Reader Friday: Research Rabbit Holes

Writers often veer down one research rabbit hole after another to find answers. Sometimes, it’s the topic that keeps us digging. Other times the answers we seek are buried under mountains of other stuff.

Which topic took you the most time to research? Did you have to leave the house, or did you find the answers online?

Do you have a favorite research topic?

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About Sue Coletta

Member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and ITW, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, bestselling crime writer of psychological thrillers. She also writes true crime: PRETTY EVIL NEW ENGLAND is anticipated to hit stores in Fall 2020, published by Globe Pequot (Rowman & Littlefield). In 2017, 2018, and 2019, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 100 Crime Blogs on the Net (Murder Blog sits at #5). Learn more about Sue and her books at

16 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Research Rabbit Holes

  1. For a set-aside-for-now WIP, I researched the Battle for Hue City, Vietnam era. I found and downloaded a 600 page tome on the subject.

    Have yet to finish it, but it is a fascinating piece of history.

    Favorite research topic? Places on earth I’ve never seen before. Since I’ve been to literally only 7 or 8 places in my entire life, that topic affords endless possibilities…

  2. For my Kit Shannon series I spent hours and hours at the downtown branch of the L.A. library, going through microfilm of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles papers, mostly the Times and the Hearst-owned Examiner. It’s like getting in a time machine. I’d constantly get caught up in some interesting story or other I never could have anticipated.

    It got so that I started to daydream I was walking down Broadway in 1903, with Kit Shannon walking in front of me, and me smelling the horses and occasional auto and the corner cigar store. Freaky, but somehow wonderful, too.

    • Sounds delightful, Jim. I’m researching the same era (different state), and I’m equally fascinated. Short of modern conveniences, life wasn’t all that different then. It’s fun to see how some things changed over the years. Wish we still had the same prices of popular products. 😉 Imagine?

  3. Part of what makes writing so much fun is researching. I LOVE it. Nor have I written a book yet that didn’t require it. And while one book my be set in one location or focused on one topic and another book something different, I find that the research you do builds on itself for you to draw from.

    I’m currently doing research on a non-book related matter as a volunteer to find info on two men with gravestones in their local cemetery. One of the men went by 2 totally different names during his life time. I am absolutely intrigued and I hope I will be up able to turn up the reason he went by 2 different names. If I don’t, I’m going to be disappointed–and I suspect, I will be digging into that one beyond my deadline coming up in a couple of weeks. I love this stuff!

    • Agree 100%, Brenda.

      Me too!!! That’s funny because while researching the late 1800’s/early 1900’s I’ve found numerous people — women especially — who went by two different first names. Like “Annie” for “Genevieve,” the nicknames don’t make sense.

      Enjoy!!! I have no doubt you’ll figure it out. 😀

      • I do hope I can find out. It’s a little harder when the person you’re researching isn’t “famous” but here’s hoping…

  4. The most insanely ridiculous amount of research I had to do was a romance involving reincarnation. The hero is trying to convince the heroine that they are soulmates who have lived and loved through history. He talks about and recreates moments from their past so I had to do about as much research as someone writing an historical novel for each blinking period! I cut some of the work down by choosing periods I knew a bunch about from being an English major and personal interests, but yikes. This was pre-Internet so it was all library loans from the local colleges.

    It was in print twenty years, and I never had the first person telling me I made a mistake so there’s that.

  5. My father was an attorney. His sage advice was to not be distracted by the case before or after the one you were looking for.

  6. I love history and you can’t beat original source documents. And Google might not have them. I did some research on events in the spring of 1947. Making an appointment to see a TV at the store before spending more than a months pay on one was fascinating. At the time, St. Louis had one TV channel. Preppy kids got notes to skip school to attend a trial of either a kidnapping or two teen lovers who ran away. Less fascinating and more sad, the want ads broke jobs down to four categories; Men, Women, Boys, Girls. Male African Americans should stick to the Boys column back then.

    • Sounds fascinating, Alan! It’s amazing parents allowed teenagers to skip school in order to sit in on trials. Yes, I agree, the racial and gender lines of some eras break my heart.

  7. Research for my series, Lions and Lambs, has taken me to some dark places. The first book deals with the horrific world of pedophiles. I was shocked at how much goes on, especially the amount of human trafficking, but I also discovered a wonderful organization working with local law enforcement to find missing children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Their posted photos of missing children and their coordinated Amber Alerts have led to the rescue of thousands of victims.

    For my second book I researched cults. The most disturbing was of a serial killer practicing as a priest in the amoral religion of Palo Mayombe, Adolfo Constanzo. He and his members ritualistically tortured and murdered hundreds of young men kidnaped along the US/Mexico border. They believed the more their victims screamed, the better the odds their demon gods would grant their petitions. I can’t imagine people capable of that kind of violence.

    In my third book I delved into psychopaths. These characters are as frightening as the pedophiles, human traffickers, and cults.

    With the fourth book, I researched Medical Fraud and Health Care Serial Killers like Dr. Michael Swango. Law enforcement believes he is responsible for hundreds of deaths. Also Farid Fata, the doctor who gave chemo to healthy patients. If the other research didn’t give me nightmares, this one might.

    The redeeming theme of these stories – good people work diligently to stop them and the fact these criminals are a small part of humanity, considering the billions of people living on this planet. That keeps me optimistic – and sane.

  8. Research is the biggest rabbit hole, and mostly it’s me saying “oh, that looks interesting” while looking at youtube clips on the topics I’m researching. Five hours later, I can speak to giraffes and have become the High Priestess to the Cult of Cthulu’s left wing.

    Currently, I’m (loosely) researching clandestine operations involving multiple agencies. There’s not a lot of information for obvious reasons, so it involves delving pretty deep into places like reddit and finding the gems that are first-hand accounts. I want authenticity, but given that this novella is set in the second half of the 21st century, there are some gives and takes.

    It helps that husband likes his military history too and knows a bit about clandestine tradecraft; he’s a treasure trove of information.

    • Mollie, I love than line about speaking to giraffes and becoming a high priestess. Made me laugh. Been there done that!

      I have a husband with a treasure trove of information too. Being a hobby historian, gun collector, and retired police officer, he has a lot of knowledge and experience to share.

      Nice to have such a plethora of research options available, especially some with the personal touch. 🙂

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