Why Research?

Patricia E. CanterburyEvery ThursdayPatricia E. Canterbury is the author of the children’s series: The Delta Mystery Series; the midgrade series: The Poplar Cove Mysteries, over 18 short stories in anthologies and the Nancy Noire Mystery: Every Thursday. She is currently working on The Tanner Sullivan Adventures.



I believe that research is the seasoning of a story. I am currently writing a series of short stories involving a “colored” private investigator set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1932. My protagonist, Tanner Sullivan, is very wealthy and a personal friend of the Mayor but even those “luxuries” do not prevent cab drivers, store clerks, the police and others he meets casually from treating him in contempt or as an inferior as he searches Chinatown for his missing cousin, Anna.

I’ve just completed reading The Navigational Chart by Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte in which I learned about emeralds the size of walnuts, Spanish sailing ships, Jesuit smugglers and back alley dealings in stolen treasures. How a writer weaves his/her words in with the historical reality of a place brings it to life, the odor of the sea water, the dampness of the sails, the distant sound of fog horns and the faint whiff of opium, all interwoven in a language in areas where the reader would normal fear to go except thru books.

Research should not interfere in the story so that the reader makes confused runs to the computer to look something up, but intrigues the reader to continue to learn more about this world which no longer exists, or never existed. What did 1930’s San Francisco look, smell, sound like? Capture the secret of Tule Fog and transport it to engulf an early 20th Century yacht as research helps to enshroud the reader in the past, the future, another planet while treating them to glories unimagined.