The Proof is in the Pudding-The Value of Research by Sarah Madison
It’s no secret I love research. I love immersing myself in it, reading everything I can get my hands on, even better if I can watch movies or television shows that further the process. When I began my research for The Boys of Summer, I started by opening a few documents on Wikipedia, but it soon became apparent to me that the hours I spent there weren’t going to cut it. I’d gone into it thinking I just needed to get a few details right regarding the uniform, and that led to an inquiry as to when the term ‘dog tag’ came into use, and from there whether or not WW2 fighter planes had pressurized cabins and so on and so on.
The more I read, the more I discovered I knew so very little about the era. I found my level of ignorance shocking and appalling, and I went out to the local bookstore, heading to the history section. I soon narrowed down my research to the Battle of Britain, concentrating on absorbing as many facts as possible. I read non-fiction texts. I watched war movies of the day, as well as modern-day versions of movies about that time. I plunged headfirst into the background material and didn’t come up for air for at least a month. It was an enlightening and awe-inspiring experience.
First, I realized that I had to do justice in some small part to the stories of the young men who gave their all in the war. The average lifespan of a fighter pilot in WW2 was six weeks, and many of these young men were barely out of school, and had as little as eleven or twelve hours of flight time before being sent into battle. I might have entered into the research looking for a little factual information to flesh out a dream scene, but I felt compelled to share their stories, which is why the ‘dream scene’ turned into a sequence that lasted a third of the book. I know some readers scratched their heads over that. Still others wondered why the story wasn’t just about the historical bit. I can’t explain why I felt it necessary to combine the two stories. I suspect it has to do in part with the fact that the way these characters were written, I couldn’t see them having a happy ending in 1940, and I am all about the happy ending. Neither could I see the contemporary story being strong enough to stand on its own, not without bringing in drug-runners or modern-day pirates or something. Besides, I had all this lovely research begging to be used.
The thing is, however, you don’t want to hit your readers over the head with the research. I read a historical novel recently, also set in Britain during WW2, and the author had a tendency to drop facts into the narrative like a Messerschmitt on a strafing run. It’s not to say that the information wasn’t interesting, but the heavy-handedness of it kept jerking me out of the story. Yes, I know how much fun it is to gather information, but you can’t use all of it. Pages of exposition, while you think it’s setting the background, will make a reader’s eyes glaze over. You can’t just load your facts up like pellets in a shotgun shell, peppering your story with random fact dispersal, either.
Never fear, however. There is no such thing as too much research. Even if you never use all of the information you’ve gleaned, it will make its presence felt nonetheless. Your knowledge of social mores of the Regency era will prevent your heroines from throwing themselves into their chairs, slouching in elegantly while speaking with more candor than was proper for the time. Your feel for an era mindset will lend authenticity to your character’s actions and dialog. You’ll know if something you write is all wrong and you’ll know when it is so right it rings like a bell. Moreover, your readers will know it too. They may not know how they know it, and if it’s done right, they never will, but they’ll know it just the same. It will feel right to them.
So put your time in: be it understanding the BDSM lifestyle, or getting into the mindset of a 1940s fighter pilot, or making the rampant misogyny of the 1950s workplace both understandable and normal for your character. It will make all the difference in the world to your story.
TITLE: The Boys of Summer
AUTHOR: Sarah Madison
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
COVER ARTIST: Reese Dante
LENGTH: 200 Pages
RELEASE DATE: December 21, 2015
BLURB: 2nd Edition
David McIntyre has been enjoying the heck out of his current assignment: touring the Hawaiian Islands in search of the ideal shooting locations for a series of film-company projects. What’s not to like? Stunning scenery, great food, sunny beaches… and Rick Sutton, the hot, ex-Air Force pilot who is flying him around.
Everything changes when a tropical storm and engine failure force a crash landing on a deserted atoll with a WWII listening post. Rick’s injuries and a lack of food and water mean David has to step up to the plate and play hero. While his days are spent fighting for survival, and his nights are filled with worrying about Rick, the two men grow closer. David’s research for his next movie becomes intertwined with his worst fears, and events on the island result in a vivid dream about the Battle of Britain. On waking, David realizes Rick is more than just a pilot to him. The obstacles that prevented a happy ending in 1940 aren’t present today, and David vows that if they survive this stranding, he will tell Rick how he feels.
“I don’t think we’ve got much choice.” Sutton’s voice was grim. “We’re lucky to have that much. Hold on, these trees are coming up faster than I’d like.”
Still fighting to keep the nose of the plane up, Sutton guided the recalcitrant aircraft toward the so-called clearing, the ground rising up to meet them far faster than was comfortable. David found himself leaning back in his seat, bracing his hands on the console as the tops of trees scraped the underside of the plane. Branches swiped at the windshield, and David had the sudden impression of being in a car wash scene as written by Stephen King.
“Duck your head!” Sutton barked. “Wrap your arms around your legs!”
“And kiss my ass goodbye?” David shouted, raising his voice over the increasing noise as he obeyed Sutton’s orders.
Incredibly, Sutton laughed. It was an oddly comforting sound. Like everything was somehow going to be all right because Sutton was at the controls.
The moment of humor was gone in a flash. The plane screamed with the sound of tearing metal and the sharp, explosive crack of tree limbs and breaking glass. David kept his head down and his eyes closed, praying to a God he was pretty sure had more important things to do than to keep up with the well-being of one David McIntyre. Despite being strapped in his seat, his head and shoulder thumped painfully against the passenger side door as the plane thrashed wildly. There was a moment of eerie, blessed silence, and for an instant, the assault on the plane seemed as though it had lifted. Eye of the storm, David thought, just before the plane hit the ground.
Someone had left the window open and it was raining on him. How incredibly annoying. He shifted, intent on reaching for the offending window, when a jolt of pain ran through his shoulder and he gasped. When he opened his eyes, nothing made any sense at first. Then he remembered the crash, and realized that his side of the plane was pointing up at the sky. The rain was coming down in a steady stream through the broken windshield. The sound of the rain on the metal hull of the plane was nearly deafening.
He winced at the pain in his neck when he turned to look over at the pilot’s seat. Sutton was slumped to one side in his chair, unmoving. His sunglasses were hanging off one ear.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” David murmured, hastily undoing his seatbelt so he could reach across to Sutton. His skin was cold and damp where David touched it, and adrenaline pounded through David’s veins as though he could jumpstart Sutton’s heart by sending his own pulse beating through his fingertips. “Sutton! Rick!”
David fought to free himself of his seat, twisting for greater access to the other side of the cockpit. When the seatbelt came open, he fell half across Sutton. Sprawled practically in his lap, David could now see the nasty cut on the left side of Sutton’s temple. The pilot’s side of the plane had taken a lot of damage, and David yelped as he encountered a sliver of glass. Bits of the windshield and console were scattered like confetti over Sutton’s jacket. “Sutton!” The lack of response was unnerving. He tossed aside the sunglasses and worked a hand down into Sutton’s collar, feeling frantically for a pulse.
He could have kissed the man when Sutton suddenly groaned.
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Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a large dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. An amateur photographer and a former competitor in the horse sport known as eventing, when she’s not out hiking with the dog or down at the stables, she’s at the laptop working on her next story. When she’s in the middle of a chapter, she relies on the smoke detector to tell her dinner is ready. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.
Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards and is the winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards.
If you want to make her day, e-mail her and tell you how much you like her stories.
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