Thursday, April 17, 2014

Researching background for books

Here are a few thoughts about researching for both fiction and nonfiction:

There's nothing like actually going where your subject lived to observe the setting and walking in your subject's shoes.  I always do it.  
 (or to follow your living subject around at a convention she is running.)

While there I discover fascinating tidbits that help extend my knowledge of the people and the place.  Plus I take photographs to help me with describing the setting later.  (when books had black and white photos, I would put those photos into the books.)

Also, just talking about your research adventures on the internet pulls out lurkers who know somebody who know somebody.
--The man who was the paperboy of the Wright Brothers.  (he never saw them -- just the housekeeper)
--The man whose uncle saw the first flight.  (he didn't actually see it. He attempted to spy on the one that crashed several days before the first flight actually happened.  He and a group of boys climbed a sand dune to spy on the crazy men, but when the motor began to rumble and pop, they slid down the dune and ran like h*ll away from the devil sound.)  

I couldn't use either of these tales, but they certainly were fascinating, don't you agree?

That's the first thing I ask people who ask me to look over their nonfiction or fiction manuscript.  Have you ever been there?  What is the landscape like?  (one guy never mentioned how hilly Pittsburgh is -- and that's a vital part of the landscape there.  That and the juncture of the two rivers.)

Once you are on the hilltop where Jefferson built his dream house, it hits you -- there is  no access to water.  The closest spring is halfway down the hill. Someone had to go get and carry water there.  They had to collect rainwater -- so Jefferson made his whole rooftop a water collector and directed the water into huge storage tanks beside the house and built a porch or deck over it for the family to use.  The water tank was right beside the kitchen, so the cooks had ready access to water for cooking and heating for bringing up to the family to bathe.
-- The stables were down the hill, too.  Someone had to run down the hill and bring whatever horses the family needed for the day -- or the workhorses or mules for the garden.

Besides -- Research field trips are Fun!

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