When Charles J. Shields went to research a biography on the writer Harper Lee, he faced a difficult problem. Harper Lee is one of those reclusive authors who, like JD Salinger, doesn’t like media attention. Not only that, when she found out about the biography, she encouraged her friends and family not to talk to Shields. Anyone who saw the recent movie The Hoax– the true story of how Clifford Irving tried to write a bogus biography on the reclusive Howard Hughes– can appreciate the frustration that a reluctant subject can cause.
So Shields, faced with this predicament, decided to improvise using the internet. For instance, he logged into Classmates.com and tracked down former high school classmates of Lee and performed extensive interviews with them about their interactions with the author.
Authorlinks has published an article detailing Shields’s other research tactics.