Janet's Jargon

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

The value of research

Someone recently asked me how I do my research and how important it is to a book. I think the best way to explain "good" research is by giving an example of "bad" research.
I am sure this author did not do this intentionally, and I have no idea any more who the author was, but the book was "The Irishman." It was a historical romance. It was set on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. The author said the states were divided by the Red River.

I happen to live in North Dakota, right across the border from Minnesota. What separates the two states? The Red River! It really should not have been that hard to figure out which river separates MN from WI. It is a pretty well-known river. It is--the mighty Missippi!

What difference did that make? I was so disappointed in the seeming lack of research that I almost didn't read the book. And it was a really good book. It had, above all, one completely redeeming quality: she used a line in it that I had never heard anybody say except my father. The line? "I ain't had this much fun since the pigs et my little brother." We would always tell him, "But you don't have any little brother." He would grin and say, "Of course not. The pigs et him."

Why does that come to mind now? I recently taped a radio interview with Connie Gotsch, for her Write On! program. It won't air until Feb. 15th and 17th on NWPR, but after it is on the air, you will be able to hear it on the Internet.
We got to talking about research. I told her about the pigs and my not-so-real uncle. She laughed and said they used to say that, but it was a cat that ate the baby brother. Well, I guess wherever she grew up, it wasn't quite as agricultural an area as it was where my dad grew up. It took a pig to eat what her little kitty cat got away with.

And as for research, I was thrilled beyond words when the curator of Dunnottar Castle, after reading Dunnottar, asked me where the painting of the little girl, Judith Hastings, was. He said he had been to every museum and art gallery he could find in Scotland, and hadn't been able to locate it. I had to weigh my answer carefully. Should I tell him the truth, or leave him wondering.

If you really want to know, add a comment and include your email address and I'll send you the answer. I'd love to get your guess! Make it a great day.

8 Comments:

  • At 7:58 PM, Blogger Myriam's Muse said…

    I wanna know... please please please Ms. Janet.

    Myri

     
  • At 8:08 PM, Blogger Jessica McCurdy Crooks said…

    I want to know too.

    As a librarian/researcher I know the importance of good research.

    Jess

     
  • At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Karen Magill said…

    I know what you mean about poor research. I once read this book and part of it had to do with the Calgary Stampede. The author said the parade that kicks off the stampede was on a Wednesday, I think. I was living in Calgary at the time and the parade was always held on a Friday. I even went so far as to call the Stampede organizers and ask if it had ever been held on a Wednesday. Nope, never. I read the book and enjoyed but all I remember is the error.

     
  • At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Bev Rowe said…

    Absolutely, Janet. Good research is imperative. I read manuscripts for a mystery publisher. One manuscript had the protagonists getting a blood sample from a cat for DNA testing by stabbing the hypodermic into the cat's hip. Of course you have to find a vein or an artery to draw blood, and it's commonly drawn from a vein on the front leg. Guess what?? The book didn't get published...and the story was pretty good. Too bad.

    My instinct tells me that you probably fessed up on the picture. Did you?

     
  • At 10:17 AM, Anonymous Julia Wole said…

    I once read a book, a murder mystery, set in the Verde Valley of Arizona, where I happen to live. I was thrilled to find that it was set here, but so disappointed that the writer had the towns and geography all wrong! I did finish the book, but it could have been so much better had the author done his/her research. I've been lost in researh for my book for about 3 years now! Yikes! I needed to know a lot about the mysterious and metaphysical, and it has turned out to be much more fascinating and abundant that I thought at first. Oh, well, the journey has been great!

    Julia

    PS Sorry I haven't read your book, Dunnatar Castle, yet, but I will as soon as I can.

     
  • At 6:56 PM, Blogger Carolyn Howard-Johnson said…

    As one of your clients (your Promotion Pak), I was amazed that you don't have a little story to tell about this aspect of your varied life--or did I miss something?

    At this very moment, I am practicing something you taught me--a virtual book tour! Ha!

    So now we're on THAT subject, how about a column about how you hate poetry that doesn't rhyme but now you've read mine, you've become a convert! (-: And, while you're at it, you might throw in a nice blurb or two about TRACINGS, my chapbook of poetry to be released this fall (www.finishinglinepress.com).

    Your avid and devoted student,
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Award-winning author of THIS IS THE PLACE, HARKENING and THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T
    http://carolynhowardjohnson.com

     
  • At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Dawn M. Hunt said…

    Is it hanging on the wall in your home? I want to know!
    ddmhunt@msn.com
    Dawn

     
  • At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Kathy Strelow said…

    Psst Janet... it's MissISSippi.
    *grin*

     

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