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MENU FOR ROMANCE: The Research

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Most people (non-writers, I mean) assume that when one writes a contemporary-set novel, there isn’t any research involved. WRONG! Even though I try to keep my characters in jobs that I’m at least vaguely familiar with—or I know someone who is—I still have to make sure I’m getting all the details correct. While the research for a contemporary (at least mine) isn’t as intensive as it is for a historical, it’s still as vitally important. After all, I don’t want a bunch of readers contacting me telling me I got everything wrong. So what are some of the topics I had to research?

Event Planning and Facilities Maintenance
Tennessean_officeMeredith is Executive Director of Events and Facilities for Boudreaux-Guidry Enterprises, her parents’ corporation that they grew out of her maternal grandfather’s commercial real estate company. The “research” for this came mostly through my own life experience. When I worked at the daily newspaper here in Nashville, I did quite a bit of event planning—from events for our sales staff to focus groups to “gala” awards ceremonies for several hundred people. So that part of Meredith’s job was easy for me. But she’s also the Facilities Director, which means that all of the management, security, and maintenance staff for each of the properties owned by B-G report to the supervisors who all report to her. How did I handle this? Well, again, back to my days at The Tennessean. For several years, I served on several different company-wide committees, which not only brought me into contact with the facilities/maintenance managers and staff, as part of my duties on the company safety committee, several times a year, I had to participate in safety inspections of other departments, which meant we had to know all the OSHA rules and regulations, and sit in meeting in which we discussed work-place accidents and incidents—everything from trip-and-falls to major loss of limb—and life—accidents to building security.

On Being an Executive Chef
Making of a ChefAs a majority of people have at one time in their life, I worked in a couple of different restaurant/kitchen environments in high school and college. In high school, it was a restaurant; in college, I worked at the Faculty Club at LSU, which was a restaurant/hotel combination on campus (some people familiar with the Faculty Club might recognize that it was the inspiration for Lafitte’s Landing in Stand-In Groom). Yet I was never an executive chef. I watched a lot of cooking shows on Food Network and Top Chef on Bravo, which gave me pretty good insight into chefs’ personalities, but not on the day-in, day-out life of being a chef. So I had to do some real research. It took quite a while of searching, but I finally ran across this book, The Making of a Chef, at Barnes & Noble one day. As soon as I opened it, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. An almost daily journal of someone attending culinary school. No, it didn’t give me the day-to-day workings of a professional kitchen—but since this wasn’t a restaurant, that wasn’t really what I needed anyway. I needed the “deep background” that this book gave me.

Restoring a Historic Home
WardOkay, so this is pretty much an excuse to post another image of Eduardo Xol, the template for Ward Breaux, the contractor Meredith hires to finish restoring her house when it gets to be too much for her. I’ve watched my share of home-improvement shows over the years and learned some of the jargon. But when I needed to send Meredith to the hardware store in search of something for her house—the trip on which she’d meet Ward—I need her to be able to speak with him like an equal, to show him she’s not just some fragile flower who knows nothing about wood epoxy. Why did I settle on wood epoxy? Because I like the word epoxy! And I’d just had a situation—the rear-view mirror in my car losing adhesion to the windshield and falling off—which sent me to Home Depot in search of epoxy, which is when I came up with the idea for that scene. So of course, I had to research the different types of wood epoxies available—and what she would be using it for. And because this isn’t a huge area of interest to me (like cute contractors are), I didn’t spend much time focusing on the details of this particular topic.

Gourmet Food
banquetWhile I’m going to give some recipes in another post next week, I did want to mention that I had to spend a lot of time researching food for this book. Many people mentioned that reading Stand-In Groom made them hungry—and I didn’t intentionally focus on food in that book! I guess my own obsession with food just shines through. ๐Ÿ™‚ But with a chef and a character who coordinates banquets and formal dinners and catered galas, there had to be a focus on food in this book. But since I’m not personally given to wanting to eat fancy foods (just give me steak and a baked potato for a special meal out!), I had to research what types of foods are currently in style for these types of events.

A Wedding Reception
ReceptionYep, you’re reading that correctly. The author who wrote an entire novel about a wedding planner had to research what happens at a wedding reception for her second book. Okay, yes, I know the basics of what happens at a normal wedding reception. Everyone sits around (if you can find a place to sit), waits for the bride and groom to show up, waits some more while the bride and groom go around and are greeted by everyone they know, wait while they cut the cake, and then, maybe, have some cake, congratulate the new Mr. and Mrs., and then skedaddle. What, you mean that isn’t what happens at the receptions you’ve been to? Well, as the “old maid” at every single wedding I’ve been to in the last ten years, hanging out at the reception isn’t my idea of fun, especially since, aside from family, I don’t usually know anyone there. So I had to pull out one of the books I’d bought for research for SIG to see what the order of events is at a formal, sit-down reception with dancing—because Meredith would have to know this.

