Researching the Contemporary Romance
by Laurie Larsen
by Laurie Larsen
Hello everyone! And my thanks to the Brunette Librarian for hosting me today! (May I call you “Marian?” Oh no, never mind, that librarian was a blonde, I believe). Anyway, the librarian asked me to blog today about how I researched for Keeper by Surprise. It’s an interesting topic because when authors talk about researching for their novels, it often centers on topics such as:
- Historical era accuracy
- Science fiction believability
- Details of a character’s occupation
- Study of a particular setting/country/destination
My books all take place in today’s world. My tagline is: “Everyday life with just a touch of worst case scenario.” Although I do research to ensure that all my facts are straight and accurate, the rest of it just comes straight out of my imagination.
Various kinds of research were necessary for Keeper. Here’s a rundown:
- Legality of naming a sibling guardian over others: As you know from the blurb, our hero Keith’s parents die in a sudden car accident and he is left as guardian over his younger siblings by the parents’ will. I happen to know, from a recent appointment with our own attorney, that parents can choose anyone they want to be guardians of their children, as long as the guardian has reached legal age -- 18. So the fact that Keith’s parents left their 20-year-old son as guardian, although unusual, is legal. That’s where the touch of worst case scenario collides with everyday life.
- Wording of a will: For the scene in the book where the attorney read the will, I took the wording directly from our own will. If it works for us, it’ll work for Keith.
- Day to day life of a social worker: Keith eventually meets beautiful Lisa Carle, a social worker assigned to help out with his case. In order to make sure the office environment that I dreamed up for Lisa was accurate, I called up several social workers I know and asked them questions, then had them read the resulting scenes for their suggestions.
- Organizational hierarchy of a governmental reporting structure: There’s a sub-plot within the book that has to do with a devastating secret Lisa is hiding that would surely destroy her budding romance with Keith. In the book’s first (and even second) drafts, I had the details of the reporting structure of a certain government employee completely wrong. Fortunately, the husband of one of my beta readers worked in a similar environment and recognized the error. She pointed out to me where the mistake was and I had to do a little brainstorming because it changed a little bit of plot downstream. But better to make changes pre-publication than put out an error that could be a distraction to readers.
- Military jargon/info: There’s a military theme in the book because Keith was raised by a strict Marine Colonel, and his whole childhood was like a 18-year boot camp. Because I have four or five scenes involving military personnel, various ranks, jargon, etc., I invited a friend of mine out to lunch who had served as a Marine in Viet Nam and ran all my questions by him. He kept wanting to make this a military adventure book, which it’s so not! But he was a big help in keeping that part of it accurate.
- Geography: Because of the storyline, Keith’s home had to be within easy commuting distance to a Marine base, an hour or less from a big city where Keith’s teenage sister Dana goes on an ill-fated date to a big-name concert, and about three hours from a university. It was like a puzzle finding just the right town. Fortunately, I found a winner: Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, where, coincidentally, my husband used to work in the first couple years of our marriage.
- Inside of a sorority house on campus: So, as the book opens, Keith is a carefree college student at Penn State University. He’s dating a beautiful sorority girl, Carly. He’s picking her up for a formal dance at her sorority house. When I was researching what sororities are offered at Penn State, I noticed that my mom’s old sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, was an active one. In honor of her, I made that Carly’s sorority. Then, by scanning Penn State’s website I zeroed in on a Penn State Alpha Chi Omega website, and lo and behold, there are pictures of the exterior and interior of the house! My mom was reading the book and at the scene where Keith picks her up at the house, said, “My gosh, how did you know that those are the sorority’s colors?” Well, because I didn’t have to pull it out of my imagination -- I wrote the scene while staring at the house itself, inside and out!
That gives you just a little idea of what types of research are needed for a book that’s grounded in reality and the modern world. And I hope reading this has piqued your interest and made you want to check out Keeper by Surprise!
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