This week's question is a timely one for me: "Sometimes you become so interested in the research for your book that it takes over the story. What do you do to keep it from becoming a treatise that only serves to make your readers’ eyes close with boredom?"
Just Google any of the keywords above, and you'll find tons of information, of course—but what I've been interested in is a different bit of history: One of the 12 is missing, stolen from the University of Virginia's Alderman Library back in the early 1970s and never recovered.
Here's a glimpse at the research I've done on this—and a thank you to the folks who've helped me:
- Tracking down the original AP coverage, thanks to a librarian at George Mason University, since the library's database for AP articles doesn't go back that far
- Gathering information from U.Va. thanks to a media relations representative who's gone above and beyond the call of duty in answering emails (and who very graciously said he enjoyed my story "The Odds Are Against Us" and invited me to get together with him if I came to Charlottesville)
- Getting information on security issues from such old journals as The American Archivist and Georgia Archive and from the the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (
RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries—and still trying to track down an old copy of Library Journal from 1974 with an inventory of everything that was stolen
- Searching for the 1988 Sotheby's catalogue which detailed the history and condition of the Tamerlane that sold then and also provided information on other copies of pamphlet (I can buy the Sotheby's catalogue for $60, but I haven't gone there yet)
- Reading many, many pages of notes from the website of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore (a tremendous resource)
- And, of course, reading the full contents of Tamerlane itself—including various versions of the title poem (and from elsewhere in the Poe canon: "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "William Wilson" and a little bit of "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-tale Heart" and....)
Overkill maybe on the research... and yet...
And yet: Rather than just providing detailed backstory for me to fold into a conversation, all that reading and research has sparked my imagination toward the plot of my own story and seems to be helping to shape what happens.
Part of this may seem obvious, of course: If I'm fictionalizing a story around a true-life event, then I have to be faithful in some ways to what actually happened. (I feel strongly about this, but others do not; consider, for example, some of the novels built around the Gardner Museum heist in Boston.) But it's more than that too. My story isn't just adhering to the details of what happened, but it's being shaped by possibilities spinning off of those "what ifs" from the brainstorming that goes hand-in-hand with dense research.
I'm hopeful that at least part of that process might work.
Beyond that, I'll simply agree with many of the comments that my colleagues here have mentioned already this week. The way we writers incorporate research into our stories should never bore or burden, and a little goes a long ways.
On the Road with Del & LouiseIn another direction, just a quick bit of news. My forthcoming debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, to be published September 15 by Henery Press, is now up for pre-order at many places, including at my own local independent bookstore, One More Page Books and More in Arlington, VA, which will be hosting my book launch on Saturday, September 19.
Click any of the links below to pre-order—or if you want to save your money, you can first try to win an advance copy through my Goodreads giveaway, running now through Sunday at midnight.
One More Page (pick-up): https://squareup.com/market/one-more-page/on-the-road-with-del-and-louise-signed-store-pick-up
One More Page (shipped): https://squareup.com/market/one-more-page/on-the-road-with-del-and-louise-signed-by-art-taylor-to-be-mailed