By Peggy Bird, author of Beginning Again, Loving Again, and Together Again
Writing my first novel years ago, a widely praised but universally rejected mystery story, when I came across something I needed to know, I went to the library to find the answer to my question. Now, of course, I merely switch screens, call up Google to find out what I want, insert it in my story and get back to writing.
Online research is a tantalizing and time-consuming trek through the wilds of the web, finding more than I was ever looking for and scattering my attention across miles of websites as I hunt down what I’m looking for. Take, for example, the research I did for Together Again, released this week by Crimson Romance. In this third book of my Second Chances series, I got to write about two cities I love—Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia.
The story starts out in Philly. The heroine, Margo Keyes, has flown there from her adopted home in Portland for a high school class reunion where she will run into her childhood friend and our hero, Tony Alessandro, and they will generate more delicious heat than a Philly summer can as they move from being friends to becoming lovers.
Wait. I was talking about research.
Like Margo, I was born and grew up in Philly. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived there. I decided to do some research to see what had changed—or hadn’t—in the city, wanting to include accurate details of the city that was part of their romance.
So, what happened?
Well, first thing, in looking for details about Tony’s career, I learned that the Philly police were offering a reward for information on the riot after a Phillies’ victory. I, of course, having been a life-long Phillies baseball fan, had to go find out about the riot. Which led me to the series of columns and videos on organized crime in the city and the man my aunt always called Mr. Bruno. (Don’t ask.) That, at least, gave me a line of dialogue later in the book.
Finding out how many lanes there are on Broad Street got me into a couple hours of looking at Mummer’s Day Parade footage, which, given that the parade is on New Year’s Day and my story takes place in June, gave me nothing to add to the book.
But wanting to know how tall the statue of Billy Penn and the clothespin by Oldenburg are, led me to pages on public art which made me wonder if the sculpture garden in Fairmount Park where I first kissed the man I followed to Portland was still there. It is so I had Tony and Margo walk through it rehearsing a presentation they were giving. Just for old times’ sake.
I could go on about looking up the summer mean average temperatures and humidity, the existence of cheesesteak and sticky bun vendors in the Reading Terminal Market, the name of any tree not honored by a street name in South Philadelphia, how to swear in Italian. I was all over the map and the Internet having fun creating the beginning of Margo and Tony’s love story. It took forever.
It was easier when I got them to Portland and I introduced the Philly boy to the Portland girl’s new hometown. I have spent most of my adult life in or around the city. I know the graceful, tree-lined streets, the pocket park that separates the county courthouse where she works from the police precinct where he’s based for his stay in town, the brewpub and the Columbia River Gorge where they spend a romantic weekend like I know my daughter’s face. The word count those days went up dramatically.
So, what did I learn from this? Make sure to factor in plenty of time for “oh, look, a squirrel” reactions when I…
Wait, what movie was that from? Hold on. I’ll be back in a minute.
Do you find the Internet to be a blessing or a curse when you’re trying to get work done?