Trivia as a Research Sport

I posted this a few years ago, but I’m so busy with a new and dramatically different project (news coming this fall!), I thought it might be okay to share again.

My name is Susan and I’m a trivia junkie. I love learning something new. A new word, an unusual little fact, a new process, no matter how obscure or weird. I’ve always enjoyed

Wordle grid

crossword puzzles, partly because of the new things I learn as I do them. Scrabble is fun, too, but more a search of the brain for words I already know. And recently, along with many of my Facebook Friends, Wordle daily has me in its grip. Only once has the answer given me a new word. Of course, it meant I didn’t solve that puzzle.

Here’s an example of the trivia I have picked up from who knows where. My neighbor was worried about his father whose doctor had just told him something seemed to be going on with the older man’s heart. My neighbor couldn’t figure out the term the cardiologist used, couldn’t figure out how to spell it to look it up. But once he said the word, I knew the spelling from crossword puzzles: i-s-c-h-e-m-i-a. Ischemia means coronary heart disease, or narrowing of the arteries. My neighbor was thankful because now he could learn more on Web MD. See what I mean about trivia?

As a trivia junkie, I love acquiring new information as I research my books. Writing historical novels would demand incredible amounts of research because of all the historical information involved, even the clothes, vocabulary, and activities of daily life. But you might be surprised how much research goes into contemporary novels as well. I found with my first book, Dangerous Attraction, I was looking for information constantly as I wrote the book. But that was before so much could be found on the internet. I had to phone the Boston office of the Drug Enforcement Administration to obtain answers to my questions.

For another release, Primal Obsession, I did a lot of direct research, personal research, with a canoe and camping trip. My husband and I had planned the trip anyway, which would award us hours toward recertifying our teaching certificates. This was a six-day trip on the West Branch of the Penobscot River with a guide and three other campers, also educators. I used the skills and experiences of the week to help me write authentic background and to plot the book. My fellow campers even suggested some plot points. Later I had other research to do, either online, in books, or by calling people.

I read a blog post elsewhere by another author who listed what she learned in the process of researching and writing a book. I thought it would be fun to do the same. Here are some things I learned while writing Primal Obsession.

1. In the state of Maine, the Maine Criminal Investigation Division handles murder cases. Only the cities of Bangor and Portland have homicide detectives. All other jurisdictions defer to the Major Crimes Units in different areas of the state.

2. Police often use cell phones instead of police radios because they can keep the calls more private. No one can listen in with their scanners at home.

3. There’s never been a serial killer in the state of Maine. (Mine’s the first!)

4. A serial killer’s signature makes his crime stand out with his personal compulsion, which remains static and represents what he is. A signature is different from a modus operandi, which can change. I learned this from Mindhunter, by John Douglas, one of the founders of the FBI Investigative Support Unit.

5. The Cessna Caravan pontoon airplane can carry the pilot and eight passengers.

6. Maine Guides were first licenses in 1897. Guiding at first was primarily for hunters and fishermen but today Maine Guides are licensed for recreational guiding as well. That first year 1316 guides were licensed. The first licensed guide was a woman, Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby.

Fly Rod Crosby

7. When navigating rapids in a canoe, watch for “funnels,” rocks with water streaming before them. Head down the V’s between the funnels/rocks. Use a Radical Paddle–pull the paddle in toward the canoe to make a quick turn–then power paddle through the V. The rear paddler sets the direction by switching sides and by pulling back in a J move.

8. When using a simple compass, place the red N arrow in the red section pointing north, or put “Fred in the shed,” as our guide said.10. When heading for a target spot in the woods, plot your course in short distances. Aim for a rock or tree ahead, then recheck the compass and choose a new target.

In Primal Obsession, Former pro athlete Sam Kincaid needs success guiding canoe expeditions in the Maine wilderness, not attraction to a sexy reporter researching a serial killer. Annie Wylde fights the pull of his charisma, considering him an arrogant jock. When the trip turns deadly, they realize the killer has followed her into the woods. If they survive the ordeal, can they find a way to each other?

I have a signed copy of Primal Obsession to give away to one commenter. I’ve tried to do this before but couldn’t contact the commenter, so if you comment and are also interested in receiving the book, email me at with your USPS address. If you live in the continental US, I’ll mail it to you; if not, I can gift you the Kindle version of the book.

About susanvaughan

Susan Vaughan loves writing romantic suspense because it throws the hero and heroine together under extraordinary circumstances and pits them against a clever villain. Her books have won the Golden Leaf, More Than Magic, and Write Touch Readers’ Award and been a finalist for the Booksellers’ Best and Daphne du Maurier awards. A former teacher, she’s a West Virginia native, but she and her husband have lived in the Mid-Coast area of Maine for many years. Her latest release is GENUINE FAKE, a stand-alone book in the Devlin Security Force series. Find her at or on Facebook as Susan H. Vaughan or on Twitter @SHVaughan.
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16 Responses to Trivia as a Research Sport

  1. John Clark says:

    Ah, trivia. I once memorized every question and answer in the Think You Know Maine Game in preparation for the show on MPBN…Made the finals. I think learning new ‘stuff’ in the pursuit of helping library patrons was the best part of my job.

  2. jselbo says:

    Loved the “what I learned” stuff. To me that’s so much the fun of writing –

  3. Kay Garrett says:

    Love trivia and learning something new! I think as readers we can tell if a writer has done their homework because they add tidbits in the story to make it more accurate which in turn makes it more true to life and interesting. It doesn’t have to be some mind blowing thing. In fact, it may be something most read over and never catch. But for trivia nerds like me, it’s fun to read them. When we are too old to learn, it means you’ve given up and might as well be dead.

    As a photographer that loves to capture critters in their natural surroundings, I have found that the more I learn about them and their habits the better my chances are of getting that wow photo. When some friends told me they used some of my photos in their home schooling, I started added tidbits with each photo. Now I have lots of folks telling me that they love the tidbits as much or more than my photos. Plus it’s fun when you can relate some strange and new tidbit that fascinates others as much as it does you.

    Thank you for the fabulous chance to win a copy of “Primal Obsession”. Shared and hoping to be the fortunate one selected. Sending email now.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    • susanvaughan says:

      Kay, thank you so much for your comment and being a fellow trivia junkie. I also enjoy the tidbits when I read. Some authors call those “info dumps,” but I don’t feel that way at all. Short paragraphs of background inform the narrative. Thanks for your interest in Primal Obsession. Good luck!

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    Yay on the new project! I also love to learn mostly useless facts…like when ladies glued mouse skins to their faces for luxuriant eyebrows!

  5. Judy Alter says:

    I love reading on the computer because when I come across a new word, I can quickly and easily check it out. Your Maine trivia has me thinking about Texas trivia, of which I’m sure there is a lot, not all of it good.

  6. Julianne Spreng says:

    One of my favorite trivia authors is Tim Dorsey. He packs so much Florida trivia into his novels you have to read them more than once to catch it all.

    For those of you who enjoy English historicals I leave you with one word…garderobe. You’ll know why. Laugh out loud!!

  7. Hey, Susan. What a fun post. You are way better than I at puzzles. WORDLE totally does me in. Loved the examples from your book. It’s amazing how much research we have to do for a book set in contemporary times.

  8. annette voyce says:

    very interesting replies. I adore trivia too

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