Here is the good news: My research methodology has offered me some great results. So, at the risk of gloating, I’m going to share my process to support my great luck.
1. My book, Taking Aim at the President, has been optioned for a movie on the big screen by two award-winning screenwriters, Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen. Their first major motion picture, Chappaquiddick, won praise from the industry, in part for their impeccable research.
2. They chose Taking Aim as their next film in part because of my research into the turbulent 70’s and my deep background about Sara Jane Moore, the 45-year-old mother and doctor’s wife who lived in the Northern California country club community of Danville. In just 18 months Sara Jane went from the typical suburban housewife to an attempted presidential assassin of Pres. Gerald Ford. She took aim, fired and missed Pres. Ford’s head by a mere six inches.
Where to begin-Secondary versus Primary research?
I always begin my research process by doing extensive amounts of secondary investigation. Secondary research is what has already been published and written on the topic. Go online and also go to the library to see what has been published in hard copy that is not on the Internet.
Primary research is what you create from scratch, such as interviewing subjects and gathering information that has not been written before.
Use the secondary as fuel for your primary investigation. Create a list of those people who you may want to reach out to later.
As an example, when I first began, I went online and read everything I could find about Sara Jane. I also went to the library to read what had been published. I found a lot scanned onto Microfilm and Microfiche newspaper and magazine articles as her “event” took place in 1975. Let me state this again: Not everything is online.
This research turned out to be a bonanza for me. I found numerous names of people that had a specific connection to Sara Jane. It offered me a direction I didn’t have before.
Primary research challenges
Although I met Sara Jane in 1976 after she shot at Ford and was incarcerated in San Pedro in Southern California, I did not research her until 2007. In fact, I had no intention of writing about her. My mantra was always, “I don’t write books. They are too difficult and take too long.”
Obviously, that changed
One of the many challenges I faced was the fact that her attempt at assassinating the president of the United States was 27 years earlier. So, I found that many of those people involved with her were no longer available. Some had died or had dementia. In addition, I didn’t know anything about her other than what she shared with me, which I learned later was full of lies and her fantasy life.
So, what was I going to do to find out about her early years? I knew nothing about her life in West Virginia, or her family, or her friends?
So, I went onto I went on to Classmates.com and looked up her high school. She graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in Charleston, WV in 1947. I was able to locate her friends which also led me to her surviving family.
I struck gold. I found people she grew up with as well as her brothers. I now had access to intimate friends and family details I never would have had otherwise.
My other secondary research process offered the names of the various police, FBI and Secret Service agents that were involved with Sara Jane and her activities in relation to the various political groups, such as Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, the People in Need food giveaway that Randolph Hearst set up demanded by the Symbionese Liberation Army and the radical organization, Tribal Thumb.
It’s all in the details
Well researched books that adhere to the facts make a book so much more interesting. Plus, reliable, validated information add substance to the book. I like to say that there is a lot of “fact” in “fiction.” I can’t stress enough that when writing about an event, it is critical to have the facts right.
If you are writing about something that happened during the Viet Nam conflict, best to know about the military and what weapons were used. You can be sure one of your readers served during the conflict and if your research is sloppy, that review on Amazon won’t be pretty.
So, include those nuggets of well-researched notes. Your writing project will be that much richer.