In a sense, I’m researching all the time, although I don’t precisely know for what. As much as I can, I base my books on anecdotes I’ve heard or situations I’ve experienced in my own life. “Write what you know” is good advice.
Of course I want to know more than I can find out just by hanging out, so I read a lot of nonfiction just for fun. When I am writing fiction I feel no urge to read fiction, and quirky nonfiction makes great entertainment as well as supplying potentially valuable information. In my house you will find The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste as well as The Larouse Encyclopedia of Mythology. You will find Big Hair but also Reviving Ophelia. Grimm’s Fairy Tales but also tales of bounty hunting. Books on Pre-Raphaelite art and books about circus freaks. The Book of Weird, formerly The Glass Harmonica, is a favorite of mine, and Frogs: Their Wonderful Wisdom, Follies and Foibles, Mysterious Powers, Strange Encounters, Private Lives, Symbolism and Meaning, inspired two frog-themed books. Almost anything is grist for the mill, and that includes looking up “grist” in the dictionary to find out what I just said, exactly.
I wonder whether “grits” come from “grist.” Linguistically, I mean.
Anyway. When I have something specific to research, such as everything I needed to know when writing the Enola Holmes novels — London of the 1880’s, Victorian culture, costume, customs, cuisine, the works — I look every which where. For Enola, I started with history books, but what a fiction writer really needs to know — smells, textures, routines, superstitions, everyday details — cannot be found there. So I read biographies of notable people who lived at the right time, and I studied The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by William S. Baring-Could — I got it cheap because I needed only Volume One. Then, the treat I’d been waiting for, I went to a website called doverpublications.com for visual references. (Remember, all story starts with the visual; IMAGE-ination.) One of my very best sources for the Enola Holmes books was Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs by John Thomson. Another was Fashion and Women’s Attitudes in the Nineteenth Century by C. Willet Cunningham, also profusely illustrated. Yet another was Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing by Martin Gardner. All of these came from Dover Books, as did my most important and unusual resource: numerous coloring books. Whether Victorian Houses, Victorian Hotels, Victorian Costume, or The Language of Flowers, these not only gave me information in the form of notes, but enabled me to internalize everything so thoroughly that, when it became time to write, I didn’t have to think about research; I just knew. By coloring, whether a street scene or a house interior or a lady in full fig, in order to decide on colors I had to figure out what things were and how they worked together. What is that thing? Oh, it’s a coal scuttle, so it’s black. Or oh, it’s a mailbox, and what color were they? (Red.) Or it’s the collar and cuffs that fasten separately to the rest of the gentleman’s suit, invariably starchy white. And so it went.
Not only did I find well-illustrated reference books and scholarly coloring books at Dover, but also wonderfully useful paper doll books, clip art, and stickers. In my rather messy notebooks, I used Victorian stickers to help make sense of the jumble and let me find what I needed. I even made my own little book of Victoriania out of stickers and notes.
One of my self-made mottoes as a fiction writer is “it works to play.” Obviously other people agree with me, or such wonderful research playthings would not be available.
About the Author:
Nancy Springer has passed the fifty-book milestone, having written that many novels for adults, young adults and children, in genres including mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, horror, and mystery — although she did not realize she wrote mystery until she won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America two years in succession. DARK LIE is her first venture into mass-market psychological suspense.
Born in Livingston, New Jersey, Nancy Springer moved with her family to Gettysburg, of Civil War fame, when she was thirteen. She spent the next forty-six years in Pennsylvania, raising two children (Jonathan, now 35, and Nora, 31), writing, horseback riding, fishing, and birdwatching. In 2007 she surprised her friends and herself by moving with her second husband to an isolated area of the Florida panhandle, where the birdwatching is spectacular and where, when fishing, she occasionally catches an alligator.
Find Nancy online at
In this gripping psychological thriller — smart, chilling, and unrelenting — Nancy Springer establishes herself as an exciting new suspense writer with a distinctive voice and some surprises up her sleeve…
To their neighbors, Dorrie and Sam Clark seem a contented couple in America’s heartland, with steady jobs, a suburban home, and community activities to keep them busy. But they’re not quite what they appear to be. For plain, hard-working Sam hides a depth of devotion for his wife that no one would suspect. And Dorrie is living a dark lie — beset by physical ailments, alone within herself, and unknown to those around her, following the comings and goings of the sixteen-year-old daughter, Juliet, she gave up for adoption when she was hardly more than a child herself.
Then one day at the mall, Dorrie, horror-stricken, sees Juliet being abducted, forced into a van that drives away. Instinctively, Dorrie sends her own car speeding after them — an act of reckless courage that pits her against a clever, depraved killer, and draws Sam into a dogged, desperate search to save his wife. In a confrontation that unites mother and daughter in a terrifying struggle to survive, Dorrie must face and conquer her own secret, tormented past.