Friday, October 28, 2011

Author Janet Gurtler Talks About Book Research

JanetPlease join me in welcoming author Janet Gurtler as the special guest blogger here today as she tours blogdom with her 2 young adult contemporary novels.

Both books, I’M NOT HER (May 2011) and IF I TELL (October 2011) have gotten rave reviews.

Janet joins us to talk about doing research for her writing.

I believe in making characters in my novels as authentic as possible and of course, without exception, that involves doing research of some sort. That said, I also am prone to making things up just so I don’t have to do extensive research. For example with settings. Because I live in Canada but base my stories in the States, I make up towns rather than worrying about getting things wrong in a real town I’ve never actually been to. I do tend to set my towns close to real places and will ask for help from actual residents and check out real estate, weather and those sorts of helpful sites online. Setting doesn’t happen to play a huge, huge part in my stories, so for me that works okay.

All in all, I enjoy doing research for the books I’m writing, but the type of research I do wouldn’t be considered extensive or heavy. For example, I’m not a historical fiction or steam punk writer. I think that kind of research might be the end of me. It’s not my nature to be so precise with historical facts etc. I would be terrified of getting it wrong. It would keep me up at night and give me stomach aches.

image003No, as a writer of contemporary fiction, Google is one of my best friends. It’s hard to imagine a time when Google wasn’t at our fingertips, isn’t it? When Google wasn’t available in coffee shops for free. Google has made research easier for writers. It’s also made things a bit murkier in some ways I suppose, but since my research is light in comparison to many, it works deliciously well for me. I love me some Google.

For example, on the book I’m working on right now, Just Breathe or WHO I KISSED as it may be called, I’ve had to do a lot of research into USA swim clubs. My main character is a swimmer and while it’s an important part of who she is and plays an important role in the story, it’s not a story about swimming. Still. I want to get the facts right. I want to understand how swim meets work, what the swimmers do, how they live, what they think about etc.

For me research is about giving authenticity to a story. Sometimes that can’t be found with Google and for me a great way to research is to go straight to reliable sources for information. In, I’M NOT HER, I had the help and insight of a woman who had actually gone through bone cancer and had a leg amputation. I asked her questions and she was very gracious about answering questions. I also went to a hospital to soak up atmosphere and “see” some of what my characters would see, hear and feel in a hospital setting.

In IF I TELL I went to friends who were either biracial or blackIf I Tell cover and asked them questions about their own experiences so that I could relate them to Jaz’s experience. I also went to an author friend who plays guitar and showed him what I wrote and asked him questions about which guitars were best, what my character would play etc. 

For the most part, I find research to be a really fun part of the creative process! It helps to add depth to characters and scenes. And sometimes it’s a nice break!

Janet, thanks so much for guest blogging. As a reader I think I would get sidetracked doing research. However, I can see where it is a very important element of the story.

Now a bit of research on Janet. She lives in Calgary Alberta, near the Canadian Rockies, with her husband and son and a chubby Chihuahua named Bruce. She does not live in an Igloo or play hockey, but she does love maple syrup and says "eh" a lot.

Here’s a brief synopsis of IF I TELL and a review quote: Her best friend and her mom's boyfriend. Locking lips. This is the secret Jasmine Evans has to keep at all costs. Because her mom is pregnant, and Jaz doesn't want to ruin her life--again. (Just being born did it the first time.) But the harder Jaz tries to pretend everything is okay, the faster her life spins out of control. Until Jackson. He doesn't care about the popularity of her friends or the color of her skin. But can she really trust a guy who just transferred from reform school? She might be willing to chance the heartbreak, but telling him everything and risking the truth getting out is a whole other level of scary. 

"Gurtler handles complex issues of race, identity, friendship and fidelity with laugh-out-loud humor and engaging frankness... once you're in you won't regret it..." - RT Book Reviews 

Here’s a brief synopsis of I’M NOT HER and review quotes: Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that’s okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn’t hold it together, who will? 

"reminiscent of Judy Blume" - RT Book Reviews
"Just right for fans of Sarah Dessen and Jodi Picoult." - Booklist
"...subtle, believeable, and satisfying... [a] quick and heartbreaking read..." - School Library Journal
"...a story that is nothing buy completely real... [you] will find yourself inspired..." - Girl's Life
Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you’re a writer, do you find research to be a fun part of your writing? As a reader, do you mind if there is a mix of research and make-believe in a story? 


  1. Janet, thanks again for guest blogging. Wishing you much success with your writing.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Janet.

    Janet - Thanks for sharing the way you do research. You're so right about the importance of research when it comes to making a book seem real. And when I'm writing, research is actually something I enjoy doing. Sometimes it sidetracks me ;-), but I enjoy it. I wish you much success with your writing!

  3. I love researching, and often find details that I can use to build the story further. I find the best books to the the ones that are so authentic, it seems real.

  4. Janet, you've tackled some tough subjects. They do make for interesting stories to read and the way you research the atmosphere, an informative piece of fiction.


    Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

  5. I enjoyed the research for my book, but since it's science fiction, there was a lot I had to make up on my own.

  6. Wow, thanks for sharing the research. That is such a crucial part of writing.

  7. Guest blogs are always fun - thanks for posting.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.