A Writer's Research

Have you ever thought about how much time writers spend doing research? The two Patricias thought it might be interesting to talk about our research process.

Patricia Johns

A lot of my research is done through good old-fashioned gossip.

That sounds terrible, I know, but it’s true! I mean, I might Google details of a career, I might ask a cop I know about how his job works, and that is all very good, but I don’t think most readers come to my books for that… It’s the juicy, interpersonal stuff that makes my books what they are!

And how do you research what it’s like to have your father marry a woman younger than you are, or what it’s like to find out that your husband is cheating after fifteen years of marriage? By listening. I’ll notice things on Twitter—a strange number of marriages ending after twenty or thirty years, and that gets me to thinking, and Googling, and reading people’s comments and experiences. I might know people going through a similar experience, and I might have heard the stories my friends have told me about other people going through these things.

But “gossip” doesn’t mean being mean-spirited. I’m not interested in tearing anyone down. I’m more interested in how it must feel, and what they’ll do now. It’s about the empathy, really! If I were in her shoes, how would I deal with something like that? What would my next step be? Because it could happen to anyone… None of us are any higher or lower when it comes to the messy parts of being human. We’re all just as vulnerable to the tough stuff. And we can all survive it. That resilience is the story I’m interested in telling.

I stand by it--gossip is a writer’s friend!

Patricia Bradley


Research is my favorite thing about writing, right up there with being in the flow with words pouring out my fingers onto the computer screen. 

Just this year I’ve visited Natchez, Mississippi, the setting for my next books. I even got lost on a one-lane, sand road with either a bank or bayous on both sides and nowhere to turn around. All because I asked a ranger where a good place to commit a crime would be.  

I also got to visit beautiful antebellum mansions. (Did you know antebellum simply means before the war? I should have known that from my high school Latin!) I also tried to eat at all of the quaint restaurants in Natchez like Kings Tavern, built in 1769, making it the oldest structure in Natchez and probably in Mississippi. I’m thinking of setting a series down on the Gulf Coast…road trip!

I’ve often wondered if Homeland Security might have a file on me. In addition to researching settings, I regularly research articles on poisons, topics like how to smuggle diamonds, gunrunning, how to blow up a car, how to make a bomb…what do you think?

If you’re a writer, or if you would like to be, what would be your favorite thing to research?


  1. Gossip and treacherous settings--a writer's best friends! Nachez looks like an amazing setting. Eavesdropping is often fruitful, and just listening. I've known people in a couple of weird instances that are almost too unbelieveable to use in a book. Really, for a writer, everything is research, because we're always storing tidbits away in our heads. Right? Or is it just me?

    1. Beth, I've heard things no one would believe and therefore I can't use...fiction isn't true, but it has to be believable. lol

  2. You can learn a lot by listening. You don't usually have to try and eavesdrop, people are surprisingly easy to hear at the table next to you. When I go to the internet for research it can be distracting because I end up going down rabbit trails in the opposite direction of where I intended to go.

    1. I can spend hours, Bamakim, looking up stuff on the Internet! So I have to set a timer.

  3. I love research. Eavesdropping is a good thing! I loved your adventures in Natchez, Pat!

  4. I could spend a month in Natchez, Liz. It is such a unique place!

  5. Patricia Bradley - "Where a good place to commit a crime would be." I cracked up. I would have loved to have seen the ranger's face for that one.
    Patricia Johns - I'm sure some excellent story ideas come from women chatting. I wrote a paper in college about how women in every culture need gossip and how important it is. It was a fun topic to explore!

    1. Elizabeth, you should have seen the mechanic's face when I arrived at his garage and asked how to loosen a tie-rod end so my character would run off the interstate. :-)


Post a Comment