Research and Me, or: The Compost Heap Model

Someone asked me about my research process for the WebMage books. I wrote the following up, and thought it might be of more general interest, as it explains my general model for research.

Most of the research I was doing with the WebMage books was by way of refreshing long standing reading in mythology, specific geographic information for local color, or computer tech stuff. I didn’t have to do a lot of new reading for the series because it’s all stuff (with exception of some of the local color and new tech) that was mostly in my head from years of reading widely in mythology and growing up in a household with both software and hardware computer folks.

In general, I don’t do a lot of research specific to the book I’m working on. I mostly try to read widely in a lot of fields on whatever interests me at the moment and then toss it all into the back of my head where it composts away in the dark for later application to fiction, or inspiration of same.

I wish I could be more specific, but that’s not really how I approach research, except for detail work that comes up as I need it. So, for a theater book, I might realize I need to look at a rehearsal schedule and email someone at a theater to see if I can get a copy. Or, I might realize I need to know what pistol the British military was using in 1939, and go look it up. Otherwise, everything gets fed into the woodchipper and then mounded up for later use.

That’s actually my primary story generation system as well, as things are always crawling out of the compost heap/mulch pile and making a break for it.

Updated to add: Librarians. When I do need those specific bits of information, I often email one my many librarian friends and tap their mad skillz to find the right bits with a minimum of fuss and hassle.