Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Guest Blogger: Carol Cox on Research

I have a confession to make. I’m a research junkie. Give me something new to learn about, and I’m a happy camper.

It doesn’t even have to be something work-related to start me following new rabbit trails. Sometimes the pursuit of information does nothing more than satisfy my curiosity. But sometimes I strike creative paydirt. For instance, there’s the time I came across a brief mention of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, along with a comment about it being a pivotal event in American history. My immediate thought was: If this was such a big deal, why hadn’t I ever heard of it?

I typed the name into my search engine, thinking I’d do a quick check on the Internet to see what I’d missed. Little did I know that small step would be the beginning of a journey of discovery that would lead to writing
A Bride So Fair and the other titles of the A Fair to Remember series.

Web sites displayed photos that made my jaw drop—a fairgrounds covering more than a square
mile, with hundreds of buildings linked by walks and waterways. Nations from all over the world were represented, and the list of visitors read like a Who’s Who of that era. I felt a familiar tingle, one that told me I needed to set a story in that setting. And to do that, I’d have to learn even more. I rubbed my hands in anticipation at the thought of digging deeper.
Once the Palace of Fine Arts,
the Museum of Science & Industry is
the only building that remains of the fair's White City.

The digging proved fruitful. One site included texts of books from the period. Another showed floor plans for several of the buildings, but the print was too small to make out details. I contacted the woman who maintained the site, and she graciously sent me copies of the plans. Spreading my net further, I purchased several books dating back to the time of the fair. One described the exhibits of each building in great detail. Armed with that information and the floor plans, I was able to explore the buildings in my imagination.
Looking toward the lagoon from the Wooded Island.

An on-site visit came next, and my family traveled with me to Chicago’s Jackson Park, the site of the exposition. All but one of the grand buildings are gone, but I had another research treasure in hand—a map showing their locations in relation to the present-day roads. Soon we were engrossed in recreating the scene as it looked over a century ago.

We felt the warmth of the summer sun bearing down on our heads and savored the breeze blowing inland from Lake Michigan. Everywhere I turned, I drank in local color—details that wouldn’t be found in a guidebook, but the very things that would add realism to my story.

At one-third of the original size, this replica
of the Statue of the Republic is still impressive.

Were the hours spent poring over Web sites and maps, the purchase of books, and a trip halfway across the country a little over the top? Couldn’t I have just described the setting based on reading an article or two? Maybe. But I would never have been able to add the kind of texture and authenticity this kind of deep research allowed me to do. Because of that time and effort, the fair became a character in its own right, and I achieved one of my goals as a writer—to make my readers feel they’re actually experiencing the times and places I write about.

Now I’m on the prowl again. In my travels and while I read, I find myself on the alert, looking for something that will capture my imagination and spark a desire to know more. Something that will become my next research project.

Author of A Bride so Fair


Jessica said...

You love research? So can I pay you to make sure mine is correct? lol, just kidding. Thanks for the blog.

Mary Connealy said...

Carol, I loved the setting of these books. The setting truly because a character in it's own right. The stories were great but this world you created gave the series such depth.

I just love the way you capture the awe of those beautiful electric lights. The way you'd have Thomas Edison wander past an exhibit.
I just finished A Bride so Fair and I regret so much that the series is over. You should have done a book set in every building in the whole fair.
You know, I think Omaha had some big fair one time. I read an article about the spectacular buildings but they weren't meant to last, however they were built and they're all gone now.
Maybe there's a book series in that.

Rhonda said...

Hi Carol, I have to tell you... I love the Fair series! It is obvious that you did a lot of research for this series. I have all the books in the series and they are "keepers!" Thanks for sharing your love of research with us :)

Vickie said...


You made the Chicago World's Fair come alive in your books. I could vividly see the buildings and exhibits you described in your stories. Great job! I can't wait to see what you do next.

Carol Cox said...

Jessica, somehow I get the feeling you're not as enamored of research as I am. LOL Glad you enjoyed the blog!

Carol Cox said...

Mary, thanks so much for the wonderful comments! Now why didn't I think of doing a book set in each one of those buildings? That would have kept me busy for years! :) I'll have to check into that fair in Omaha. It sounds interesting!

Carol Cox said...

Hi Rhonda! It's great to hear from you. I'm so glad you liked the series. I had a great time writing it. And you're right--a ton of research went into it. It became such a part of my life that it was downright painful to say goodbye to that setting and those characters. I really need to find something else to take its place so I don't feel like mourning. :)

Carol Cox said...

Hi Vickie,

Thanks for that encouragement! The fair was such an elaborate setting that trying to bring it to life was a real challenge. I'm glad to know it came across so clearly!

Lynette Sowell said...

I love research, too. I have all of the Fair books but one on my TBR pile. :) What a unique setting and time period--not something you see everyday.