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Research, it’s not just for spores, molds and funguses

homework.gifOr is it fungi?

Along with the phrases "yes, I’ve been a vegan for ten years" and "of course, I’d love to have my testicles laminated," the other phrase you’re not likely to hear come out of my mouth is "I really like historical research"––but lo’ and behold, I do. I like it a lot, Sam I Am. I like it with green eggs & ham. In fact, I’m finding that I love it.

The topic that came up in my Squaw Valley workshop was, are you going to write historical fiction, or fictionalized history? I didn’t think I was consciously doing either. I was just telling stories. But now that I think about it, I guess I’m choosing the former. Which means I need to get my hands dirty. Again.

Earlier this year I flew to Seattle and walked around Chinatown taking notes for four hours. I walked streets and alleys, trying to place the old nightclubs from my grandfather’s era, set among the modern condos and restaurants. The trip was a creative boost. I didn’t call it research. I called it a vacation.

But now I’m not just coloring up a few short stories––I’m mapping out a whole novel. And despite an armload of books bought from Seattle’s Kinokuniya, a 1949 map of King County, and the all-seeing-eye that is Google.com, I need more info.

I need to interview people from the period. Which is why I’m planning another trip out to Seattle. To meet with a historian at the Wing Luke Museum, and to try and get a personal tour of the Panama Hotel, with its relics in the basement—belongings of relocated families, left behind and forgotten for 40 years.

How strange that after being out of school for all these years, I’m actually excited to do my homework.

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Reader Comments (8)

Have fun, Jamie. I've always wanted to write something historical.

I love research, though, and I'm not afraid to admmit it. This is why my next book will be set in Vegas.
August 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJaye
Writers call it research. Lawyers call it discovery. I like the legal term better.
August 17, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjamie
I like research. Research is half the fun in writing. But I do research on all my work - even if it's pure fiction. I'm anal that way.
August 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDana
Ah this warms my heart! So I'm not the only one out there researching history!

Your interviews will make your stories so much richer. I've been doing a lot of interviewing for my book, and find the interviews are leading my work much more so than the book research.

Not that you asked for it, but here's my advice: buy a digital tape recorder - it's worth every penny - but take lots of notes during your interviews. It recently took me eight hours to transcribe just two hours of interviews. Had I taken notes, too, I would have saved myself a LOT of time and still would have had the tapes to confirm accuracy or clarify cryptic notes.
August 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Krecker
I have to do some major research for my second book. I love research thou.
August 20, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLA
Digital recorder! Great tip. I'm looking for one on ebay as we speak. (So to speak).
August 21, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjamie ford
I'm with you, Jamie. I love history. But on the other side of the coin, don't use research as a way to avoid the first draft...you might have more info than you think. Your book sounds fantastic.
August 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkathie
Not to worry. I didn enough research for the first book that this one is really just a manifestation of all that earler digging. I'm 40 pages in, and doing research along the way.

I will be going to Seattle in early October to meet with some folks, mainly to double check my research.
August 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

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