12 Comments
  1. Wednesday, June 17, 2009 6:32 am

    Hey Kaye, I have a question for you. How did you get historical AND contemporary published? I’ve heard that authors should write one or the other and stick with it. Do you find it hard to go from historical to contemporary? (okay, so that is 2 questions!)

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  2. Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:14 am

    It is recommended, especially to new authors, that one focus on contemporary or historical. I’ve never been one to listen to what people are supposed to do. (Wait, yes I am. It’s ingrained in my personality that I’m very rules oriented. I’m just very stubborn, too.)

    However, what you have to keep in mind is that I am writing the same genre . . . because both the contemporaries and the historicals are, at their core, romance novels. So even though the setting is different and the tone is different, I’m still sticking with what I do best.

    I had lunch with my best friend a couple of weeks ago and tried brainstorming through some of the blocks I was having in trying to finish A Case for Love, the third contemporary novel. And I realized—I really needed to write a historical between the last two contemporaries. I didn’t have time to (not with Menu due on December 1 and Case due on July 1), but writing Ransome’s Honor after writing Stand-In Groom did me a world of good, because there are so many differences that go into writing a historically set novel: the research, the change in cadences of the language, trying to think in 1814 simile and metaphor, being able to include more description, the costumes, and so on.

    Believe me, I have a pretty good grasp on just how unusual it is for a newly published author to have a contemporary series and a historical series out on the market at the same time. I just hope readers will be as happy with both series as I am!

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  3. Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:25 am

    Thanks for the answer! I find it interesting that it would help you to go back and forth. I think for me, it would be difficult to get out of the historical mindset. Having said that, I am writing a historical but all my new ideas are contemporary! I am sure you are doing it right, since you are having so much success!

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    • Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:27 am

      We’ll see—the historical hasn’t hit the market yet. I’m getting myself in a dither, just waiting for all of the reviews that rip it to shreds for historical accuracy. Though I’m confident in my research, I know I’ve missed stuff. Everyone does.

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  4. Jess permalink
    Wednesday, June 17, 2009 1:55 pm

    I hate wedding receptions too!
    Research makes writing so hard–you can’t “explain” anything, you just have to incorporate it all into the character, or else it’s boring and show-offy.

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    • Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:26 pm

      Oh, yes, the dreaded “info dump.” I took a seminar in grad school that was invaluable for me, especially as I’d just started working with the Ransome story at that point in time.

      And, oh yay, I just found out that I now have not one, not two, but THREE pending weddings of younger cousins within the next year. One of them (the closest to me in age, one of my four female cousins—out of nineteen on my mom’s side of the family) is hoping for something small and looking at September, so I’m not sure if I’ll even be invited, much less expected, to go to that one. And the irony is, out of all three of them, that’s the one I’d most like to attend.

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  5. beckycastlemiller permalink
    Wednesday, June 17, 2009 2:08 pm

    I am enjoying this series on the background of your books very much!

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    • Wednesday, June 17, 2009 5:27 pm

      It’s been very helpful to me. Not only is it preparing me for any blog tours/interviews I might do, but doing the ones on the Ransome book is helping me get back into the characters and the story for when I start writing the second book in July!

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  6. Wednesday, June 17, 2009 11:58 pm

    I am loving your series!!! It’s been sooo much fun!

    Research…I looooove reading about all these things, but it’s such a pain in the neck at the same time. Example: I’m working on the sequel to my novel while I edit it for the 1,000th time…and after four chapters I realized that the hero couldn’t be traveling in Europe because…um…it was in the middle of WW1. One of those super “duh” moments.

    One off-the-wall question. If someone (ok, me ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) were to write a novel where the hero was an inventor, what could he be inventing? I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m wondering whether or not I could “credit” him with inventing a certain thing because it’s documented history that so-and-so invented it…am I making any sense? Does it depend on what the item is (like, the lightbulb vs. chromatography…I had to look that one up. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I mean, everyone knows who invented the lightbulb, vs. chromatography…I had no idea)? Could I credit the “real inventor” in a note before the novel? Or should I scrap the whole idea?

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    • Thursday, June 18, 2009 12:02 am

      You could write a character inventing something that someone else invented—you can spin it that your character just wasn’t quick enough to get it patented or something like that—there are plenty of examples of those kinds of things happening in history, where one person is credited with inventing something, even though several other people came up with the same idea and built models. I don’t think giving someone else’s invention to your fictional character is a good idea, though.

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  7. Thursday, June 18, 2009 8:16 am

    I’m loving your comments on how hungry people were after reading – and the obsession of food shining through. And the epoxy…it is a lovely word!

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