Smell-O-Vision Research

ACFWAuthors and writing, Friends of ACFW, research, writing 1 Comment

By Kim Gilliland

I am certain whatever genre of writing you favor there is some amount of research required.  In today’s world that probably means getting online and typing in a phrase or word into your search engine. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo, pretty much anything you’ll ever need to know is instantaneously at your fingertips. If it’s a newsworthy item its always best to double or triple check your information. I always do this because then I feel I’ve done my due diligence in making sure my facts and figures are correct.  For instance, in my last book Murder on the 16th Green I needed to verify some detailed information about Newport, Rhode Island. So, without having to drive to my local library or pull out an outdated encyclopedia I had my answers in short order over the World Wide Web. Part of that same research was done on Google Earth, too. How cool is that, we really are spoiled nowadays. This is good news for those of us who need to check facts quickly and conveniently, but perhaps sad news for libraries.

Now, just for the fun of it, let’s step back to1937 when Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie was published and libraries were still the bastion of encyclopedic information.  How in heavens name was she able to spin such a vivid tale of characters with such accuracy? The answer — because she herself took a trip on the steam ship Sudan down the Nile which helped inspire her to write the wonderful mystery.  She also made trips on the Orient Express and stayed nights in Istanbul. She didn’t need the internet, because she traveled herself to those wonderful exotic locals.

Not many of us have the luxury of traveling to all of the locations we may want to write about. I did live in Rhode Island for a period of time, which definitely helped me to describe and set certain scenes in my mystery. But even if I hadn’t I could have zoomed in on Google Earth and typed in facts about Rhode Island into a search engine to find out most all I needed to know. I wonder, though, if we’ve lost something in the ease of which we can do research. I think one reason for Christie’s inexplicable talent was the life she led. She actually rode on the Orient Express, sailed the Nile visiting the great pyramids, and even slept in a lovely Istanbul hotel. How does one begin to explain the sounds and smells of those places by looking at a flat screen, I ask?  When you have walked the streets and eaten in Turkish cafes, or stood with your eyes upon the Great Pyramids, it is an experience for the senses that computer research cannot do justice…even if you Google Earth them.  Maybe someday if “Holodecks,” a virtual reality environment on Star Trek, come into existence we too can travel safely to all ports of call with the click of a few buttons. Until then, I will have to rely on my computer for all of my research and hope someday it will have smell-o-vision, especially if I’m writing a story set in an Italian villa at dinner time.

Wife, Christian, and lover of all animals, Kim Gilliland (aka K.A.Neely) loves cozy mysteries. She has written her own mystery called “Murder on the 16th Green”. Read more about her novel by visiting or her Christian blog at for more information.



Comments 1

  1. Perhaps we have lost something. But we have more versatility nowadays, and can write novels set in a variety of settings. And I suppose by looking up travelogues online we can get a sense of the smells.

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