Guest Post – Author Julie Moffett

JulieMoffett

Julie Moffett is the author of No One Lives Twice, a hilarious spy adventure novel. She’s also the author of eight other novels. I loved No One Lived Twice; as I recall, during one scene I was laughing so hard that I got chest pains. It must have been muscle spasms because I’m still here. I can’t say reading her novels is hazardous to your health, but it did have me worried there for a while as I gasped for breath and clutched my chest. The second novel in the Lexie Carmichael series (No One to Trust) is due out in June, plus Her Kilt-Clad Rogue is coming out in August. Read more about Julie and her books at her website, and be sure to catch  her on Facebook and Twitter.

Research Anyone?

Right from the start I’ll make a confession and admit I got the idea for this blog from Tia. She’s read my Carina Press novel, a humorous techno-spy mystery titled NO ONE LIVES TWICE, and told me she’s curious about the technical research required for the book.  Did I do exhaustive research or did I make it up?

NoOneLivesTwiceWell, the answer is (drum roll)…I researched. A lot. Since my heroine is a hacker and her closest friends are brilliant computer nerds, I knew I had to get it right. Lucky for me, my immediate family is full of geeks. I bounced ideas off of them once I had an overall plot in place. I asked dozens of questions about computers, networks, hardware and software. Not only did I need to know the types of computers my geeks would use, but how they would use them. Moreover, my characters couldn’t just act like nerds, they had to talk like nerds, too. So I listened, eavesdropped and made mental notes when members of my family discussed computers and technology issues. I purchased the New Hacker’s Dictionary (yes, there really is such a book!) and read it so my characters could speak in actual geek lingo. In terms of the technology, I knew where I wanted to go and had tons of ideas, but alas, many of my hopeful scenarios were squashed because they weren’t technologically feasible. But I didn’t give up. I quizzed my family ad nauseam until I found something that worked.

But the research wasn’t all about computers and technology. NO ONE LIVES TWICE also has some intricate scientific elements that needed to be as accurate as possible. I spent several weeks studying a particular aspect of the novel (sorry, can’t be more specific here without giving away the plot). I had piles of notes, papers and online sites bookmarked for reference and I even interviewed a medical doctor. Okay, I’ll confess again and admit I’m a former journalist.

In terms of the spy stuff, well, I almost joined the CIA right out of college. (I opted instead for international journalism.) I got an M.A. in international affairs with a specialty in Russian language from George Washington University in Washington, DC. I attended a year of grad school at the University of Warsaw in Poland behind the Iron Curtain when it was still the Cold War. As a student, I smuggled out Solidarity pamphlets and letters to officials in the West. Eventually, I worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and disseminated information that helped topple the Berlin Wall. So, yeah, I really, really dig the spy stuff!

Did I make things up for my novel? Um, yeah. Some. The novel is fiction, after all. But the devil is in the details and I really did try to make it as plausible and accurate as I could while providing a fun, light and entertaining read.

To sum it up, I’d say less than one-fourth of the research I did made it into the story. There were many fascinating tidbits I wanted to slip in, but I had to restrain myself. Plot, pace, humor and characterization were paramount. But I do love to research!

So, how about you? How important is accurate research in making a story both believable and enjoyable? Can you tell when an author hasn’t done his/her homework? If you are an author, how much emphasis do you put on your research?

34 thoughts on “Guest Post – Author Julie Moffett

  1. I could tell once when an author didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to playing the violin. Big-name newer fantasy author, too! However, another big-name newer fantasy author described the experience so well that I knew he played a stringed instrument of some sort.

    I also was dinged as an author for not knowing what a spinning wheel sounded like. I had never seen one in person and it didn’t occur to me to listen to one on youtube, so I used my imagination. You live and learn.

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  2. Julie, NOLT is now in my kindle TBR list. Have to agree with you on the research.. I can research for hours and save pages in a file with the result being a couple of lines in the story. I firmly believe the more detail the more opportunity to get it wrong. In current WIP heroine is surrounded by advance technology. I only mention what the technology is and how it can affect what she is doing. Tia you game me an ah-ha moment about sound. I don’t think I have incorporated that sense enough. Thanks Ladies

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  3. Julia, when I was reading how much research you did my first reaction was to be intimidated! Then I realized it was at least partly writing what you know -what you’re interested in. 🙂

    I can tell if an author read some real fairy tales and folklore. Nothing drives me crazier than `hippie elves’ (my term for faerie races that are knockoffs of Tolkien knockoffs.) I may still enjoy the book, but I won’t love it the way I love a book written by someone who understands mythic underpinnings. One of the things I adore about `Watership Down’ is how much Richard Adams put into his invented folklore.

    And now I’ve set myself up for a fall, because folklore is the only part of research I DO enjoy. I’m still trying to figure out how much research is needed for my invented worlds, and how far I’m willing to go to get it. (Some things are just impractical. Like flying to Whales to take a class on making bronze-age weapons. I stuck with watching the you-tube video. It’s less expensive.)

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  4. Hey, Caridad!

