Today I'm going to share with you one of my deep, dark secrets: I really love doing background research for my fiction.
Once an academic geek, always an academic geek, I guess. And fiction gives me the excuse to research all sorts of topics that have nothing whatsoever to do with my academic specialty but are still really interesting. For example, for the Praesidium trilogy I ended up learning about nineteenth century sailing ships. Didn't know the first thing about the topic ahead of time.
Also--and I suppose maybe this is more evidence of my geekhood--I love history. Not the boring stuff about which year some war was fought or who signed which treaty. But the cool stuff, like what did people eat in medieval England, or how did the Roman empire affect language and culture throughout Europe, or what were the sanitation practices in Victorian London. It helps when I've traveled to some of the places I write about and I can actually picture the houses and the countryside.
Doing research makes me feel a little like a detective. And it gives me a fantastic excuse to talk to people and ask them all sorts of nosy questions, to try just a taste of places or lifestyles or jobs that will never be mine.
Often the research itself suggests plotlines I'd never have thought of on my own. Sometimes the research slows down my writing because I end up on some fascinating detour, but then I never know when that detour will come in handy.
And there's a really deep satisfaction I get when I'm able to paint details with precise accuracy, even if nobody but a few people who happen to be familiar with the topic will realize how accurate those details are. So if you're reading one of my works and you come accross a factoid on, say, the weather during D-Day, you can rest assured it's as correct as I was able to get it.