The Devil Is In the Details: Why Research Isn’t Just for Historicals

The Devil Is In the Details: Why Research Isn’t Just for Historicals
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I joke that I write contemporary romance because I’m too lazy to do research. Friends of mine write epically wonderful tomes on Roman and European history, and the months they spend compiling detail upon fact upon footnoted quote boggles my mind. However, all joking aside, I’d like a little credit for the hours I do actually log on the Internet doing research. Is it as much as an author writing historical fiction? Nope. But contemporary romances are based in reality, so there’s even more pressure to get it right. Because trust me—people will notice if you get the tiniest detail wrong.

I research for one of three reasons. Okay, four reasons, but number four is the aforementioned ogling of hot men to use as prospective heroes. Reason #1: I hate when people gloss over the details. Make a hero a police officer, and have him rolling in a patrol car all day, flexing his biceps out the window. There are so many more specifics to a job than can be gleaned by watching television. I prefer to dig deep, and give my readers a nugget of behind-the-scenes knowledge. In Up To Me, I’ve got a chef as a secondary character. Ever see one in a fancy restaurant? Wearing a tall white hat with lots of folds? Here’s your random trivia for the day:

“Every once in a while Joel goes on a rant, to remind us all that he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. Just means he’s stuck wearing an idiotic, too-tall white hat to work. While I get to wear jeans and a Knicks cap.”

Joel hefted the hamper. “It’s called a toque. The one hundred folds represent all the different ways I know how to cook an egg.”

Funny. The guy looked more the type to take a chainsaw to a tree than a filet knife to a sea bass.

“Right.” Ward aimed the sneer over his shoulder. “Like method number eighty-seven is all that different from method fifty-nine. Either way I’m washing it down with coffee and toast, so what does it matter?”

Is it in any way necessary to the plot? Heck, no. But think of what fun it’ll be to mention at your next dinner party! Reason #2 (and this is the biggest one): just for a joke. I write rom-com, so I’ll expend considerable time and effort just to tease a smile out of my readers. Did I know somebody beat Napoleon at Waterloo? Sure. Did I remember who? Nope. So I hit the Internet:

“Who’s the snippy bitch?” Gray asked.

A stack of pink message slips circa the turn of the millennium flew up in the air as Ella twisted around. “Gray, hi. I didn’t see you.”

“Because you were busy juggling ten tons of attitude.” He squatted to gather her messages.

“Oh, you heard my conversation with Joanna?”

“I wouldn’t call it a conversation. The Duke of Wellington had a conversation before he kicked Napoleon’s ass all over Waterloo. This woman was out to draw serious blood from you.

Reason #3: I’ve got to respect the facts of a setting—even if I’m not from there. Did you know that in parts of New Jersey, you can’t turn left off of a main road? You’ve got to take a ramp off to the right. And that is called a jughandle. Pretty random, but imperative to mention if I set a book there. Up To Me takes place in the Finger Lakes of New York in May. Where I live in Maryland, spring starts in late March. Up there, it hits full steam in May. Which meant I perused gardening websites to figure out when the fruit trees bloom.

“You’ve got quite a tan for this time of year.”

“Thanks for noticing.” He sounded smug. Like he knew she’d been checking him out earlier. Here she’d hoped that the sunlight had kept him from actually seeing her and Brooke staring at him, all but drooling on the window.

“Well, it’s noticeable up here where spring doesn’t really hit until, well, now. We’re practically in Canada, you know. The cherry and apple trees just started blooming this week.” The weather. The ultimate go-to for meaningless chitchat. Not an ounce of flirtation in it.

“I spent the last three weeks in Miami. Practically in Mexico,” he teased.

Funny. Sexy and funny and charming. This guy was celibacy Kryptonite.

My books should be a virtual vacation for the reader. Should completely subsume them in the setting and stick them smack into the full and rich lives of the characters. Is it possible to write a contemporary romance without research? Absolutely. I just think it is lots more fun to pile on the details. After all, would you rather have a bologna sandwich? Or a three meat, two cheese submarine sandwich (known as a hoagie in Philadelphia and a grinder in New England—cause once you get on the research train, it is hard to get off!) piled with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and condiments? I’m a sub with everything girl myself. And it shows in my writing.

Christi Barth earned a Masters degree in vocal performance and embarked upon a career on the stage.  A love of romance then drew her to wedding planning.  Ultimately she succumbed to her lifelong love of books and now writes award-winning contemporary romance.  Christi is President of the Maryland Romance Writers and lives in Maryland with her husband.  For more visit

UP TO ME by Christi Barth/Carina Press/June 23

Ella Mayhew’s always appreciated the beautiful view of Seneca Lake from the spa window of her family’s hotel.But the view improves dramatically when a hot stranger runs across the grounds—shirtless. He’s the first man to kickstart her hormones in the three years since she lost her parents, and she doesn’t even know his name.

Graydon Locke’s on his umpteenth undercover assignment. The routine’s always the same: assess a business, recommend it for closure, then roll out before anyone discovers his decisions impact hundreds of lives. He’s always believed nothing good comes out of small towns. Why would this one be different? Then he makes two classic rookie mistakes—falling for the sweet, sexy girl who owns the very business he’s on the verge of axing. And letting the town’s residents get involved in both his life, and his relationship with Ella.

Ella’s the best thing to ever happen to Gray, but he’s lied to her from the start. If he pulls the plug on Mayhew Manor, the entire town may crumble. Ella couldn’t save her parents, but it’s up to her to save their hotel. Even if that means turning her back on true love.

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