Friday, July 12, 2013

Let me Google That For You (or, research your guts out)

I'm sure, as a citizen of the Internet, at least once you've seen Let Me Google That For You. If not, have a look. It will enrich your life. Its existence, though funny, is also symbolic of something. Social commentary, if you will. LMGTFY exists because there are people who are willing to starve to death at an All You Can Eat buffet, simply because they aren't being spoon fed.

So, my manic research tendencies make me stand out amongst those who know me, of that you can be sure. But why do I do research, actual research with books and articles and music and newsbites, when I can just Google it?

(Detroit Library, main branch. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Respect is large part of it. I research what I don't know (duh, right?) I don't want to disrespect locations that I use in my fiction, or subject matter, or any of it. Example: I've never been to Detroit. As I discussed with my coworker the other day, I'm using Detroit at the urban decay backdrop that much of it is, in my Urban Fantasy novel The Last Song (spoiler: the main character isn't in Detroit the entire time. OR IS HE?). I said to my coworker "I can't just say, essentially, 'Detroit is a craphole', and leave it at that. It isn't what I believe, and it isn't what I'm trying to say." He said "Yeah, you can't just be Family Guy."

I have neither the money nor the lawyers to "Just be Family Guy", nor the inclination. I mean sure, I say offensive things on occasion. Maybe more than some people, I don't really know (depends on who you  know, I guess).

But Detroit is not my city, and I'm not going to shit all over it because of what's happened there, for the sake of narrative device.

I researched other things before Detroit. The cello. Forensics (the death investigation sort, not public speaking). Chernobyl. American nuclear testing. Dogs. Serial killers. Restaurant memoirs. Mexican cartels. South Africa. Survivalist groups. Vietnam era American interrogation techniques.

I research things because once I start asking, I need to know.

I research things, because once I need to know, I don't want to say something wrong and look like an asshole.

I want my information to be authentic and correct. I finished that snippet of conversation with the coworker by saying "And authors who do it right get made honorary citizens of places." Which is true. Is that my goal? Not really. My goal is a book that is real, no matter how unreal the elements. My goal is a book that doesn't make the people who live in the real material furious at me. I'd prefer people not blog angrily about my mistakes, or send me emailed tirades about what I got wrong.

As an author, be it a blogger or a fiction writer (even fantasy!) or a journalist, there is a responsibility to how one represents the information used. It's occurred to me to take that responsibility seriously. I hope I get it right.


  1. I'm the same way. "Writing what you know" only goes so far, and I think it's good to force yourself to branch out every now and then. I try to branch out to things my friends can help me with. ;)

    For locations, I've gotten away with either fictional universes or places I know for now, but I think I'm going to have to expand my horizons eventually. I hope your Detroit research goes well!

    1. Now that I'm thinking about it, I haven't much used locations that I know. I mean, I draw from what I know (obviously), and there are times location/setting is never specifically named (in the original short story I've expanded upon, the city wasn't was just "the city").

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.