Research. This word used to scare me. In fact, there was a time when I thought research was only something that non-fiction or historical fiction authors had to do—an arduous process involving hours spent in musty stacks, chasing down obscure citations. At writing conferences when there was a session on research, I would make sure to steer clear of this sort of workshop. Perhaps my fear came from deep seeded trauma over writing up my bibliographies for research reports in school. Yet over the years, I have come to learn to love research and it has become an important part of my writing process.
When I was writing a chapter book series that involved a character playing soccer, I tracked down a soccer coach and had him (very patiently) explain what “off-sides” meant and the difference between full-back and half-back. I needed to do this because I had never watched a soccer game (she blushes to admit this) and, of course, I needed to understand more than the basics in order to write about it. At the time, my oldest child was only 18 months and I hadn’t yet signed him up for soccer. Little did I know that a few years later, I would have three sons in soccer and two of them in travelling soccer. So yes, now someone could interview me about soccer. Okay, that might be a stretch. But I could be interviewed on what it is like to be a soccer mom!
For my first middle grade novel, Things Are Gonna Get Ugly, I attended a middle school dance. Sure, I had been to middle school dances, but had been decades ago. I wanted to see how they felt now. Honestly, except for the music, it was all the same. Sixth grade boys wrestling and chasing each other across the dance floor as if they were on a school playing field. Clumps of girls dancing together and only a few couples who actually were slow dancing. Yes, going to the dance helped me to re-remember what it was like.
When I was writing The Hot List, I visited middle school bathrooms. Why? Well, because the middle school bathroom is a key setting in that book, and once again I wanted to get it right. My forthcoming middle grade, Queen of Likes, is set in Portland, and I had fun, using the Internet to armchair travel. Although I’ve been to Portland a few times, it was through Internet searches that I discovered and Voodoo Doughnut and I just knew that my character had to eat their signature Voodoo Doll doughnut. My main character also ends up doing community service at a historical society. Naturally, I decided to spend some time at my local historical society in order to learn more about it. Suddenly, I was learning about ephemera boxes, Sanborne maps and the importance of archival boxes. I was learning right along with my character! I loved visiting the historical society so much that I think I might even attempt some historical fiction in the future.
Right now I’m working on a science fantasy novel, and while I’m not obviously able to take a space ship to another galaxy, I am researching Polar nights and electricity as they come into play in some way in my imagined world.
So, yes, I am now a huge fan of research. Whether it be interviewing someone, armchair traveling or pawing through a box of ephemera. In fact, I like it so much I have to nudge myself and say, Hillary, it’s time to stop researching and to start writing!
Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.