Most writers are inquisitive sorts, the kind who as children wore out adults by asking endless questions, annoyed (and occasionally outraged) Sunday school teachers with paradoxical what-ifs, and Hoovered up every factoid from the school and public library, then bugged the librarians (remember when they used to know *everything*?) with still more curiosity.
So it should come as no surprise that so many of us enjoy the bejeebers out of playing the writer card. You know, the one that gives us carte blanche to ask a million nosy questions in the name of research. And amazingly, people are rarely annoyed by this. Most experts have a passion for their own interests, and having long since bored their personal circle of family and friends into insensibility, are absolutely *thrilled* when some writer writes, phones, or e-mails and asks to pick their brains. Sometimes, in the course of asking one minor question for a smallish detail in one's novel, the writer will end up having to listen to years' worth of dammed up anecdotes and lectures.
But no problem. We're fascinated, captured by the speaker's enthusiasm for his/her subject. I once spent three hours on the phone (long distance, daylight hours, huge phone bill) with an elderly gentleman who was telling me about all sorts of cool arcania about Civil War-era steamboats on the Mississippi River. After while, I began to imagine that this guy had been hanging on by his toenails, actually staying alive just for the day when someone would call and ask about his lifelong passion. Little of what he told me ended up on the pages of the book I was researching at the time, but one of the more obscure details stuck with me... and eventually spawning its own book some time later. (In case you're curious, my two Civil War-era steamboat disaster-related Zebra Historical Romances, Against the Odds and Trust to Chance, were written under my Gwyneth Atlee pseudonym in 2001.)
And that's the way of expert interviews, just as it's the way of long stretches of browsing through dusty shelves of research books. You never know what gems you'll happen upon during your investigation. Writer who rely solely on Internet search engines often miss the joy of incidental discoveries.
As well, they miss one of the coolest aspects of the writing life.
So what's been the most fascinating incidental or accidental discovery you've made while doing research? Who have been some of the most interesting people you've encountered?