actually a secondary character, then yes, you should probably pop up to the city for a visit. New York has changed A LOT in twenty years.

But, it the setting doesn't play a big part in the story, I think keeping up with the news and talking to people who've been there recently will probably do you in good stead. I mean, how up to date you can be? By the time you write the book and it's on store shelves, the restaurants you wrote about might already be out of business.


Kathleen said...

Usually I give authors creative breathing room. If I wanted to read actual facts, then I would read a book based on a particular city. Also, I haven't been to that many places, so I wouldn't know what was fact or fiction ...LOL! But I do enjoy reading about the places that I haven't been to.

Diane Perkins said...

I've been wrestling with setting, too, Diana, for my next Mills & Boon/Harlequin Historical. It's a "road trip" story so I have to move them over several different locations. I've spent lots of time making sure I at least give the impression that the various settings are correct and the amount of time that it takes them is realistic. Nobody from Regency England will be reading it but I assume lots of people alive now would know if I had them galloping over a plain where there should be a mountain.

My theory is, you do the best you can to get the setting right but you can never get it totally right, so don't sweat the small stuff!

Paula Quinn said...

Diana, I live in Manhattan. If there is anything I can help you with, I'd be glad to give it a shot.
Anyone from medieval Scotland? No? Drats.

Diana Holquist said...

Thanks so much for the advice, everyone.

It's so true, Lori, about businesses coming and going so quickly. What's hot now? What's dated? I read a bunch of Golden Heart manuscripts a few months ago that kept mentioning TV shows that were already gone by the time I read the manuscript. Ugh! How can you keep up?

And Diane, I thought about making my next book a road trip book, but it gave me hives just THINKING about the logistics.

I'm going to e-mail you off-list, Paula. I DO have questions. (And I have till Friday! Yikes!)

Okay, back to work with me...