Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Researching Research

Just about everyone I know in the writing community does their research on line. Now, admittedly, there is a wealth of stuff out there for the savvy researcher (who knows to beware of the legitimacy of the source - Wikipedia, for example, is a great place to start, but never ever take their word without confirming info!). And of course, even for folks like me, who love to do hands-on research, some places are too far flung or don't have the right sources in their neck of the woods. But hands-on research can be so much richer.

Which brings me to the beauty of Manhattan. Within it's boundaries you'll find countless sources for researching, everything from bondage and discipline to the history of the NYPD (bondage and discipline of a different sort, you might say).

On this 22 square mile island are found such a cornucopia of resources that a writerly girl could spend her life wandering from museum, to library, to society, to theatre, to arts organization, to club, to restaurant, to historical site. Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, watching, up close and personal, can add a layer of specificity and detail to my writing that I could never hope to achieve by merely reading on line. Or seeing a photograph on a computer screen, or hearing & watching a YouTube video.

In the Tenement Museum on NYC's lower East Side, you can walk through an actual building, re-created as a tenement from the turn of the twentieth century and get an uncomfortable feel for the way the immigrants lived. Speaking of immigrants, Ellis Island offers an incredible look into the welcome those arriving got, after passing the majestic Statue of Liberty. And stretching further back in time is the Fraunces Tavern Museum of the American Revolution.

How do you describe a symphony in writing? You can listen to it on a CD or YouTube, but nothing compares to the feeling of sitting in a space at Alice Tully Hall or
Carnegie Hall or the dozens of other venues and sensing the vibration of the music, feeling the wall of sound as it sweeps out from the orchestra. My character in my WIP Torch is a singer. Where better to embrace the throbbing pulse or mournful wail of blues and jazz and hear for yourself the power of those songs than at the iconic Blue Note Jazz Club?

What about food? Try describing an ethnic dish without ever having tasted it. Welcome to the Big Apple where there is no dish, that you cannot find and sample - if you dare. Including haggis, for those of you writing those wonderful Scottish highland romances. Just wait for the annual Robert Burns Day celebrations!

The Fashion Institute of Technology has clothing exhibits. The Pierpont Morgan has literary exhibits. The Museum of Natural History has animal, vegetable and mineral exhibits. The Museum of Sex has, well, sex exhibits. And speaking of sex, if you're writing an erotic romance with some paddling involved? Where better to "research" than the club, Paddles, where demonstrations of same are yours for the price of a blush! Or you can really put yourself out there and mingle with members of the NY Eulenspiegel Society promoting BDSM on one of their "novice nights".

If the paranormal is more your thing, well, then never fear! We have the Theosophical Society founded on Madam Blavatsky's teachings, Tarot organizations, Wiccan and pagan shops, and haunted New York tours.

Short trips outside Manhattan proper to the neighboring boroughs will take you to even more great spots. Sagamore Hill of the Roosevelt Family. The Walt Whitman Museum. You can see a Scottish Highland Games at the Westbury Gardens and tour a Gold Coast-type estate at the same time. Or trek further out into Suffolk and enjoy the annual Shinnecock Indian powwow at their newly Federally recognized Reservation. Then there is The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, The Bronx Zoo, The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM to all New Yorkers) and Long Island's Cradle of Aviation museum (where one day you might find me in the cockpit of a WWII bomber plane getting a "feel", for my pilot character in the WWII women's series already underway), plus dozens more.

Beyond all of these unique opportunities to visit historical sites, view artwork, taste food, and listen to performances, there is also the glorious, expansive, New York Public Library system. It is truly one of the greatest things about New York that it supports such a vast operation, dedicated to the enrichment and enlightenment of us all.

And beyond the books, and vast collections of papers and writings, there are the specialty branches that offer even more. The NYPL Science & Technology branch is mind-boggling and for those interested in the history of performing arts in NY, the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts has everything from sheet music that can be copied, tunes that can be listened to, and varying exhibits of costumes, memorabilia and biographical subjects.

Let's not forget, either, the researcher's best friend: the indomitable NYPL librarian. They are a fount of information unlike any computer. Ask for help and you'll find suggestions, resources, clues and ideas you hadn't thought of.

So, when I launch my Gilded Age NYC set historical romance series, you can be sure you'll be seeing me, out and about, at all of the best places. The best places for research, I mean.

See you at the museums!


  1. What a great reminder of all the resources we New Yorkers have near at hand! I confess to being one of those writers who may be a little too dependent on Wikipedia, but recognize it has its limitations. Going to the places you mention is certainly more inspiring -- and fun!
    BTW, I love your NYPD/Bondage/Discipline comment, you naughty girl, you!
    Great post!

  2. I'm ready to hop the train right now, Lise! It's true, the internet is way too seductive a tool for writers, who tend to feel more comfortable interacting with a keyboard than a real person. But nothing replaces real-life experience, and there's nothing like New York for real-life experience!

    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Great post Lise. I agree that getting out there and seeing New York is great for research and renewal.
    I recently spent a day at Governor's Island which is a beautiful place to visit with a historic fort. There was also a pirate wedding on the Island that day too - only in New York :)