Monday, February 12, 2018

Research Rapture

         





 Recently I began working again on a historical novel I started quite a few years ago. The book had bogged down about halfway through, even though I roughly knew how it would end. It came to a screeching halt because one character took on more importance than I had initially envisioned. I knew that character had to be highlighted more and had an important role to play, but it threw a wrench in my story. Between the chapter where she took on a stronger role, and the ending I had in mind, there was a wilderness of how to get from one point to the other. Which way to go? I was lost in the woods. I wrote three other books while I was pondering this.

Then recently I and a friend signed up for a set of 6 workshops/classes that meet about every two or three weeks. With a teacher who gives homework. I decided I was going to pull out this manuscript of old — which was one of my favorite stories, really — and work on it. We've had to do scenes, a log line, character maps, etc. But the most helpful assignment was to do a chapter summary of the whole book. Yep. The whole book. Including the part where I didn't know what was going to happen. The idea was that we should just get through our whole book with the freedom to change things along the way once we started writing it.

Well, guess what? Now I know how to get to my book's ending, and I'm all enthused about writing the new draft. I'm also in love with research for this book again — it involves a lot of research because it takes place in Sacramento in 1919. The family is Irish Catholic. The railroad shops are involved (Southern Pacific). The Spanish influenza epidemic is involved. WWI is involved. Vaudeville is involved. A Model T is involved.

So I've been haunting both the Railroad Museum Library at 111 I Street (right next door to the Railroad Museum) and the Sacramento Room in the Sacramento Public Library, Central, at 828 I Street. In both cases, the archivists are incredibly friendly and helpful, locating booklets, books, pamphlets, directories, etc. for me. Next I plan to peruse microfiches of newspaper articles at the central branch and I'll visit the California Automobile Museum on 2200 Front Street. I did a lot of research at the library and online a few years ago when I was working on this book. And I read numerous books on all these themes. But now I know what I need to look up to build on what I learned before — a lot of questions about details to fine-tune the setting.

Not only that, after not reading it for about 8 years (yes, that long) I rediscovered how much I like this story. I am already four chapters into the re-write.

A few years ago I took a writing class from Sands Hall, and she described a phenomenon called "research rapture".  I'm in the throes of research rapture, now, and I am having the time of my life.

How about you? Have you ever had to lay a work aside because you were stuck and then "rediscovered it?" The chapter summary pried me out of my bog. What was your solution?

18 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

How awesome that you're so inspired to work on this story again and that you live close to your research sources. They sound super helpful.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Natalie. Yes, I feel really lucky to be so close to these resources. I have to drive to to of them (the Train Museum Library and the Auto Museum), but I can walk to the Central Public Library. Hope your own writing is going well.

Vicki Lane said...

Good for you! This sounds so familiar -- I struggled with a historical novel because the research kept turning up alternative versions of what happened. And, like you, I had a character elbow her way in and take over.

Best of luck with the work!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Vicki, Thanks for stopping by. It's funny about those characters that decide their own role, isn't it! On the one hand, I was glad, because I felt it marked me as a real writer — creating a character who took on a life of her own. But my initial reaction was "Oh, no! NOW what am I going to do?" Thanks for the support.

Rosi said...

You will find good stuff at the Auto Museum. I was able to learn a great deal about Model Ts from a man there who was their resident expert. He took me behind the ropes and gave me a driving lesson. I love the research part of writing. Yes, I dust off old manuscripts and rework them -- some with success. Good luck with this project. I like the book and think it has great promise.

Mirka Breen said...

Great book are written thus, with concept, plot and resolution tasking years to mature.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Rosi, thanks for tips and support. I'm looking forward to the trip to the Auto Museum. I certainly have loved being back in research mode!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Mirka, what a lovely way to look at it! — Great books. That should keep me going for awhile. :-)

Tanya Lynne Reimer said...

I love research! Have fun!!! I also love writing, editing, and rewriting which ever book tempts me that day. Sometimes it means books sit for years. I had one in particular where her father died and being a soul traveller she went to meet him at the gates to Afterlife to say good-bye, but what would one say to their father? I had no idea and skipped that part and it stayed half written that way for 10 years. Several months after my own father passed away, I knew exactly what she would tell him. It wasn't sad or touching, it was real. So inspiration is important, and sometimes healing. Enjoy writing!!!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I really like your comment, Tanya. I have often found when writing a serious book or story (as opposed to something like a mystery) that in the process of writing I learn lessons of life myself. In the case of the book I'm working on now, I have though about it off and on for so many years, and the characters are starting to reflect that. I have new realizations about them that I hope I can realize in them. Writing is a wonderful process for sure.

S.P. Bowers said...

I love when you fall in love with an old manuscript. Good luck on it!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Thanks, S. P. Right now it's going pretty well. I've been reading your new blog, A High Altitude Life. Hope spring is on its way to Colorado. Your new foster child looks like a sweetie.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Oh, historical fiction novels are some of my favorite reads. Yours is now on my list. So happy you've found the story again. I have a historical fiction novel set in the Revolutionary War time period that I started years ago and have tried working on it a couple of times, but always hit a place where I don't know what happens next. One day, maybe. Your story inspires me.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Beverly, I know that feeling. When mine bogged down, it was bogged down for years. If you are not in the middle of something else, try the chapter outline. I didn't know what was going to come next until I actually did that exercise. Good luck with whatever you are writing.

Kate Larkindale said...

I've had this happen before too. In fact, I have a couple of things I plan to dig out this year to work on because I think I now know how to fix them.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

It's so funny, Kate: as I work on this rewrite I can't help being surprised at how much the characters were interacting behind my back, so to speak, clarifying issues, filling in their backgrounds. I feel like they are old friends that I'm getting to know better as they reveal themselves more and more.

Geo. said...

We have an auto museum? Is this like the old Towe Auto Museum I remember from the '70s? Sounds like the same general location. Thanks for the alert; I'm going to see it!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Geo. Yes, I think it's the same one. I wish my brother were still alive. He loved old cars.