What are you working on now--what author hasn't heard that question? When I first started writing fiction, one of my challenges was forcing myself to focus on finishing one story before beginning another in earnest. It's so easy, when you hit the Dreaded Middle of writing a novel, to want to move on to something different. And, to tell the truth, sometimes it does help to take a break and spend an afternoon playing with a different set of characters and their lives.
I'm currently working on another romantic comedy, hoping to build on Fire Me's following. Another rom com sits with our wonderful editor, Deb, waiting for her insights. Its title right now is (drumroll, please) My Own Personal Soap Opera: Looking for Reality in All the Wrong Places.
I love the fact that the title is "personal," the way Fire Me's title is. And I love that it has a subtitle that parallels Fire Me's (Scheming and Dreaming and Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places).
Like Fire Me, My Own Personal Soap Opera involves an off-kilter premise: a head writer for a failing soap opera deals with lots of work and personal problems (including choosing between two men who are crushing on her) while using the show's scripts and story breakdowns to work out her personal "issues."
For both novels, I did research. (Yes, even for Fire Me, I asked friends and relatives what strategies they would use to get laid off, or what behavior had they witnessed in other employees that would lead them to want to lay off that person!)
For My Own Personal Soap Opera, I was fortunate enough to find a former soap opera actor who put me in touch with some wonderful people at As the World Turns, including the head writer there. I also read several autobiographies of soap stars, gathering useful bits of information along the way.
Once I've done this research, though, I always feel like writing a disclaimer at the beginning of my novel: The work you are about to read is fiction and I have taken liberties with reality! LOL!
As a novelist, I'm building a world, and sometimes that world is a little different from actual reality. So in reality, a soap opera scene breakdown might not be as detailed as it is in my story, but the head writer in my story is....different. Once I create her "differentness," I have to hope that it creates, by extension, a different approach to the reality within which her story is told.
Does that make sense? I hope so!
Now that Fire Me is launched, and My Own Personal Soap Opera is in the editor's queue, I'm starting research on a third romantic comedy where the hero is a college professor and the heroine the owner of a car dealership. For the college prof, I'm getting tons of great info from my just-graduating daughter (who used to play a game with her dorm mates: Who Can Make Up theFunniest Dissertation Title?). But I need to talk to some car dealership owners to get the scoop on that field....so I can take the truth and start to bend it to suit my story!
There was a time that I would have felt...funny...about interviewing real people for background material for novels ("I'm a novelist and would like to ask you a few questions about..." "Uh, sure....how come I've never heard of you?"). But I've learned to put shyness aside and forge ahead with my questions. I've learned, in fact, that a lot of people are happy to share the details of their work or knowledge--even if they've never heard of you or seen your books!
I'd love to hear stories of how other novelists approach research--whether they rely on books and articles or actually interview people for the stories they tell. And whether they've felt odd, like I have, about talking to real people for the research.