I recently ran into a bit of an issue while working on the third book in my Demon series. I’d sketched out a rough outline months ago, with the idea that the central mystery would have something to do with the music industry, since music is as integral a part of Louisiana culture as food is. I didn’t plan on going into too much detail–since I have pretty much no knowledge of music/recording contracts, etc. –so I figured that I’d do some hand-wavium over most of that stuff, and just focus on the character of the singer instead of all of the inner workings of the industry. But, I did have someone with a lot of ties to the Louisiana music scene lined up to answer basic research questions for me, so that I didn’t come off sounding like a complete doofus.
I started writing, and as I got further into the story I came up with a laundry list of more research questions that I needed answered, and I realized that “hand-wavium” wasn’t going to cut it, especially since I take a lot of pride in the accuracy of all of the forensic and police procedural details in my books. Unfortunately, by that time my “music man” had apparently dropped off the face of the earth, and I had no one on tap to answer questions.
I briefly debated scrapping the entire music industry concept (which would have basically involved scrapping just about everything I’d written so far.) But before I did that, I did what any modern writer should do: I put out a call on twitter for help. To my surprise, within about ten minutes I had two people offer to give me what help I needed–and I should note that both of these people had industry credentials that put my first research contact to shame! By the end of the week I had my questions answered in more depth than I could have ever hoped for. (Let’s just say that I now know enough about the music industry to make me NEVER want to try to be a professional singer/musician!!! LOL Holy crap, if you think breaking into publishing is brutal… Yikes!)
Now here’s the irony: I still ended up scrapping several chapters that Id already written. But this time it was because I now had a FRICKIN CLUE, and had a much stronger story in mind. Go figure, huh?
The thing is, most experts/artists/professionals are extremely eager to help out when it comes to research. It drives me crazy when I see forensics or police procedures depicted inaccurately, just as it drives medical professionals crazy when hospital/surgical procedures are mangled in prose or on TV, and just as it drives [insert professional here] crazy when [profession] is inacurrately depicted… You get the idea. Trust me, experts & professionals WANT to see things depcited accurately. If you have a research question, don’t be afraid to go ask someone who knows the answer. Ask nicely, explain what your project is, respect their time constraints, and give proper acknowledgment, and you’ll be quite pleased with the result.
(And, of course, the other lesson to be learned here is that social networking can be a pretty powerful tool! Thanks, twitter!)