Experience That Novel!

I think one of my favorite things about writing a novel is the amount of research I get to do. My completed novel, The Breakaway, takes place in two states: California and Colorado. Not much research I have to do there. I live in the Western United States.

So what would I have to research about a story where the main character stays in one house for over a year – only leaving to go into the backyard?

One thing I researched was food. The Breakaway has lots of food in it. Writing it made me hungry all the time! I thought I would share a specific scene from my novel, and then give you the recipe I researched to write this scene.

So what do you research for your novels? For Monarch, I’ve researched things ranging from terrorism and drugs to the best way to clean a severe cut (hydrogen peroxide is not the best thing to use, by the way, and may cause more harm than good). I’ve also done a lot of research on Monarch butterflies. Hmmm, I wonder why that is.

Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms and Thyme

serves 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as a side dish

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 large shallots, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
10 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps wiped clean and sliced 1/4 inch thick
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
Ground black pepper
1 pound camanelli or farfale
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (1 cup)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat the butter and oil in a skillet over medium heat until foaming. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium-high; add the shiitakes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the cremini and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the moisture released by the mushrooms has evaporated and the mushrooms are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the thyme and cook 30 seconds. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. Add the chicken broth to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan; off the theat, stir in the cream, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until just shy of al dente. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.

4. Add the mushrooms, chicken broth-cream mixture, cheese, and parsley to the pasta. Toss over medium-low heat until the cheese melts and the pasta absorbs most of the liquid, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.



Posted by Michelle D. Argyle


If I liked mushrooms, I’d be tempted to try that. But I don’t, so I won’t. 😛

First I must comment on the excellent prose in you book. Second, I would love to try the recipe but I am not much of a cook. As for research, I enjoy doing the research for my writing more than any other aspect of storytelling. Thanks for an interesting post.

Research ranges all over the place. For one book I had to track down Roman maps of Europe to get the correct place names, Roman tomb inscriptions in Britain, and everything I could find about the last Roman legion in Britain.For others I’ve researched: quantum entanglement, slave bacteria, tigers, whether cats see in color, deep water trenches, high pressure survival, military tactics, mythology from around the world, Russian, romance poetry, gardening, magic, Gaelic religions, and the variable-speed-of-light theory…. and a few other things.It keeps me entertained and educated. Although the number of people likely to ask me about the Legio II Augusta or barophilic bacteria is low.

Actually, it sounds kinda gross. I also am not a fan of mushrooms unless they are in spaghetti.Oh and research right now it seems overwhelming. I have to research all the info about making a genetically engineered baby.

Wow, you really did your homework! For Ring of Oaths, Bailey is an Herbalist and the world is based loosely on Ireland, so I’ve done a little research on the country… and I bought a book on Irish herbs and their uses. Very interesting.The rest has been research on medieval clothing, and some look at old currency and animals native to the land. I got so involved with researching certain birds for it, that I looked up recordings of them singing. I then wrote down my first impression of the sound and how I would describe it in a passage. Aha! I just thought of a scene where I could use that…Sorry, long comment. /rambling

Solvang Sherrie

That sounds yummy! Is it wrong to cook pasta at 11pm?In one of the books I’m working on, my MC gets struck by lightning. So I’ve been researching lightning strike survivors. Completely fascinating. I get lost for hours 🙂

Becca:Naomi didn’t like mushrooms and liked it… maybe you would, too? Except that you’re not a fictional character, of course. ;)Marty:Thank you so much for your compliment! That means a lot to me. :)Just buy America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. You’ll be a great chef in no time. Thanks for visiting! I’ve added you to my blog list. I love your latest post!Liana:I knew your research list would be interesting and fun to read! If I ever need shark references, you know where I’m going.Rie:Ah, another mushroom hater. You know, I love them, but in some things I don’t like them. Weird. That sounds like fun research!Beth:Ah, medieval clothing… that’s the best! And I love the site you shared on your blog. Thanks!Sherrie:11 p.m. pasta sounds great. As long as you have the energy and the ingredients. 🙂 Evelyn, in my story, forgets the parsley…

Ugh, I’ve always hated mushrooms (although the husband loves them, and I might try your recipe for him!).But I love your dedication to research. To be honest, most of mine has come off the internet–historical facts, science, etc.–and I sort of wish that I had an excuse to do research by traipsing off to new locations–or even by trying out new recipes!

I love mushrooms, yummy. They’re one of my favorite foods to cook with, except for white mushrooms which I think lack on the favor side. I’m definitely hungry now! :)Nice scene, well written and thanks for the recipe. I’m going to have to try that one.

