Last week, I stated on twitter that I easily do ten hours of research for every one hour of actual writing. I wasn’t surprised that I heard from six other historical writers that said, ‘yes, that’s about right.’ I also heard from another half dozen writers in various genres who basically said, ‘you must be out of your mind.’ You do have to enjoy your subject and enjoy research in general. You also have to be willing to tuck 90% of what you learned into the Trivial Pursuit folder in your mind, because hours of research may give you one great chapter-or one great paragraph-or just one great line.
But here’s a secret. Researching can be a lot of fun. (Shh... Don’t tell, or everyone will start doing it.)
My dive buddy---I had the camera
The site of my upcoming novel, Ragtown, is now under Lake Mead, making it difficult to actually walk the wash area that was once a tent city and home to thousands of Hoover Dam workers and their families. I still wanted to go there. So I slapped on the dive gear and visited Ragtown-- even donated a set of ankle weights and a dive knife to the site for future researchers to ponder.
Boxing night at the Hard Rock
I have a scene in my novel that revolves around a boxing match. I read everything I could about boxing in the 1930’s, and not saying I am an expert (ask me anything about Ray Sharkey or Max Schmeling), but I learned quite a bit. Still, I needed to ‘be there’ to write the scene effectively. Luckily for me, I live in Las Vegas, where boxing matches are a dime a dozen.
Not a zoomed photo
How can you write about the intense yellow eyes of a Bighorn sheep unless you have looked into them?
I write about the prostitutes who worked behind the Railroad Pass Casino in 1931. The small shacks are long gone, but I felt I needed to walk the path from the casino that led to 'Whore Row'. How far was it? What was the view from there? I’m not unfamiliar with walking in the desert and I usually find something interesting that I didn’t expect. Yes, I found the proverbial dead body in the desert that day.
(Sorry, no picture. The Coroner wasn’t thrilled that I asked.)
My most recent adventure? What I call ‘eating rocks.’ I am currently working with Craig Childs, possibly the greatest nature/adventure writer of our time, a man who the New York Times calls “a modern-day desert father.” He bleeds sand and cries cactus juice. He suggested that I ‘taste the desert’, or at least the area near Lake Mead where my story takes place. Be a part of the landscape. Put a river rock in my mouth and see what it feels like.
I was hesitant, even though I knew it would involve a day at the lake, which is hard to say no to. And Craig is brilliant and hasn’t steered me wrong yet. So I did it.
What happened? I will leave that for my protagonist to explain.
In the meantime, check out the 'modern-day desert father' Craig Childs at his website: