Okay, I admit it, I’m a research junkie. My favorite activity associated with my work is not crafting brilliant sentences or feeling triumph when I figure out how to organize a huge amount of material so that my manuscript doesn’t have “too many words” (the mantra of many editor these days). It happens much earlier, when I’m in the 'finding info' stage.
That work used to involve driving to the university, miraculously finding a parking spot, and heading into the stacks after thumbing through card catalogs or, later, computer listings of holdings. Now, I rarely go there. The internet has become the ‘go to’ place for most of my research, for a couple of reasons. First off, there’s just plain so much information online, and I know how to ferret out the accurate sites. Secondly, my books now are often on less scientific topics than before. But once I get going, it’s hard for me to stop.
I’ve found that I need to find a balance between following thread after thread until I’m lost in a tangle far from where I meant to be and allowing myself to wander hither and yon on the net and stumbling onto something I didn’t know existed. A perfect example of the latter happy coincidence came while researching my most recent book, “Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond.” Because of my love of canines, I’m on an email list or two, and one had a link to the American Kennel Club Hero Dog Awards. I clicked through just for the fun of it and ended up finding a great dog who became one of my favorite profiles in the book. His name was “Bino,” and he was really a double-header hero. First, he had worked in the military keeping bases safe and sniffing out explosives in Iraq. After he retired, Bino was adopted by Debbie Kandoll, an amazing woman who realized that Bino didn’t’ want to be retired and lounge on the couch. He wanted to keep working. So she employed him as a helper to train service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. Debbie and Bino would take the vets and their dogs into noisy malls, riding narrow escalators and navigating crowds of shoppers, showing them that there was nothing to fear. Bino died last year at the age of 12, working almost to the end of his life. What a true hero hound!
Now I’m working on yet another dog book and have a confession to make. Today I was supposed to edit some documents for the Authors on Call branch of iNK, and I was supposed to get busy writing this blog. But instead, I started on a quest for photos for my next book—another doggy topic. I went to Google photos and got lost in the plethora of appealing photos of working dogs, then clicking on the articles in which the photos were imbedded. I’ve found that while Wikimedia has photos that are usually available to use for free, Google photos makes it easy to access the information that accompanies the photos by ghosting the articles behind the images. One click on the background and the article appears. I’ve found it’s an easy way to do targeted research. Today, I downloaded some potentially useful photos, discovered a dog who can sniff out buried 600-year-old bones and added five new bookmarks to my already bloated list--and I’ve only gotten halfway through the photos!
One of these days, I may find the balance between hoping for serendipity and being disciplined about my research—after all, you can only fit so much information into a 40 or 48 page book! But I’m in no hurry for discipline; noodling around on the internet is just too much fun.