Summer Session: Writing Tips #2 I had a chance to get some insight on research from author Mary Simses, who just released her latest novel The Rules of Love & Grammar. If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a novel by Simses, add her new novel to your to-be-read list, it is wonderful and you can see the layers of all of her research in every page. Let’s welcome Mary and please share some of your own research tips with us here!
~ Cindy Arora
Your first book, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe, was so full of wonderful color and detail, so my question for you is how much research do you do for your own writing? And what are some tips to other writers you can share about the importance of research of ones topic?
MARY: I did a lot more research for my second novel, The Rules of Love & Grammar, than for my first novel, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café. That’s because I had two key areas I needed to know a lot more about. One was restoring an old bicycle; the other was filming a movie on location. For the bike restoration, I obtained most of what I needed by talking with the owner and manager of a local bike shop in my home town in Florida. I took a lot of photos at the shop so I could describe the showroom and the workroom. I also did research on the Internet, to get names of bicycle parts and tools, brands of bikes, repair videos, etc.
What are some challenges you faced while researching your latest novel, The Rules of Love & Grammar?
MARY: What was more of a challenge was getting information about shooting movies on location. I’ve never been to a movie shoot and I tried hard to get permission to attend one, but I was unsuccessful. I was, however, able to talk to some people who work in the field and that was really helpful. I also read books and articles and blogs about making movies, and looked at a lot of photos of location shoots that were done in the Northeast. In the end, I got what I needed – more than I needed, which often happens. The risk of having too much research is that you sometimes want to use more of it than you should (I guess on the theory that it shouldn’t go to waste!), but that’s a recipe for disaster as it can really slow down the book.
I didn’t have to do extensive research for my settings (the towns of Beacon, Maine in Blueberry Café and Dorset, Connecticut in Love & Grammar) because they are both fictional towns, although I created them by using bits and pieces of real towns with which I’m familiar. When I’m describing a setting, I sometimes start with a photo I like. Grace’s house in Dorset was inspired by a photo I found on the Internet while searching for Connecticut homes on the waterfront. I only had a photo of the outside, which showed a lovely old house on a large piece of waterfront property and a garage, in a style similar to the house, further down the driveway. Seeing only the outside of the house was perfect, because I wanted to design the inside of it myself.
Everything I do regarding my books is on my laptop. That includes all manuscript drafts, notes and ideas for the story, notes about characters, research, photos, and anything else I need. Actually, I take that back. There is one thing I couldn’t keep on my laptop – a large piece of foam-board on which I placed yellow stickies to represent the shops and businesses in downtown Dorset. That helped me keep things straight when I was describing the town.
Mary Simses grew up in Darien, Connecticut and began writing stories at the age of seven. In college, she majored in journalism because she didn’t believe she could ever make a living as a fiction writer. After working in magazine publishing for a few years, she went back to school to become a lawyer. While working as a corporate attorney, she enrolled in an evening fiction writing class at a university in Connecticut and began writing short stories “on the side.” Several of her stories were published in literary magazines. Mary finally took the advice of a friend and decided to try writing a novel. That manuscript ultimately became The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café, a number one best-seller in Germany. The Rules of Love & Grammar is her second novel.