Writing and the internet, a marriage made in heaven

Greetings all,

It’s what passes for summer here (I won’t get much into it, I’ll just say the average temperature for the month of  July here is 11C that’s just 52F!) and time for another monthly post. I’ve been slowly working on book 4 of my Newfoundland Vampire series (as book 3 won’t be out until sometime in 2016 I’m certainly not in a rush) and I was thinking how wonderful a tool the internet is for a writer.

I’m a slow reader and I can remember the days when doing research meant going to the library (or in high school digging through my parents encyclopedias/National Geographic magazines) and spending time first searching for a book that might be related to the topic, getting the book, the trying to quickly determine if it was any good for your research before too much time was wasted. It was a treasure hunt and I know for untold hours I would look through journals, textbooks, newspapers, microfilm or even taking the step of ordering the book from the library and waiting for it to come  in.  Sure I got better at it, more efficient and I certainly had help from other students and asked librarians often. Don’t get me wrong I love libraries and enjoyed 90% or more of the time I spent there but still I was thrilled when I did my masters so much material was available on the internet. At that point I had an office (well I shared it with other students but eventually it was just me) and reading stuff on my laptop was just so much easier and convenient but I’m starting to stray.

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When I started to write my first novel “The Newfoundland Vampire” (what, you didn’t think I’d put in a plug?), available now with Distinguished Press, I wanted a main character that was based on a real person from history. Catherine Mandeville Snow was the last woman hanged in Newfoundland in 1834 and seemed like a figure I could really work with. My idea was to get someone from Newfoundland who had a significant/unusual death and she popped up. If I had wrote this book 20 years ago who knows how many hours just discovering that fact may have taken me. In seconds I read a brief bio of Catherine’s life and after a few minutes discovered there was a local author who had written a book on her, I sent him an e-mail and he agreed to meet with me (I did have to leave the house to do that of course).

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To be clear  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with going to the library and doing research, it’s a great thing if you live nearby and have the time but I find the older I get the more time becomes precious to me. I’m also aware that it is certainly possible to find information on the internet that is exaggerated/half-true or complete lies. Just as you would with a book you check your sources and see if the same info can be found from various sources. It would slow my writing down tremendously if I decided to read a book on a subject I didn’t know about and makes you admire authors like J.R.R. Tolkien or Bram Stoker for the incredible amount of time and effort they put into researching a story. Fortunately for writers past and present (to be precise a those with a publisher) you also have the invaluable tool of your editor to double-check your facts. Ultimately if you’re writing fiction and changing characters (my Catherine is quite different from the real one in many ways) you don’t need to get everything 100% accurate and wouldn’t want to but still do your best.

I’ll finish with another example. This week I was writing a chapter set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I have not been to Mardi Gras and so I did a Google image search (if you’re a very young author make sure you have safe search on!) and within a seconds I had dozens of great pictures. I did a little more checking on interesting bars on Bourbon Street, thought about the chapter and I was ready to start. While most of the images have nudity, here is one I can share.

epa03580945 (left to right) A Christian Street preachers yells at a group hanging outside of a bar whiledrag queen Charles Loraine Wendell yells back on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter during Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, 12 February, 2013.  Fat Tuesday is the final day of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans.  EPA/DAN ANDERSON

How great is that? One extreme to the other right in this picture and it’s real. I could right several pages on what these two could say to each other but for me it was just a nice tidbit of what happens at Mardi Gras (besides the obvious beads/drinking/flashing everyone knows about). If Google didn’t exist I never would have thought to write about these two guys and my scene would have been lacking something.

So what do you think? Is the internet a great tool for writers? Should we instead spend untold hours in libraries and more time becoming experts on topics/history? Is there some combination/happy medium I’m missing out on? I’d love to see your thoughts, until next month everyone!

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