“The Internet is like a magic eight ball of the 21st century. You can always get an answer there. It may not be true, but you can always get an answer.”
Stephen King is absolutely right! The internet is a wonderful resource for writers…you’ve just got to be careful out there!
Much of what you find on the internet these days is garbage. Anyone and everyone can say anything they want about anything they want. Imagine my surprise last week when I was researching a topic and Google pointed me towards a blog post by ME! (talk about an unreliable source!) A fun game you can play is to try to figure out where various website get there information; I find it fascinating how so many pages are simply copy/paste jobs. One user writes something, or copies something from a book or online resource, and then website after website copies the same information verbatim. There is no comment, no assessment, no analysis…just copy/paste. The same questionable material can be reproduced over and over like a virus. (hmmmm…this sounds like the premise for a sci-fi horror novel) When it comes to internet research, it is definitely USER BEWARE!
That said the internet can connect people in new and exciting ways. My favorite recent example: I was doing research on Hudson River navigation in the 1700s, and trying to learn more about the bateau, the “eighteen wheeler / Pullman car” of Eighteenth Century North America. After running into a few brick walls, I stumbled upon a website called The Big Row (http://www.thebigrow.com/), which catalogues the adventures of reenactors who put bateaux through their paces every year. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I also established contact with the websites creator/bateau captain, Dave Manthey! Dave’s insights were invaluable to me in understanding the people and craft of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, thus adding authenticity to my work in progress, A Constant Thunder. Persistence and creativity in searching can pay off handsomely!
Then there is the little trick of knowing the resources available. A few days ago I was writing a scene in which Gideon Hawke is an officer of the guard; it is nighttime, and being a good officer he ventures out to check on his sentries. At his first stop he is challenged! The sentry tells him to halt, and challenges him with the “parole” word. “Wait,” I asked myself, “What would be a good parole word?” I considered making something up, but then I remembered that the National Archives, in cooperation with the University of Virginia Press, have digitized a tremendous number of primary source documents from the Founding Fathers. The Continental Army’s daily General Order contained the parole and countersign, so a simple Bing search (sorry, Google, you didn’t find the document I needed) for “General Orders April 18, 1777” brought me to General Washington’s General Orders for the 18th of April, 1777. Boom! When Private George Houseman directs Lieutenant Hawke to advance and be recognized, his challenge doesn’t just sound authentic, it REALLY IS AUTHENTIC! It is the actual challenge used in the American camp at Morristown in 1777. (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0180 ; and in case you are wondering, the parole was “Georgia” and the Countersign was “Samptown.”) How’s that for research?
Thirty years ago it would have required a prodigious effort for an author living in the Midwest to gather the kind of information I just discussed. Now it is a few keystrokes and clicks away. I am deeply indebted to folks like Dave Manthey, and the folks behind the keyboards at the University of Virginia Press—by doing valuable work and sharing it online, they are making the internet a useful tool, not just a “Wretched hive of scum and villainy.” I am still very wary of information I find out on the net, but it is definitely worth sorted through the garbage to find the gems.
A Nest of Hornets on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Nest-Hornets-Gideon-Hawke/dp/1539953599/
Robert Krenzel Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor
Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/