Neal Stephenson's researcher teaching "Research for Writers" seminar

Lisa Gold, the amazing researcher who helped Neal Stephenson get the details right in the Baroque Trilogy, is conducting a "Research for Writers" seminar in Seattle:
Research is an important part of the creative process for writers of fiction and nonfiction. Research can help with inspiration, storytelling and world building whether you are writing about the past, present or future, about life on earth or an imaginary world. The instructor will share advice about research, discuss the kinds of research writers may need to do and help students find useful sources of information in print, on the Web, in libraries and in unexpected places.
You can still register for my Research for Writers class


  1. I wondered how many researchers Stephenson had for that extraordinary trilogy, although I’m sure the Captain Crunch stuff was personally researched. Yuck.

    A good many authors employ researchers, especially, perhaps, Norman Mailer, who should have shared his Pulitzer for The Executioner’s Song with Lawrence Schiller, his friend and researcher. The popular crime writer Elmore Leonard employed traveling researchers (once he could afford them) to provide site background for his novels not set in the Detroit area.

    Of course, in lieu of research, there’s always plagiarism.

    This should be an interesting seminar.

  2. The research that Neal Stephenson does shows, and it makes a damned big impact upon his writing. I read a sci-fi author like Larry Niven, and as much as I love the guy’s writing, I get done with one of his books and just feel entertained (which is not a bad thing). When I get done plowing through some Neal Stephenson on the other hand, I feel like I just was had an intellectual experience that just so happened to be extremely entertaining. I mean, how many folks got done reading Cryptonomicron and promptly tried to encrypt everything that fired bits?

    Good research turns a cute entertaining story into something that is far more thought provoking, and I think that this is especially important in the sci-fi genera.

    God, just talking about Neal Stephenson makes me half insane waiting for his next book. The guy’s writing is so completely one of a kind. Ok, I’ll stop the mental masturbation over Neal Stephenson before I jiz myself.

  3. I’m with you guys.
    I’ve read a lot of Dean Koontz lately, and that guy, I tell ya, knows his onions. Architecture, automobiles, weaponry, horticulture… wherever his characters wander, he demonstrates such a thorough knowledge of everything. I know his career has been in writing for decades, but you’d think he was a architect, weapons expert, or whatever subject he breeches, he amazes me with his familiarity. He must have a team of researchers.
    Cory, I promised you I’d read Little Brother next, but when I went to the bookstore, I didn’t have the $18, so I got Brother Odd in paperback. You’re next, I swear!
    I wish I could make it to Seattle.

  4. Oha! I was just wondering last night how it was that Anathem seemed so Isaac-Asimov-like in the ‘does this guy know everything or what’ department?

    I mean … we’re talking the Dagwood Sandwich of storymaking here!

  5. It’s what we do and is why we’re valuable: intense research ain’t a particularly easy vocation, and is usually a thankless one. Yr library can help carry you to the water, but for the further work, writers had best call in a private searcher, if they hit a dead end. Ms. Gold rightly deserves this attention, and you ought to get yrself to her class.

  6. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Michael Crichton yet. He mentioned in an interview that the amount of research he did for his novels amounted to getting a phd every time he wrote one. Not to mention James Cameron, who pretty much dropped off the face of the earth to finance and develop his scifi projects. He even got an offer to work at JPL if his movie career didn’t take off.
    Currently working my way through Quicksilver, but I give credit to Crichton and Cameron for making science look cool and not just another excuse for flashy gimmick-y films.

  7. For those of us who *don’t* have the money or the spare room for an in-house researcher, there’s a website in the UK called Sci-Talk:

    Sci-Talk links writers up with scientists from various fields to help make sure the scientists’ work — and the scientists themselves — are portrayed more accurately. (So, less of the “She took off her glasses and shook her hair loose from its bun, sending it tumbling dark over the white shoulders of her labcoat” kinda thing.)

    I contacted a few climatologists through the site while researching my fourth novel, Finitude, and those who responded were all helpful and friendly.

    Ultimately, though, there was a point where I had to put down my homework and just make it up, y’know? There’s nothing worse than hearing those wheels creaking, or when the ideas displace the characters. Maybe that’s just me.

  8. Good to hear that historians get these chances to earn money and make a difference. Much as I love his books, and as delightful as he truly is, N.S. seemed weirdly vulnerable in person at his recent talk in the university district. Vulnerable in an club-footedly aggressive way. Maybe it’s a Seattle thing.

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