I’m woefully behind on my planned blog posts — which is potentially a good thing, since I’ve been too distracted by editing to write about it. Right now, I’m taking a moment between emails to put down a few thoughts.

Odds are that whatever you write about is, to some extent, outside your area of expertise. No one person can know everything about every subject. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, your job as a writer is to get your head into the heavens; if you try to get the heavens into your head, your head will explode.

I’m often met with amazement because of the stuff I know off the top of my head. I collect bits of knowledge like a squirrel collects nuts. Most of all, though, I collect . . . well, call them indices. I don’t bother trying to memorize everything; I memorize where I go look them up again. I remember a fact’s relation to other facts, which means if I don’t know it immediately I still know where to start looking.

Part of that — a large part — is knowing who to ask about whatever is on my mind. For most subjects, I’m about two calls away from some sort of definite answer: one to call someone, and one to call that person I get referred to. It doesn’t matter what genre I’m currently working on; I know that I need to check things with experts before I can consider something finished.

The current book I’m working on is Regina Doman’s upcoming novel Rapunzel Let Down. I’ll likely do an in-depth look at what I did with this novel later; Regina’s a friend as well as a client, so she’s more comfortable with this sort of thing than most authors I work with. For now, I’ll just say that we’re been involved in a flurry of emails all day over events in her book. They hinge on particular legal matters, and she needed an experienced trial lawyer to take a look at what happens.

Fortunately, I’ve got that particular expert on speed-dial: my own father, who has served as both prosecution and defense and, in a career of over three hundred cases, has never lost. He knows both common and Constitutional law better than the back of his own hand. And while (by his own admission) he hasn’t an ounce of creativity when it comes to fiction, he’s no stranger to being a consultant on hypotheticals with no warning.

But what can you do? Simple: pay attention to the interests and professions of people you know. You may be thinking “Well, it’s okay for you, you’ve got a trial lawyer for a father.” Let me tell you two things.

First, almost everyone has a family member and/or who’s an expert in something useful in a book. No one is uninteresting, and no one is uninterested. Everyone knows something. If you don’t know someone who knows the answer, you likely know someone who knows someone.

Second, look where you are right now. You’re on the Internet!  You can do the basic research yourself using just Wikipedia and the search engine of your choice. It won’t make you an expert, but you’ll learn which questions to start asking. The more you do this, the more information you’ll find. An astonishing amount of information is available for free. If you have questions, you can find answers just by joining a forum and posing a question. No matter the topic, someone has an answer.

As they said in the 60s, question authority! Find an authority on the subject, and ask a question.