When it comes to research – How much is enough?

This provocative title – for both readers and authors – comes from today’s guest, Katherine Kayne author of debut novel Bound in Flame, described as historical romantic fantasy and set in turn of the century Hawaii. [That’s the turn from 19th to the 20th century.]

Kayne writes: “Old Hawaii was ruled by chiefs and chiefesses called ali‘i. By 1810 the rule of the island chain was consolidated to one man, Kamehameha the Great, later known as King Kamehameha. Once the western notion of a monarchy took hold, Hawaii was ruled by kings, and finally one queen, for eighty years. That is until the islands became caught within the twin coils of international diplomacy and capitalism. In the late 1890s, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of mostly American businessmen, with military backup from the United States. A kingdom was lost.”

When it comes to research – How much is enough? ~~ by Katherine Kayne

Damn. It happened. I’ve been told these things happen to all authors but still… I’ve been told that this is inevitable when you write historical but here I sit…with a note from a reviewer calling me out on a research point. And double damn, they MIGHT be right.

It’s a minor point, mind you. And the reviewer likes the book anyway. But I am still kerfluffled.

My debut book was just up for pre-order, the ARCs had been out for maybe six weeks when the note arrived. “I like your book very much and I will recommend it.” Relief floods me. Because I’ve been told that early on these things are unpredictable. Dicey even. Sometimes early reviews seem overpopulated with nasty-grams. Then I see the final sentence.

“But” followed by an explanation, polite but firm, of a research point I may have missed.

I know this happens. Sometimes the reviewer is right. More often they are off base at least a bit. Or missing a nuance. Authors possess varying levels of grace in how they handle such events. It is now my moment to determine how much grace I possess.

So here I am, new to the author game, at sixes and sevens. What to do? Yes ladies and gentlemen, I have questions. I pray that all of you have some answers.

Question #1 – How much research is enough? I admit that one of the things I love about writing historical is the thrill of the hunt. The rush of the capture of that nugget (the more obscure the better) the neatly knits up your dangling plot twist. I for one have been known to do a happy dance a la Snoopy upon such discovery. Who hasn’t?

But there is a problem with research. The act itself is without a doubt a most pleasurable distraction from actually writing the book. And provides a comfortable dodge when loved ones ask how the book is going. “I’m still doing the research.

So how do you know when to stop?

Question #2 – How much do you document? One thing I have learned is that there is research and then there is RESEARCH. For me the capitalized variety are the ones I document. Up to this point they have been the things upon which the plot turns or that I think might be questioned or that I know I will never find again. But Is that enough?

Here again I find that there is a time and distraction problem. How to document? Note cards or Scrivener? File folders or Evernote? I unfortunately have never met an office supply I did not like. Or an app. So the research for this current book spans multiple media.

And still, even though I am CONVINCED that the point made by this reviewer is invalid, I can’t prove it if I can’t find the damn thing in the book/app/clipping/folder where it is hiding.

What do you document? And where?

Question #3 – Do you even respond to these things? I follow lots of authors I admire on social media. That means over time I have witnessed a variety of responses to reviews. They range from just ignoring the commentary to responding with detailed citations.

Fortunately this comment came to me in a personal note so responding will be easy. But what if it had been in the body of a review? My author friends with multiple books tell me two things. First, never read your reviews (easier said than done). Then never respond to them (hide my keyboard). My friends tell me readers find it creepy if authors respond. That reviewers have their own community and authors should not intrude.

So how do you defend a research point? Or do you just get over yourself and let it go?

Unfortunately, getting over myself is not my strong suit.

Let me just say this. I have learned enough to know that I am grateful for each and every review I get, even negative ones. The last thing I set out to do was write a bland book. Who does? So every time a reader cares enough to take the time to write a review of the book it’s a win.

But still, my researcher’s heart wants to jump in when it comes to the history. What about you? What do you think? I look forward to any comments you might have.

Many thanks, Katherine. I hope many readers and authors who follow this blog will chime in with their thoughts.

Bound in Flame by Katherine Kayne ~~ Letty Lang is a suffragist of the most fearless kind, with a bullwhip, big plans, and ancient power she doesn’t understand. Will a fast horse and a stubborn man derail her dreams?

Banished to boarding school to tame her wild temper, Leticia Lili‘uokalani Lang sails home to Hawaii, bringing her devotion to animals with her. She’ll be among the first female veterinarians in history—most remarkable in 1909 when women still cannot vote.

With one mad leap into the ocean to save a horse, Letty sets another destiny in motion. She is a mākāhā, a Gate to the healing fires of the land, her beloved ‘aina. Letty must fight to harness the ancient power that lives within her, fueled by her connection to the islands. But the price of power is steep. Her inner flame burns hot—hot enough that her kisses can actually kill, a precarious inconvenience since the horse’s owner, Timothy Rowley, lights another kind of fire.

Can Letty learn to master her power to have a chance at life and love? Or is the danger of the flame too great?


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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5 Responses

  1. Katherine, I’m an author of historical fiction too, so appreciate your comments. I recently gave a nonfiction author of history a low review and he wrote back, “Thank you for your input”. It did seem creepy to me!

    1. Knowing what to do on a bad review is so tough. At least the author was a gentleman. I know I have thought of other words than “thank you.” But still, to me it feels like a barrier is broken. As I have been talking to other authors, they suggest that the rules of engagement may be different on different platforms. Never respond on Amazon, always respond – if it is positive – on Bookstagram. That is the consensus so far.

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