Five Quick and Easy Steps to do Research that makes your stories POP!

Phantom LoverThis is a guest post by A.J. Llewellyn, author of “Phantom Lover“.

A.J. Llewellyn is the author of over 250 M/M romance novels who was born in Australia, and lives in Los Angeles. An early obsession with Robinson Crusoe led to a lifelong love affair with islands, particularly Hawaii and Easter Island.

Being marooned once on Wedding Cake Island in Australia cured her of a passion for fishing, but led to a plotline for a novel. A.J.’s friends live in fear because even the smallest details of their lives usually wind up in her stories. A.J. has a desire to paint, draw, juggle, work for the FBI, walk a tightrope with an elephant, be a chess champion, a steeplejack, master chef, and a world-class surfer. She can’t do any of these things so she writes about them instead.

A.J. I started life as a journalist and boxing columnist, and still enjoys interrogating, er, interviewing people to find out what makes them tick.

How to find/friend me:

A.J. Llewellyn


As kids in school, we were always told “Write what you know.”

As authors, that isn’t always possible. Sometimes, our characters take us to places we’ve never been, both in historical and contemporary times.

For me, as a romance novelist and one who frequently blends romance with mystery, I need to do a lot of research, particularly in the area of forensic science, a topic I am passionate about. Don’t rely on episodes of Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU for your research because they are not accurate research tools.

Instead try these handy tips!

Read a children’s book on the topic in question.

This is one of the most valuable tricks anyone ever taught me and I thank the mystery novelist and actress Harley Jane Kozak for this neat idea. As Harley explained it, children’s books are distilled to the most important facts about a topic. They are also short and to the point – and they are never wrong. A really fabulous tip!

Encyclopedias are your friend.

I still have every volume of the World Book Encyclopedia my parents bought me as a kid. There is so much information and yes, some of it is dated but the Internet is often incorrect and still hasn’t caught up on every topic ever created. If you no longer have your old encyclopedias, hunt some out at garage sales. Also check with your local library. People are always dumping their old sets on them. If they don’t have any currently, ask your librarian to please keep you in mind the next time they receive a box of them.

The library is still an author’s best asset and reliable resource.

The libraries I visit have access to weird periodicals and study materials that aren’t available online. My local library also has subscriptions to magazines that the long-gone newsstands used to carry…or never carried at all. For example, my local library was gifted a subscription to Private Islands. Hoo-boy, what a goldmine for me! I’ve gotten loads of story ideas from this magazine! It inspired one of my most popular short novellas, Shipwreck Bay.

Ask an expert.

This is easier than it might seem. When I started writing my Mingo McCloud: Honolulu Mysteries series eight years ago, I was inspired by the repeat of an episode of the old Forensic Files They interviewed a forensic accountant about a man’s motive for killing his wife (money) and I really loved the way this guy talked. I’d never heard of a forensic accountant but became obsessed with the idea. I wanted an authentic voice. I Googled the accountant and he was tickled at the idea of being interviewed. In fact, every single expert I have ever contacted was delighted to talk to me. The weirder the profession, the more interesting people they seem to be. They love to have people ask them questions, AND almost all of them have told me they are frustrated writers! So Mingo McCloud was born and he is a forensic accountant. I now have three forensic accountants I confer with frequently who give me advice when I ask “What if…?”

By the way: Bonus tip: Google is a good research tool if you go past the first 5-10 pages of a topic. Then you hit the good stuff.

Ask Yahoo Groups.

You can literally find Yahoo groups about anything and everything. And the people in these groups are fiercely knowledgeable and helpful. I have a telecommuting day job reading screenplays for a film studio. I’ve been doing this for some time and I love it. Once I was asked to read a historical screenplay about Mary Wollstonecraft and I adored that screenplay but had no idea how accurate it was. Was any of it true? I was particularly fascinated by one scene where she refuses to wear a powdered wig to the opera. She wanted to go bareheaded. I had no idea if this was such a big deal at that time ­— 1770—and found nothing on Google. Not even close. I wondered about Yahoo groups and found one dedicated to the opera of that era. I joined the group and posed the question. I had responses for days! I was so stoked. And yes, it was considered shocking back then not to wear a powdered wig.

I hope some of these suggestions help inspire you to stretch your wings as a writer. The important thing is to have fun. And write!

Subscribe to our book recommendations