I finished chapter 4 of The Lonely Time last night. It’s rough, I think, but I’m going to forge on. I should be beginning chapter 5 right now, but I came across this picture of a mug and it made me want to write this first.
I’m no stranger to research in the traditional sense, having managed a doctoral dissertation. That research was deadly boring, all scholarly journals and other dissertations. It was no fun at all, just tedious and never-ending. One would think that it would prepare me for researching a novel, but I can tell you squarely even at this early stage that it did not. My research for the novel has been a completely different experience, quite odd, actually. There is no rhyme or reason to it. I can be in the middle of a sentence and realize that I need a piece of information, and off to Google I go. Sometimes I get my answer on the first try, but other times I end up following a bizarre trail of clicks across multiple sites just trying to nail down one obscure thing. It is fun, though; it feeds my curiosity and provides a (sometimes) welcome diversion. That’s why the mug made me smile. I’m sure if somebody looked at my browsing history, they’d be confused, at best. The Lonely Time hasn’t yet caused me to search for “the history of serial killing,” so I don’t think it would be alarming. Maybe.
I’ve set up a plain old document called “Helen Research” where I dump stuff I think might prove useful. It is totally random, completely unorganized, so it goes from characters’ birth dates and places to a quote, then on to a link to a history of Watertown, New York. (Turns out Watertown, NY has a pretty interesting history. I’ve never been there, but I have to write as though I have. Wish me luck.) I can only imagine what this collection of research will look like by the time I am finished with the book. It should be an interesting assortment.
I’ve also taken some alternate research approaches. I wanted to know about Sedona, another location in the book that I have never been, so I asked my Facebook friends to help me out and got many great replies that very much helped. The replies kind of matched the posters’ personalities, which was an accidental outcome that ended up helping quite a bit, showing me what kind of person falls in love with Sedona while others find it beautiful but only for a short visit. It was very telling, at least to me. I also found myself in need of some “what would happen if,” legal information, and an old friend who is a lawyer came to my assistance, helping me to figure out how something I needed to happen could actually happen and still make legal sense. I’m playing phone tag with another friend who is going to provide me with some insights into the foster care system in Pennsylvania, firsthand experiences that I absolutely need. So, yes, the research for this book has been different. And, dare I say, fun.
Fifteen years ago, my ex-partner and I were having some fun selling vintage stuff on eBay. We had come across, literally, hundreds of old New Yorker magazines from the mid-century era at a junk shop near our house in Harrisburg, and we purchased them all for a steal. Those old magazines were filled with great advertisements and we began to “harvest” those ads from the magazines and selling them on eBay. (Ask me about that someday.) One of the ads often featured was for Rheingold Beer, an old New York brewery that allowed people to vote for a new “Miss Rheingold” each year who then appeared in all of their ads for that year. These ads were pretty popular, and we sold a lot of them. At one point, in the fall of 2001, we sold about 8 or 10 of these at one time to a single buyer. When I had received payment and was addressing the parcel for shipping, I noticed that they were going to Wally Lamb. I knew the name Wally Lamb – a writer whose work I enjoyed – and sent along a note in the package asking if this was in fact Wally Lamb, the writer. A few weeks later I received a package in the mail. The photos below show what was in that package.
Research, it seems, can be fun.
P.S. The book Lamb was writing that included the “lapsed Miss Rheingold,” (love that phrase!) is called The Hour I First Believed. It was published in 2008. 2008, people! That’s a lot of research! No, my name does not appear in the acknowledgements. Yes, it was the first thing I checked. That book, and I know This Much is True are both excellent, even if the acknowledgement page of Hour is lacking.