Writing: How to Research Subject Matter for a Book

It seems the old adage “write what you know” really doesn’t apply to me. I take on projects well out of my comfort zone. The subject

A small slice of my 43 folders I use for GTD t...

matter is such that I may know a little about it, or nothing at all. I like challenges. So, if you are like me and like to learn knew things and pass on that new knowledge to others, then you will have to become an excellent researcher!

Research: one dictionary defines research as: “careful or diligent search” or, my personal favorite, “the collecting of information about a particular subject.”

A researcher is like being a butterfly catcher. You may know where the facts are but they may be random and hard to catch. That is why  you need the proper tools to “catch” your facts, or information.

I find the internet to be a useful tool, however, it doesn’t always lead to accurate information. That is why cross-referencing (related information found elsewhere), or comparing notes with others is beneficial . The fastest approach is a Google search. The results can be overwhelming though, so choose wisely and selectively. Don’t let the research take you down a rabbit hole, so to speak.  It is very easy to get side-tracked into reading unrelated material and wind up wasting a ton of time.

Don’t let the internet be your only source of information. Books are a wonderful tool. Go to the library, or borrow the book from a friend. You never know what interests your friends have until you compare books!

Ask an expert. A personal interview is a great source of information. Make sure you have a recorder (I use my MP 3 player, but there

Sixty-One Writing Implements

are a lot of choices out there. Always have a pad of paper and a  comfortable writing implement (pen, pencil, marker, highlighter).

Another option is to take a class on the subject,or  join a group. For example, I wanted to know more about the history of my city. I didn’t just read a book on the subject, or look it up on the internet. I joined the historic society in my city and got involved. Now I assist with historical walking tours, and I attend programs where experts discuss historical subjects pertaining to my town. You can also join specific groups on Facebook or Linked In. You can join in their discussions or add what you may already know. Either way it’s a good place to ask others what they know and begin gathering information.

Good organization is a must. You will be gathering a lot of information from a lot of different places. Keep sticky notes handy, file folders or a bulletin board. (This is a feature I’m still working on!) When your notes are scattered about it makes the job more overwhelming than it needs to be!

When I first sit down to figure out where to start, I jot down every word on the subject that comes to mind. These words may not have anything to do with the subject, it is just my initial idea. I may scrap that line of thought later, but it gets me going in the right direction.

And don’t forget always take careful note of your sources. Those are the building blocks of your Bibliography.

My book, The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir, started from putting all these suggestions to use. I’m not an expert on the Holocaust, but my father-in-law, Joseph Kempler is a survivor. Who would know more about the Holocaust than someone who lived through it? I interviewed him, recorded his personal testimony, transcribed those recordings, then conducted an extensive research on the things he told me. I learned a lot about Poland, World War II, concentration camps, and ghettos. I also learned about the psychological damage inflicted on someone who lived through that horror, and how they relate (or not) to others.

Read sample chapters: Altered I Sample-April Kempler

To Pre-order click here.

You never know what will come out of your research, what will inspire you, or where it will lead.

Research can be fun, even addicting. That’s all I have to say. What do you think? Do you write only about what you know? Or, do you research a new subject? If so, what helpful tips have you discovered? I would love to know. Please share in the comments section of this blog.

Related article: Kitchen Timer  as a writing tool.


Book Review Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli

Cover of "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitnes...

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, celebrated this Sunday, January 27,  I’m recommending Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli.

This is the story of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli a Jewish prisoner/doctor who was sent to Auschwitz, along with his wife and daughter, in 1944. It is told in a first person narrative.

Synopsis: Upon his jarring arrival to Auschwitz-Birkenau,  Dr. Miklos Nyiszli is spared the gas chamber for the more barbarous task of assisting Dr. Josef Mengele in “scientific research” performed on the corpses of fellow inmates. Dr. Miklos survived and gives us his account in this horrifying memoir.

Any book of this nature is difficult to criticize, and I for one don’t. I think each memoir and account of the Holocaust is an important documentation of our human history. The Holocaust happens to be the most abysmal part of that history. It is humankind’s darkest era, as is so perfectly described in Our Living Legacy: “The Holocaust, which established the standard for absolute evil, is the universal heritage of all civilized people.” (read the Our Living Legacy Survivor’s Declaration)

Auschwitz a Doctor’s Eyewitness Account gives the reader a glimpse into what really went on in a death camp. Very few survived the gas chambers to tell the tale, and Dr. Nyiszli’s rendition is harrowing, eye-opening and tragic.

