Beware the Research Rabbit Hole

Spiderweb covered with dew against a black backgroundIf you’ve signed up for my newsletter (hint, hint), you’ll know that I have a Sydney Brennan novella in the edits stage now. Yay, beta readers! I started working on the second full-length novel this week, gathering notes and bits I’d written previously into a Scrivener file and getting grounded. I’ve also been using Scapple. Not to be confused with a nasty southern meat product made up leftover butchered bits, Scapple is a software program by the Scrivener people that I’m finding really useful for mapping out the story, seeing connections, and keeping track of timelines. (I wish I could share a screenshot, but then I’d have to kill you.) Think of it as the poor man’s version of the murder board program in Castle’s office.

I am a (write-by-the-seat-of-my) pantser, not an outliner, but there are some basic things I need to know before I set off on another adventure with Syd. For example, setting is really important for me, so I have to have a sense of place or I’m just going to stare at the screen and moan. (It upsets any animals in the house, so I don’t recommend it as a writing technique.) And of course, some of these things I need to know require research. Research, precious…

Laptop keyboard with ceramic coffee cup in the background

Stock photo by Sura Nualpradid on

Research is a dangerous thing for me. I love research. I will get lost in research, falling down tangent rabbit holes and emerging with enough information for a dissertation when all I needed to know was the proper name for a fruit. It helps that I have to assess our power situation (off the grid it gets complicated), and remaining bandwidth for the month (satellite internet, because off the grid it gets complicated), and then physically get up and turn on our router. (Unless I’m not working at home; if I’m on coffee shop or library wifi and having a less than focused day, I’m screwed.) I’m also getting better about segregating research time and writing time, just leaving big highlighted holes in my file with the comments like “check this” or “what is this thing/part/creature called?” and returning after I’ve hit my word count.

Here are just a few of the things on my research list this week: Tallahassee police uniforms; Tallahassee school terms; dates and days of the week in July and August of 2004; Florida firearm registration (something you don’t want to be reading about before bed, since there isn’t any); boat registration (you do have to register your boat, so I don’t recommend using one as a murder weapon); and entry fees for Florida state parks.

Sailboats in a marina at dusk

Stock photo by taoty on

In the course of my research, I came across something in a 2006 Cruising World article (see, what did I tell you about tangents?) that I just had to share. You may recall from a previous post that I am a big fan of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. McGee lived aboard a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale and took his retirement in chunks, working as a private investigator when lack of funds or a friend (often of the damsel persuasion) in need required his help. According to Melanie Neale’s article about the price of living aboard, as of 2006, it would have cost McGee nearly $4000 a month just to keep his slip. That’s almost $50,000 a year. I was disappointed by that number, but probably not for the same reason as most people who read the article. All I could think was, at that rate, just imagine how many more cases McGee would have had to take to make the rent. Imagine how many more Travis McGee adventures we could have enjoyed… [sigh]