Guest Blogger: J.M. Goebel on Researching Your Novel

Guess what? I’ve got a brand new guest blogger I’d like to introduce you to today. Julie Goebel and I have been blog followers of each other and Twitter friends for some time now. And I finally nagged, twisted her arm, invited her to do a guest post. I was thrilled when she consented. Julie’s got an ultra sexy muse who sometimes keeps her too focused on her WIP— when he’s not pub crawling with my own muse, Mr. Evening.

Anyway, I gave her free rein to pick a topic of her choice, and I think she came up with a subject of importance to all writers. I hope you’ll give her a friendly welcome!


Thanks to Mae for inviting me to her blog. I asked her what she wanted me to write about. She let me pick my subject.

I warned her  🙂

Then my Muse warned me.

Gawd, he sure has a way of taking the fun out of mischievous intent. So, since Mae’s first Point Pleasant novel is due out soon, I thought I’d use her posts about her travels to Mothman territory for inspiration.

One of the fun things about writing is the research. Let’s face it, learning new stuff is like exploring a forest with any number of trails. You follow one path, which leads off to a different path, and before you know it, you find yourself hacking through the underbrush in pursuit of a tidbit you didn’t know you needed.

Research helps us give our stories authenticity, which gains the reader’s trust. Inaccuracies will jar a reader out of the story and create doubt about the writer. Remember the scene in Die Hard 2, where McLean lights a fuel trail from the plane? The flame raced to the plane and BOOM! Wrong. Jet fuel doesn’t burn like that—it’s more like diesel fuel or kerosene than gasoline. If I hadn’t worked in the aviation maintenance industry, I could’ve believed that would really happen

And it was a good movie–up to that point. Actually, there were a lot of aviation things the movie got wrong. On second thought, maybe not such a good movie.

Cute kitten and dachshund wearing glasses on open book with another book beneathDepending on the type of fiction, some details can be fabricated. You make the rules in fantasy and science fiction. If, however, you are setting your story in contemporary times, or a real time or place in history, research is vital to make the world of your story believable to your readers. If your small town in North Dakota is based on a real town, you’d better make sure your character doesn’t go to the mall in that town if there is no mall there in real life.

Some might say Google is a writer’s best friend. It is a great tool for conducting research, and the Internet offers more information at your fingertips than a lot of small-town libraries. But before the days of Google and Wikipedia, writers did research the old-fashioned way: interviewing people who know the subject, visiting the locations in the story, and maybe trying things out on their own.

Mothman statue located in Gunn Park, Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Statue of the Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Going to the locations in your story allows you to see the area for yourself, taste the flavor of the area, and get a feel for the community and atmosphere. My host, Mae Clair, traveled to where the Mothman inhabits local legends when researching for her Point Pleasant series. I don’t know if she actually saw the infamous Mothman, but she’s posted a picture of his statue.

Best-selling author Christine DeSmet made many trips to Door County, WI to research her Fudge Shop Mystery series. She visited the lighthouse featured in her second book of the series, and toured the church spotlighted in the third book. One of her biggest sacrifices—she learned how to make fudge. I understand her coworkers were quite happy to help her perfect her recipes!

The vast plains of Saskatchewan, with wheat fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, have a different feel than Door County or the wilds where the Mothman haunts. Author Ceone Fenn traveled to Canada and interviewed museum curators and historians to learn the idiosyncrasies of grain elevators and trucks from the early 20th century for her story.

Researching on-site isn’t limited to books for grown-ups. Middle-grade author Bibi Belford toured the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago for her soon-to-be released MG book about the Chicago race riots. Though the riots took place in the 1920s, the lake remains, along with memorials dedicated to those who lost their lives.

Technology these days makes it far easier to reach distant areas of the world that or connect with people who know about the subjects you need to learn. What better way to check the accuracy of a crime scene or the process of an investigation than to ask a retired detective. Need to find out what it’s like to have a pet ferret? Ask the members of your Facebook writing group (who, by the way, are very willing to help).  What about Australian slang? You could use Google to find a reference for slang, or you could touch base with a real Australian through your Facebook writing group.

Not only can you gain knowledge for your story through research, you can meet some awesome people along the way. A wonderful thing about the writing community is the willingness of writers to help each other. We have a network of resources at our disposal that rivals Google, and I’m glad to be a part of it.


Author Bio:
Pen name: J. M. Goebel  A fiction writer since elementary school and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, Julie has been published in small press magazines such as “Fighting Chance” and “The Galactic Citizen”. She currently has two novels ready for the world (but without representation at this point), and a number of others waiting their turn. She writes adult mystery with extrasensory elements, mystery with a touch of romance, and fantasy (contemporary and traditional). In real life she is a technical writer with a wonderful hubby, two teenagers, cats, dogs, chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. Her hobbies include writing, reading, gardening, and searching for her wayward sanity.

Connect with Julie at the following haunts:
Twitter: @jmgoebel2k13

57 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: J.M. Goebel on Researching Your Novel

  1. You know how I feel about research, Mae. Love it! That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a fictional library or restaurant in an actual town/city, especially if you’re using it for the location of a murder. Also, I always use fake roads for suspects/victims houses. Choose someone’s real address by mistake and you can get sued.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Awesome post. Thank you Julie and Mae!

    I totally agree that research is extremely important for us. I loved your Die Hard example.
    I think that Google Earth or Maps come in handy if we can’t afford the luxury of traveling to the places we chose as setting for our stories. Libraries are also full of books that can help us with historical details.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the on target post, J.M. and Mae. Research is a pleasant aspect of writing, isn’t it? Since my mind usually flits to ancient places and wants to stay there, I enjoyed the change of researching Montana and 1950s decor for one of my books. Of course there are still secret fae portals and those kinds of liberties, but the river and landscape are actually there too. I enjoyed hearing about others’ research experiences.


    • It’s interesting to shift around in our research from various areas and time periods. You know what’s odd too? My current series is set in 1982. I should remember 1982 pretty well, but I still find myself having to go back and research the trends, news events, pop culture, etc. And I find myself stopping to look things up like…..was (insert item) around then? A little bit of a trip down memory lane, LOL.

      I agree with Julie, too. Finding a fae portal for research would be a blast! 😀


  4. I love the research that involves an adventure. Mine took me to the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde and on a tall ship shooting cannons! Great fun, and I was the nerd walking around taking notes in my notebook and asking strange questions. It was great. Lovely guest post and an important topic. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Sherry! I saw that show listed on the Tivo, but haven’t been able to pry the remote from hubby’s hand. I’ll have to get him to record it for me. I love research, maybe too much 😉 It doesn’t take much before I realize I’ve used half my allotted writing time doing research 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh, I missed the Mothman eppie, but I’ve probably got it on DVD. I hoard anything Mothy-related I can get my hands on, LOL.

      Glad you popped in to check out Julie’s post, Sherry. Happy Easter!


  5. Pingback: Guest Blogger: J.M. Goebel on Researching Your Novel | wwwpalfitness

  6. Pingback: Time, oh where did you go? | Facets of a Muse

I love comments, so please scribble a thought or two!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.