My Research Process

October 27, 2014

As you've probably read, I do a lot of research. For my first novel, Ghostman, I taught myself how to steal a car. For my second novel, I moved to China for several months. I've read several books about lockpicking-- I don't have the dexterity to do it myself-- but I know how it works. I played majong with a Triad boss. I played cards with a skinhead gang. For my third book, I'm going to be buried alive. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time exploring the world. I care a lot about my research process.

 

You know what I don't care about?

 

Verisimilitude.

 

Realism.

 

My writing is not supposed to be realistic. I don't want it to be. For a lot of writers, research is all about making sure that their books are as flawlessly realistic as possible. Hell, some writers only do research because they're afraid of making mistakes. To be fair, some readers are all about that shit. Some readers love finding small mistakes and tearing a writer a new one for it. As annoying as that can be, all readers deserve respect, and many writers bend over backwards to please them. While this is admirable, it's not for me.

 

I'm not in the business of making sure my books are flawless. I think that's a distraction, if not a fool's errand. Everybody gets something wrong. I want my books to be exciting. They're very synthetic. The plot of a Roger Hobbs novel could never happen in real life. My research is entirely in the service of making a fun, fantastic, and otherwise unbelievable story somewhat plausible. Why do I do research? So I can lie better.

 

Here's an example.

 

Ghostman has an extended description of how the Federal Reserve packages money for transport. I did a lot of research in order to make that description happen. Interesting fact, though: none of what appears in the book is real. I made it up. Did I tour the Department of Engraving and Printing? Yep. Do I know a lot about how money is made? Yes. Did I put all that knowledge to use in order to make a completely ridiculous premise (exploding money!) sound somewhat plausible? Hell yeah!

 

I have to sell the plot to the reader. Research helps me do that. So get this: there's no such thing as a Ghostman. That's my invention. Same thing with "the scatter." There is also no such thing as the Kazakhstan Crown Diamond, as far as I know.

 

I write to entertain, and I'll never let the truth get in the way of a good story. 

 

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