'Research'. Normally a dreaded word. And it conjures images of a lone, hunched figure perched over a table in a dark library; piles of books block this poor, sunlight-deprived person from the rest of the world....
Well, maybe not.
I've found that the more realistic I try to make my characters - the more realistic I try to make their world - the more research I have to do.
Let's start with Ezra:
Ex-marine. Awesome but not awesome enough. So, I started digging through the life of marines for something more. One of my favorite shows has now become 'Surviving the Cut', and it highlights the training exercises recruits must endure to enter any branch of the marines, the navy, and the air force's special divisions. I focused on books told by people who had fought or witnessed the fighting: 'Generation Kill', 'Jarhead', 'Ghosts of War'...
I bought books on military weaponry and strategy, because Ezra has his Recon Marine training burned into his brain. He has to act like it; he has to think like it.
He is also a cop, so I bought books that walked me through the police academy. I have books on the weapons police officers carry, their heirarchy, their jobs. I watched shows like 'Cops' and 'The First 48' (this one follows Homicide Detectives from around the country).
I did all of this and more to learn Ezra's skill-set and the way he thinks.
Now for Juliet:
I have to be honest: magic, as it's depicted in alot of urban fantasy books, just doesn't make sense to me. So, in creating Juliet's type of casting I turned to reality. I bought books written by modern witches: 'One Witch's Way'. I found books with actual spells in them: 'Natural Magick', 'The Element Encyclopedia of 1000 Spells'. I have a half dozen books containing herbs used in potions and spells: 'Tyler's Honest Herbal', 'The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews'.
But, as Juliet mentions repeatedly, she's not an actual witch; she doesn't enlist the aid of an outside source that most spells and incantations do. I went with the more fantastic; her power comes from inside. She struggles and grows in dealing with herself and what she wants from life. Her character is easier to write because I know alot of people like her.
I chose Columbus, because I'm the most familiar with the city, and it's the biggest city I've spent extended time in. I know the streets, landmarks, and history. And if I wanted my setting to be realistic, I had to have been there. I like readers being able to follow my characters on a car chase, as they weave their way through a half dozen streets. I want readers to have some idea where Juliet and Ezra live.
I know these places; I see them in my head, so I can describe them better. I can make the characters' placement more realistic.
I'm not sure why realism is such a sticking point, but I get such a kick out of marrying the fantastic with the mundane - and succeeding. As I've said before, I want my characters to be people you'd see on the street and not think, 'There's that magic weirdo walking her dog again'. I want the neighbors thinking, 'There's Juliet walking her dog. She's such a nice person.' And I can only do this if I have created a world real enough for readers to identify with.
Researching aspects of my characters' lives add that touch of reality to a world that isn't. I see these traits in my life and know others have them. I've visited some of the places I mention (and made a few of them up). My non-fiction collection has grown incredibly fast over the past four years, with topics ranging from the mob, FBI, police officers, the US Marines, witchcraft, archaeology, superstitions, the Dali Lama, to antiques and auction houses.
I love incorporating bits and pieces of our reality into Juliet's and Ezra's, and I have to say, what was once a hated and dreaded thing, is now one of my favorite - if more laborous - loves. I hope that shows, because I have so much fun with it.