For other books on the subject of the Holocaust follow this link.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Book Review In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom

Cover of "In the Land of Invisible Women:...

By: Qanta Ahmed

Pages: 464

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1402210876

ISBN-13: 9781402210877

My rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis: Qanta Ahmed, a British-born Muslim doctor, is denied a work visa in the United States. She opts to travel to Saudi Arabia where she works in a hospital in Riyadh. Although she was raised as a Muslim, and is familiar with the teachings of Islam, nothing prepares her for the culture shock she experiences in a country under Sharia Law.

The first chapter grabbed my attention immediately as it described a Muslim Bedouin woman lying on an operating table. The woman is in a coma and connected to a respirator. Although the woman is naked, her face is covered by a veil. Doctor Ahmed finds it a striking clash between technology and religion. Meanwhile, the woman’s son is pacing with worry and anxiety over her veil remaining in place. So begins the contrasts and conflicts that Dr. Qanta Ahmed encounters during her years in Saudi Arabia. In this compelling narration, Dr. Ahmed lifts the veil of the upper-class Saudi women and exposes their culture and religion to the Western eye.

The story is set during the years before September 11, 2001. It would have been helpful to the reader if the author had clearly stated the time frame of her story instead of stating it in the final chapters of the book. Regardless, I thoroughly believe that the content outweighs the technicalities of the internal structure. Overall, I found In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom to be compelling and thought provoking.

Dr. Ahmed’s story brought to my attention that some of the basic rights I enjoy, and sometimes take for granted as a female American citizen, are denied Saudi women. Despite the fact that Dr. Qanta Ahmed is highly educated and trained to operate complicated medical machinery, she was denied the right to drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia. No woman has the right to drive.

Dr. Ahmed describes a world where a simple trip to the shopping a mall can bring about a hostile encounter from the religious police, those men dressed in brown, known as the Mutaween. They patrol the streets and public places for any infringements of Islamic law.  Their reprimands can range between hostile shouting, imprisonment, flogging, and public humiliation. Mixed gender fraternizing is strictly forbidden, yet Qanta and her colleagues managed to arrange late-night dinners. The fear of being discovered by the Mutaween was always present. Even couples who are legally married must carry proof in the form of a marriage license in case they get targeted by these religious police.

Women are not the only ones who experience repressed feelings in Saudi Arabia. Qanta describes a lost generation of young men in their twenties who have plenty of money, but no worthwhile occupation. They act out their base instincts speeding around in expensive sports cars, causing serious injury or death to themselves and others when they lose control over their vehicles.

Perhaps the most shocking part in the book was the description of the events of 9/11. Even Qanta is surprised and repulsed by the display of prejudice and lack of compassion that emanates from her open-minded colleagues. Some doctors and nurses go so far as to celebrate the event with their patients, eating cake, shouting in glee and applauding as if it were some great, happy occasion. It is not so much surprising as it is callous.

Qanta’s story was as enlightening as I hoped it would be. I learned a lot about the customs and culture. For instance there are several chapters devoted to Qanta’s Hajj, something I knew very little about before reading her memoir. I learned that the women wear Abayah’s, a cloak or over-garment that covers the women from the neck down. The men wear thobes, an ankle-length garment similar to a robe.

Dr. Qanta Ahmed’s account of her time in Saudi Arabia was touching, sobering and illuminating. It helped me to feel more appreciation for my life and grateful for the freedoms I possess. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in women’s rights, Islam or Sharia Law.

Local Reno History: Monroe Street Walking Tour Presented by Historic Reno Preservation Society

In order to get to know my little town of Reno, Nevada, I joined the Historic Reno Preservation Society. Immediately I was launched into role of tour guide. Tour guide! I was here to learn, but what better way to remember than to repeat to someone else all the neat things I’ve learned. Bear with me, I’m still learning, and in actuality I assist Elsie Newman and Anne Simone, two of the best little ladies in Reno, who really know a whole lot about Reno history!

