Thursday, January 6, 2011

You Have to Research Even When You Write What You Know

Currently reading - Insatiable by Meg Cabot

A few years ago, I pitched a particular manuscript at a couple of conferences.  I was roundly shot down by two agents for the same reason--location.  Apparently, some NYC agents do not appreciate stories set in Los Angeles.  One agent soundly berated me for never having been to L.A. so how could I write about it, and that I needed to stick with what I knew.

I managed to swallow my smart-ass comeback, smile pleasantly and thank the agent for her time.  So what if I couldn't write about about L.A?  That meant I couldn't write about New York since I 've never been there either.  That left places I've lived (Ohio Amish country, Canton, D.C., Philadelphia and Houston) and places I've visited (Boston, Baltimore, Richmond, Williamsburg, Charlotte, Miami, Key Largo, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Reno, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Antonio, Dallas, . . .).  You get my drift.

The trouble is that even when you're very familiar with a place, things change.  The picture above is City Center Mall in downtown Columbus, Ohio, as it was being torn down last year.  I spent a lot of time shopping there with friends.  I ate dinner there each night of the three days of torture that was the 1999 Ohio Bar Exam.  I found the perfect leather jacket for DH in a little shop that was next door to Lazarus department store.  A lot of memories of a place that no longer exists.

So even if you think you know a place well, always ALWAYS do your research.  The heroine of my latest wip definitely can't eat lunch at Max & Erma's if the block that housed that particular restaurant is now a park.


  1. Yep, definitely. I came up with an idea for a set of interlinked stories in the Hidden Magic universe centered around a certain booth at the Berryessa Flea Market. (The fey were cleaning out their basement or something, and hijinks ensue.) I grew up in the San Jose area, and the Berryessa Flea Market was, like, a major local institution. I only went a couple of times, but I knew people who went regularly, and everyone knew about it. Cool place to focus a series of stories on, right?

    Except when I went looking for some info on it, I found that it's not there anymore. :/ So... yeah. Definitely check, unless you currently live right across the street or something.


  2. You can always make up your own flea market, Angie. The idea sounds like too much fun to let slide.

  3. Suzan -- oh, I plan to. :) But it would've been cooler to use one that everyone from the area would've recognized. [heavy, theatrical sigh]