I have to side with both Georganna and James on this one, but then I’ve got quite an academic and (non-writing) professional background to draw from so I love diving head first into research to support my fiction. I’ve researched from AIDS and bombs to Yiddish and Zulu warrior rituals. It’s just part of writing process.
If anything, my biggest problem is drawing the line between how much I learned versus how much I actually need to tell the reader. I’m of the belief that, while characters might need to explain things to one another, in the realm of fiction, an author should never explain him/herself to the reader. The value of research is in ensure that the author knows the rules of the world better than any of the characters and at least as well as any of the readers. The only thing that ticks me off more than a writer trying to “prove” to me how much s/he knows about a topic with lot of exposition that does little to advance the plot, is an auhor that hasn’t done his/her homework and doesn’t even realize that s/he has gotten easily verifyable facts wrong.
The most enjoyable reads are the books that are painted with a consistent brush with a depth of canvas that allows you to believe both in the characters and the world in which they live. Quality research, even if it never makes it into the foreground of the book, is key to acheiving this.
On the paranoia front, the more you investigate odd, diverse subjects the easier it will be to justify one or two forrays into “sensitive” topics when the men in the black helicopters show up. Besides, in this day and age, you don’t need to own a copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook to end up on a watch-list, all you need to do is open this thread…