If you do happen to be on the Monroe Street walking tour here are a few things you will see:

  • Historic Reno seems to be a city that was made of brink. You will see this brick done in a variety of designs and colors. My Clinker Brickfavorite is clinker brink. Clinker brick is a darker, purplish color. Apparently, clinkers are the bricks that were too close to the fire in the kilns. Around the turn of the last century architects discovered how attractive they were when combined with regular looking bricks and added them to their designs. You will see a lot of clinker brick usage in our historic districts, but there is one house in particular where it is used on the Monroe Street tour.
  • Rose gardens. Reno has many lovely rose gardens, but what is so unusual about the rose garden on this tour is that it is well over sixty years old! The story goes that the present home owner found numbered Jackson & Perkins (well known sellers of roses) Rosa 'Poesie' Deutsch: Öfterblühende Beetrose ...tester tags. After calling the company it was related to her that those numbers weren’t even in the computer system and that those roses were indeed quite old.
  • Down the street a bit we will see the home of Pappy Smith of Harold’s Club Casino fame. This home was built in the mid-50s. It is
    reno - Harold's Club floor5000 square feet upstairs and 5000 square feet downstairs. There is a hidden elevator in the drive-way leading to a storage area  that held the liquor that supplied the club. Harold’s Club Casino catered to a female clientele, who were otherwise overlooked at other gaming establishments. Pappy Smith created a safe environment where ladies felt welcome.
  • My personal favorite home on the tour is located at 975 Joaquin Miller. This briefly was the home of boxing legend JackJack Dempsey and Jim CorbettDempsey.  In its time this was a charming Tudor style home.
  • One last notable home on the tour was once owned by artist Lyle V. Ball. He was known for his water color paintings of aging barns and ranch houses. He lived here during the 50s and 60s.
    Project 365: June 30 - Olinka Hrdy's Palette

There are a few more surprises in store on my home tour, but these are some of the highlights. If you are in the Reno area and are interested in the tours please contact the Historic Reno Preservation Society for details on walking tours and rates, 775-747-4478.

Click here for walking tour descriptions.

Other source material:


The Altered I: a Holocaust Memoir: The Kraków Ghetto

Arched entrance to Kraków Ghetto, about 1941.

Arched entrance to Kraków Ghetto, about 1941. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jósef has been learning to “blend in” since the start of the war. Because of his fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes he is successful at looking like a  Volksdeutcher, that is someone who is ancestrally German but living outside of Germany. In Jósef”s case a Polish boy of German descent. He does this to avoid confrontation and persecution. Also, he wants to enjoy the basic rights that Jews have been denied, namely going into shops to buy things, checking out library books, sitting on a park bench. Simple things that have been denied the Jews of Poland.

Several months after Nazi invasion, the Jews of the Kazimierz learn there is to be a ghetto, a concentrated area designated as the living quarters of the Kraków Jews. A ghetto implies cramped living areas, poverty, and sickness. Indeed, the Kraków Ghetto lives up to this description.

Not every Jew is allowed to live in the ghetto. Only people who are deemed useful to the German military or lifestyle. Most Jews are on the move during this time, looking for a new place to live. Even Poles in the Kraków area are on the move. Because the ghetto is not set up in the Jewish quarter of the Kazimierz, but rather, it is situated in the Podgórze district, Poles must move out of their homes and into the former Jewish homes of the Kazimierz. Most Jews must move out altogether. Some seek sanctuary in towns and villages on the outskirts of Kraków. This is a time of great upheaval and uncertainty.

Sample chapters here: Altered I Sample-April Kempler

Scheduled for release in May 2013,  anyone interested in ordering The Altered I: a Holocaust Memoir click here.

Check out the timeline of the Kraków Ghetto.

Other source material:


Communication Gap Widens With the Popularity of Social Media


Recently I attended the Historic Reno Preservation Society’s (HRPS) year-end dinner. I was thrilled to be included, since I only assisted on one walking tour way back in May! I was seated at a table of…well…an older crowd, and we got to talking about how their grandchildren rarely, if ever sit and talk with them. One woman said, “I would drop dead if my grand-daughter sat down and wanted to talk to me!”

That made me sad, and I got to thinking about my own niece, who typical of her generation have their smart phones (or as I like to call them smarty-pants phones) firmly attached to their palms, fixated on the latest game or texting friends. One night my husband and I invited her and her father (recently widowed) over to our house to share a meal and catch up on life. No sooner had we sat down to eat when my niece popped up out of her chair, kissed her daddy on the cheek, said a quick good-bye and flew out the door. Apparently she had sent a message to some nearby friends asking them to pick her up so she could spend the night at their house. I was only slightly offended. I mean, she is young and it is only natural for her to want to be with her friends, but couldn’t she have just had dinner with us and shared a little bit in the conversation?

So, aunts, uncles, fathers and mothers rank up there (or down there?) with grandparents when it comes to spending time with today’s teenagers. Which is kind of a shame when you think about it. Our older generation, those in their seventies and eighties, even nineties (my husband’s grandmother is a youthful ninety-seven-year-old) are a diminishing breed. Our opportunities for connecting are lessening.