    So you were another “almost” CIA recruit, too? I did everything all the way up through all the interviews, the lie detector test, the CIA exam — a lot like the SATs and GREs — (and they made a point of saying how much they liked my essay on a scenario for a third world war!)and even touring through my work space (I was intended for the psychological profiling unit!). I think it would have been a very interesting life, but I chose one that involved writing and I’m glad I did!! 🙂

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  5. Tia: I remember you writing about how someone complained about the sounds of the spinning wheel. When I read Sevenfold Spell, I was completely captivated. I loved how deftly you used all of the senses in your writing! I do think if people look hard enough, they’ll find something wrong in ANY story. But hopefully, for the majority of the readers, if the story is enjoyable and accurate as possible, it won’t take away anything.

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  6. Rita! Bless you for checking out NOLT! I do hope you’ll enjoy it! You’ll also have to let me know when you finish your current story involving technology!! I’d like to check it out. 🙂

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  7. Chicory! OMG!! Watership Down is my ALL-TIME favorite book. EVER!! Okay, we must totally be on the same-wave length. Or twins at birth! I’m also a big fantasy reader. In fact, my entire family is fantasy-obsessed. My parents both belong to a fantasy/sci fi book club and probably read about 3 books a week, if not more. I love world-building and adore it when it is original and fresh. But I agree, it’s a fine line between details, research and the story. I tend to write long and my editors are ALWAYS cutting me!! 🙂 But I’m learning.

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  8. What you haven’t told us, Julie, is that you actually went through with it all, and you are indeed an intelligence operative disguised as a author. Clever!
    Sometimes you don’t even recognize what you require details on. My other half had to guide me on the mechanics of a jeep…otherwise I sounded like a ‘girl’ when I wrote about it.

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  9. Hi, Maureen! That’s so funny about the jeep!!

    Secretly (or not so secretly now) I’m often technologically jinxed. Really. I touch a computer, a phone, a Kindle, and it goes wonky!! Yikes! Also, while Lexi is a mathematical genius in my series, math was my hardest subject!! If you’ve read the story, near the end Lexi comes up with a mathematical formula to calculate the odds of the success of her mission. My sister helped me with it!! Love my big sis!! 🙂

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    • Wow, we really are on the same wave. (There was awhile that I couldn’t touch one of the computers in our house because it had too much information to risk it going bottom up.) You’re lucky to be surrounded by geeks. Your sister sounds awesome. 🙂

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  10. Since I’m Julie’s critique partner, I’ve had a peek at her next book NO ONE TO TRUST. I even knew the plot in one of the chapters and still spewed coffee and had tears running down my cheeks at the hilarious way she pulled it off. I love the way you do humor, Julie, by leading us along so we know what is going to happen and then tweaking our expectations at the last second so they go in an unexpected direction. SImple but effective.

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  11. The funnest research I ever used in a story was how to load a black powder pistol. I have actually loaded a black powder rifle, but of course it was modern and I didn’t have to essentially manufacture a blasting cap as I loaded it. It resulted in a very fun scene.

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  12. As someone who tried valiantly but ultimately near fruitlessly to help Julie prepare for her SATs, I can testify that math is her worst subject. She is so non-mathematical that she is legendary. Everyone she knows has a story. Fortunately she was blessed with corresponding strengths we can all enjoy. And as she says, she knows lots of geeks (gulp) who can help keep her straight.

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  13. @Sandy: You are so sweet! Love you, sis!! oxoxoxo

    @Brad: Okay, everyone. Brad is my big brother and unfortunately (or fortunately for me!) he was tasked with getting me through math in school. I’ll admit my mathematical exploits (efforts?) are legendary in some circles! Hey, love you, too, geeky bro!!

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  14. Wow…great blog! I love reading blogs…and have been thinking of starting one myself.. ha ha. Julie, I’m truly, truly impressed at how much research you did! I can also tell when an author (or an interviewer for that matter) does not do his/her research/homework…kind of disrespectful and arrogant if you ask me. Authors,in my opinion, are such creative/intelligent people…so honored to have been a fellow classmate of yours in OKINAWA!!!! 😉

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  15. Hi Julie! I wanted to stop by and see what is going on here, and it’s really fun stuff! It’s fascinating to hear the behind the story work that goes into a piece of ART…and that’s what you’re book is! I loved it and can hardly wait for the next one in June! You have an amazing mind and talent which you’ve put to good use. I’m proud and blessed to call you a friend and alumni from the Kubasaki High School days. I don’t write literature, so you’re safe from critique in this post! I can simply say, as a consumer of literature, that I totally enjoyed the lively characters, their dialogue and adventures! Keep it coming! 🙂

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  16. I’m Julie’s Mom and chief grammarian (also former teacher for 40+ years). Her Dad and I absolutely adore the Lexi books. Don’t laugh out loud when reading many books, but did in this one. Julie has an incredible sense of humor (in person, too) that doesn’t put anyone down or need to use profligate profanity to make you smile! : – ) (Just ONE smile, Brad!)

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  17. @Brad: Dear Brother, There are NO hard and/or fast rules regarding smiley faces. I’m a bubbly person. I’m entitled to a minimum of two smiley faces per blog (or blog comment). So there. (No, I’m not five again!!) 🙂 🙂

    @Mom: Aw, shucks, Mom. Blush, blush. Thanks for stopping by. My mom is an amazing editor and a fantastic mom! Actually, the best mom in the history of moms. I’m sure of that. I love you and Dad!! oxoxoxo

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