Everything is Research by Linda O. Johnston

Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her upcoming May release is her 45th published novel, with more to come.
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I’m  writer, and I assume that’s true of many people who read The Writers in Residence blog posts.  I’ve been doing this for quite a while, and it dawned on me long ago that I could, and do, use many aspects of my life as research for what I’m writing: what I read, what I accomplish, in effect nearly everything!
For one thing, I love to incorporate dogs in my stories.  I’ve been owned by Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for many years, and most of my friends, neighbors and relatives own dogs.  Plus, I’ve been able to observe a lot of dog training and other events involving dogs–and often what I see and experience shows up in what I write.
I’m not much of a cook, yet one of my mystery series, the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, includes not only dogs but the protagonist, Carrie Kennersly, owns both a human bakery and a barkery where she sells dog treats.  Some of the barkery material is derived from my visits to local shops in Los Angeles where dog food and treats are cooked and sold–so just visiting there, even if I’m hoping to buy things for my own dogs, is research.
Carrie is also a veterinary technician, so when I take my own dogs to the vet I’m also doing research.
I’ve also written Superstition Mysteries, and there are a lot of superstitions out there.  While I’m walking I’ve watched strangers stoop to pick up “lucky” pennies–and I do too, just in case.  Others cross their fingers while saying something, or knock on wood.  I’ve heard a lot of people extol their black cats and say they’re lucky, no matter what the superstition says.  Of course black cats being unlucky is a U.S. superstition; in other countries they’re considered lucky.
I haven’t run into real shapeshifters yet, I’m sorry to say–I think–but it’s fun researching the legends about them for my Alpha Force paranormal romance stories for Harlequin Nocturne about a covert military force of shapeshifters.
Just walking out the front door of my house provides me with ideas and research for some stories.  At the moment all my neighbors are good, but we’ve had some bad ones who, at least, give me story ideas as well as providing research regarding attitudes of some of today’s mostly younger folks.  I also derive ideas and research from some of the things picked up on the security cameras my husband mounted as a result of some of those bad neighbors, as well as from thieves and vagrants who’ve visited our street.  Do we live in an awful, rundown area?  No, just the opposite.  Our neighborhood is great, which may be why it attracts these kinds of issues.  Not fun in reality–but research!
Then there’s a new idea I’m working on now that was created after I went on a holiday outing to an interesting area–and my mind just took off on what kinds of mysteries could evolve around there.  Of course I’ve been doing additional research on that area.  Don’t know if this idea will go anywhere, but I’m certainly having fun working with it.
And meeting with other writers?  Everyone’s outlook on things is different, even if they’re writing in similar genres, so just talking about life and writing can also be considered a kind of research.
So here I am, writing this–and wondering what the next piece of research I’ll pick up will be, and how I’ll incorporate it into a story! 
How about you?  What is the most fun or helpful kind of research you’ve happened into in your life?

9 thoughts on “Everything is Research by Linda O. Johnston”

  1. Interesting post, Linda. And a good insight into how you manage to be so productive, with your attitude of curiosity. I never thought about the annoying people next door as research, but you’re right—and they may well show up as bad neighbor examples in one of my stories. I like making up stories about people I see in restaurants, markets, even the car wash; I guess that’s research too, right? I have a t-shirt that says, “Careful—you might end up in my novel.” People give me funny looks when I wear it, but. . . fair warning!


  2. And I have a plaque near my desk that says, “WARNING. Novelist at work. Bystanders may be written into the story.” I do believe that studying people anywhere you go can be helpful research, especially if they do or say something interesting. Plus, I particularly enjoy studying dogs!


  3. Life is research. Most of the jobs I have had have ended up in my stories. I create my bad guys out of whole cloth, law suits, you know, but my good characters are often friends and family in one way or another. And just a trip to the racetrack with free tickets or a case in Kentucky when I was really a private detective (talk about research) have turned up in my prose. I love research. And watching people is addictive.


  4. Interesting post, of course I love hearing good things about dogs any day. (smile) And I love doing research, but often don’t use as I expected, though some of the information gets into my head and pops out when I least expect it. Enjoyed!


    1. Thanks! I’ve been going through some old boxes and finding things I saved as research for some of my earlier books. I purposely planned for those things to be research. But it’s the day-to-day stuff I find fun and fascinating now!


  5. I included a big Scooby-Doo kind of dog named Antonio Banderas in my recent Sci-Fi, thriller,romantic suspense trilogy. My three dogs (none of which resemble the wonderful Antonio) provided lots of antics to consider to flesh out Tony’s character as he was central to the story. Thanks for keeping us mindful of using all the tools and what’s all around us.


  6. Research is critical to my writing. As I complete the third book in my historical fiction series, I’m immersed in another time and place. Although the history serves only as backdrop to my story, I still have to get the basics right, and the little details not only provide context to the times, but also direct the actions of my characters.
    But it’s led to some funny situations. At breakfast last Monday a friend asked me what I did over the weekend. I’d been immersed in completing my WWI-era novel, so I said, “I shot someone to death and sold a Monet painting.” Her reaction: “You have a Monet?”


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