We can learn so much from our grandparents. They went through the Great Depression, they really knew how to stretch a dime and grow a garden! Al Capone was the smuggling and bootlegging king of their day, they drew together as a nation during World War Two, they learned how to ration when the country needed them to, they saw the invention of helicopters and air conditioning, they were the first generation to eat cheeseburgers…

Some say that social media is making us less social and has stifled communication. I tend to agree, but then there are others out there who say it has improved matters. For instance, a person with Asperger’s Syndrome might feel their facial expressions and body language are misleading and that they can communicate better through social media.

I know there is always another side to the question, but, it sure would be nice if some of the time kids and older ones could sit around and just talk to each other.

That’s all I have to say. What do you think? Can we ever bridge the communication gap between young ones and older ones? Or has technology ruined it forever?

The Altered I: a Holocaust Memoir Rough Glossary of Terms

I thought it would be neat to share some of the unfamiliar terms that can be found in The Altered I.  Here is a rough glossary that I put together:

Appell – roll call

Appellplatz – roll call place

Ausweis – identity card

Babcia – Polish for grandmother

Barrackenbau – German word for barrack or hut, bau is German for builder, barrackenbau means barracks builder

Displaced Persons Camp – D.P. Camp was a temporary facility for Jews after the Holocaust who were displaced from their homes.

Ebensee – concentration camp in Austria

Gestapo – Secret police under Heinrich Himmler. They hunted out any person deemed a threat to Nazi Germany.

Intelligentsia – the intellectual class, highly educated people

Jewish Ghetto Police –  established by Germans to police the Jews in the ghettos

Jopka – Polish for fancy coat

Karl May – (1842-1912) last name pronounced “my”. German writer of adventure stories and westerns

Kazimierz – Old Town district for Jews in Krakow

Kazimierz the Great – Polish King who ruled from 1333-1370

Kraków Ghetto – Jewish ghetto in Krakow.

Krankenrevier – sick barrack or infirmary in a concentration camp

Łapanka – roundup to kidnap Jews into forced labor

Mamusia – Polish for mother

Mauthausen – category three camp, concentration camp in Austria

Melk – sub-camp of Mauthausen, concentration camp in Austria

Nazi – a member of the National Socialist Workers Party

Nuremburg Laws – anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany, that excluded Jews from German life and denied them of certain natural rights

O.D. – Jewish Police, in German: Jüdischer Ordnungsdient

Pan – Polish for Mister (Mr.)

Pani – Polish for Missis (Mrs.)

Payos – side curls worn by Jewish men.

Pecak – barley stew

Phylactery – a small box containing Hebrew texts on vellum.Worn by Jewish men at morning prayer.

Pilsudski – Józef Pilsudski, a Polish revolutionary and statesman, (1918-1922) First Marshal (1920), and leader of Second Polish Republic (1926-1935)

Placówka – a special work group made up of the same people each day

Płaszów – initially a forced labor camp for Jews, then became a concentration camp. Located near Krakow, Poland

Prophecy of Wernyhora – a seer who prophesied Polish events

Protekcja – someone who protected you, looked out for your needs, a privileged group

Rakowice – forced labor camp in Poland

Reichsdeutscher – German citizen

Rynek Główny – Main market square in Krakow, Poland

Shtreimel – Jewish fur-trimmed hat

SS – in German Schutzstaffel, originally Hitler’s personal bodyguards, they grew in number under Heinrich Himmler and were divided into two groups: general SS and Waffen SS (armed SS)

Stollen – tunnel

Synagogue – a building where a Jewish congregation meets for worship

Talmud – oral explanation of the Torah

Tefillin – the term for the set of phylacteries, two small leather boxes containing Hebrew texts

Todesstiege – Stairs of Death in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria

Torah-  the first five books written by Moses in the Hebrew Scriptures

Tzitzit – the fringe or tassels on a four-cornered cloak

UNRRA – United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

Vergeltungswaffen – V-weapons. V-1 flying bomb, V-2 rocket, V-3 cannon. Used against Britain

Volksdeutscher – “German Folk”, ethnic Germans living outside of Germany or Austria. In this case a Pole of German descent

Waffen – combat branch of the SS. Armed SS

Wehrmacht – German armed forces: army (Heer), navy (Kriegsmarine), and air-force (Luftwaffe)

Yarmulke – skull-cap worn by Jewish men

Zakopane – concentration camp in Poland

Złoty- Polish currency

Sample chapters: Altered I Sample-April Kempler