I blog every Wednesday, and it just happens that today coincides with my birthday. So I had a really good writerly topic I was going to expound on, and in doing so, I needed to look up a particular source I’d link to. So I go to Google and lo and behold, there is this doodle staring at me wishing me Happy Birthday, Gwen! (click on it to get the full impact of its exuberance). Okay, creepy enough, but how is this happening? Because Google knows everything about you, sweetheart! Nothing is secret anymore! Well, happy Wednesday to you, big brother!
There are some writers who are under the impression that just because they have Google bookmarked, all their research is at the end of a few keystrokes. Would it be that easy there’d be no need for museum or historians or libraries or for that fact, real live human beings. I know from teaching Research Writing at the college level that the internet is a mere starting point. That what you find online, at least with some topics, could barely scratch the surface, and that anyone who thinks they could begin and end with Wikipedia is surely in a severe state of delusion. Unless you’re creating your own world from scratch, research is essential not only for credibility and accuracy, but also for the sheer fact there’s always someone who’s willing to challenge the veracity of your story. And this goes double for the MG writer. Those kids love to show up their elders!
So where do go besides online? Look, I’m in no way denigrating what the the internet has to offer. It’s a vast compendium of information, but it truly is a jumping-off point. But jump from there indeed, as its best function is a kind of a GPS towards the path you can take. Let’s say we were going to write a book about the Battle of Trenton, (where did you think I’d start this search from–North Dakota?) You know the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware? Well, that began the Battle of Trenton, and there’s a park you can visit where he embarked in Pennsylvania and disembarked in New Jersey. There’s a museum on the PA side, where you could no doubt speak to a park ranger or docent who can divulge some trivia, or visit the very spot where the General jumped the bank. Then you can take the bridge to the Jersey side where George alighted, and follow the Revolutionary trail to Trenton to the Old Barracks Museum where the Continental troops surprised the Hessians on Christmas night. Or if you want to shoot for as much accuracy as possible, you can wait until Christmas Day morning, and watch live reenactors reenact the Crossing from PA to NJ. From there you can continue on the Revolutionary Trail to downtown Trenton and onto Princeton. But if you want to really go deep, you can stay in PA and visit the David Library of the American Revolution, a specialized research library dedicated to the study of American history circa 1750 to 1800. See where I’m going with this?
The internet is essential to modern-day research, but there’s nothing like getting your sneakers dirty walking it down. Information doesn’t magically appear online, as there’s always someone hitting the road chronicling it first. But you shouldn’t take anyone’s impression as the last word. Get out there and form your own interpretation. When you do, even if you’re writing about ancient Egypt, it will seem as fresh as the day it happened.
The picture is from a couple or so years back of my experience at Book Expo America, which will be held this year from May 30 – June 1 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. I haven’t gone in the last couple of years for one reason or another and not for lack of wanting to. If you’re in the Northeast and in anyway connected with the book/publishing industry, it’s a worthwhile trip if you haven’t gone before. Nearly every book publisher in North America is represented, and the place is fairly swarming with editors, literary agents, publicists, and anyone in and around the industry. Not only that, but there are author signings almost from opening to closing, interviews with industry professionals or writers on a couple of stages, special programs for librarians and booksellers, and free books and swag galore. For more information, visit the BEA Homepage.