I’ll be honest, I enjoy researching a non-fiction book as much as writing it. I know that must sound a little strange, after all, I am an author. Research can be a lot of fun.
For example, I’m doing some research right now on three different books. I haven’t started writing them yet, I am in the process of getting materials to determine if there is a good book in there, somewhere in the pile of facts.
Some research is easier than others. I’m filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the State of Michigan on a murder for a new true crime book idea. This is pretty straight forward and the results, if they are like the others I have done, are incredible. Hundreds of pages of typed police reports from the investigation. I love reading police reports. One, most are typed. Two, they offer an incredible amount of details.
One of my other projects requires a FOIA with the Federal Government to get some material declassified from the Cuban Missile Crisis. I filed the request in June of 2009 and they are still processing it. Okay, this is sort of fun in that the material I want has been classified since 1962 and you never know just what will get cleared suddenly. What I have requested is pretty specific and it will take a while longer to get processed. When done I’ll go down and get to see it at the National Archives. That will be like Christmas for a geek like me, getting some of this material out in the light of day for the first time in decades.
I have one other research project going on Bert Hall. Bert flew with the Lafayette Escadrille and this project has been going for three years. This is not a single request, but a seemingly never-ending quest for new material on this elusive WWI aviator. I have been lucky, thanks to folks in the WWI aviation community and some persistent digging with various museums and other sources. I have to admit this is a pet-project and I’m not rushing through it. Every month or so another batch of material surfaces, sometimes in the form of letters or photographs, sometimes in the form of articles or diary entries. I’m just happy to be breaking new ground on a story that most people would have given up on a long time ago.
Getting the materials is one thing, organizing and making sense of it is another thing altogether. I find it relaxing to curl up with a thick report and try to get in the head of the people that wrote it. I learn a lot doing this kind of research. Sure, some of it is worthless information, but it is neat stuff to study. A part of human growth is constant learning and I have a second career as a writer that allows that.
I’m curious about other writers out there – do you get a thrill from the research too?