What is this research of which you speak? O:)Kidding. 😉 I generally tend to start writing and research things briefly as I go (I’m never sure what I’ll need to know) and make a list of things I need to do more in-depth study on when I’m done writing.Alas, I’m horrible about researching something first as that would require I actually know what I’m doing before hand, and rarely do I ever plan that much ahead. O:)(This played havoc on NaNo for me, as my novel ended up being an alternate history of France–more the lead up to the Reign of Terror, and I needed way more research than I had, for plotting purpose… *sighs*)But when I eventually get around to it I’ve researched all sorts of things… depends totally on the story. 😛 My brain is on vacation and not providing specifics…~MercP.S. the recipe sounds interesting; I’m not fond of mushrooms but might try it. Eventually. 😛

Amber Lynn Argyle

Pasta doesn’t like me. Between the heartburn and the ulcers, we just can’t seem to get along.

Mushrooms?*covers mouth and runs for the bathroom*Sorry, but I will never try that recipe.So far I’ve only researched a couple of things for my writing. 1) Had an all night conversation with a couple of cops about kidnapping. 2) Reading old newspaper article about how the Jewish people were treated in Germany leading up to WWII.Nothing major as yet.

Research…what i need to. Try to make up everything. Have researched which is the hardest gemstone (I went by a different system which is still valid). And a little on bioethics.

I really enjoyed that scene and the recipe sounds great, I love mushrooms!I’m currently researching the US school system, wow it is complex! I may never get a handle on Sats, good job they’re only mentioned in passing!

Justus M. Bowman

Sometimes I look up information on horses, weapons, armor, city walls, etc. It’s fine, but I prefer to be beyond questioning. Like if I said, “Zanric is an intelligent orc,” no one could reasonably respond with, “Not according to my history book,” since I created the character. The same goes for my continents, worlds and so on. They’re mine! All mine!

I’ve researched British English because I have some English characters. I don’t know why they have to be British, but they insist that they are so… I’ve about given up though on making them sound authentic. I’m just going to use some Brit Crits to help make sure their language is right. Thanks Yuna! Any other Brits out there want to give it a go?As for the recipe, it looks delicious! None of my immediate family will eat mushrooms. Ugh! I love them. I may have to make this when the MIL comes to town. She a big fan of the ‘shrooms.Evie totally rocks!

Best post. LOVE your writing; it’s so natural. You’ve got me.Plus, I love mushrooms.I do no research. It’s all make-believe. Someday, when I have the luxury of time….

Beth:Yes, one day when I’m rich and famous I will go visit the locations I write about. Haha…Yep, try the recipe for your hubby. Leave the mushrooms out for you, I guess?I’m not sure if I have more of a dedication or just plain obsession for research. It’s so fun to learn!R:Yep, try the recipe! Button mushrooms (plain white ones) are the most tasteless and watery mushrooms of all of them. I suggest creminis instead. :)Merc:Mushrooms can be iffy for me, too. Depends on how they’re cooked. But try this one. I think you may like it.I research as I go, as well. Especially with Monarch… it starting out as an unexpected NaNo project and all. :)Amber:How sad! I hope there are other foods you adore to make up for the no pasta. I love pasta.Sarah:I would love to hear more about that conversation with the policemen. :)Yuna:So is the diamond the hardest gemstone? *is curious* I always thought it was…Alexa:Yes, research can definitely be intimidating! Good luck! Glad you enjoyed the scene. I hope you can read the whole book sometime when I get back up on its blog.Justus:*still laughing* — Yes, the beauty of making up your own world! That would be really nice….I’ll bet your worlds are fascinating. :)Lois:I should have known you would love mushrooms. We are so alike in so many ways!Yep, make this for her and then let her read the chapter from Breakaway. Hehe. She’ll have no idea what’s going on.spinregina:So glad you liked the excerpt, and that you love mushrooms. Aren’t they great! I also have the ultimate mushrooms in this novel … truffles. Ever had those?

Writing fantasy, I mostly focus on researching animals that come closest to the creatures that inhabit the story.For the fun of it I once researched the speed of light: http://ofpassingmoment.blogspot.com/2008/11/this-day.htmlWhen reading, I'm most likely to research into the dictionary to learn a new word. That's always great fun!As for the recipe, I'm in the "not a cook" category… but perhaps you can make it some time if I ever get back down to that valley to visit? ;->Interesting side note: My favorite light-reading series by Patricia C. Wrede had a spin-off short story about a cooking contest. The most common fan question: The winning chocolate cake recipe! So Patricia had to spend a while in her kitchen coming up with it. Very cute how she translated it into the story setting.

That does make me hungry. And your research pays off: the details of cooking give the characters something concrete to do while the real conflict, the newspaper article and the attempt to convince the MC to stay, are finely diced and slipped into the conversation.

Tara:Great comment! I agree. That’s the whole idea… to give concrete details. And research covers that. Thanks for reading!

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