I usually start researching a new book while I am in the midst of a current project. The idea behind that being I want to shorten the down time between finishing a book and diving into something new. It doesn’t work because no matter how much pre-research I have done I seem to always need a few months of down time (woe-is-me I’ll never write again time) between books. It’s my process and I try to honor it even if I don’t like or understand it.
Even though I ground my books by tying them in some time or way to an aspect of myself and my life there is always some sort of research to be done. Research for me usually starts with reading a bunch of fiction that has been pubbed in an area that might be similar to mine. (Books that would show up on a list of “If you liked this book then you might like this one.”) So for HUGGING THE ROCk I read every verse novel I could get my hands on. Then I read a lot of novels about divorce and mental illness and family relationships. After I feel full up on fiction it’s time to dig in deep for the details and move to the non-fiction. For Hugging the Rock that meant a lot of psychology stuff, case histories, divorce stories – you get the idea. When I couldn’t stand to read another word it was time to get down to the actual writing. Well, the trying to write. As I explained in a recent interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith the words didn’t exactly race from my fingertips to the page.
Anyway. HUGGING THE ROCK is done. I’ve gone through the galley for the final corrections and after a last chat with my editor tomorrow it heads off to the printers next week. It’s time to write. I made a commitment to start a new verse novel that I will refer to by the acronym MTLB until it is sold. I know sort of what it is about. (It’s inspired by the year long writing program I did at an alternative school a few years ago.) I know sort of who it is about. (M and his dad and N and his dad and Mrs. W.) I did a lot of research the last six months on juvenile justice and poverty and teaching and a bunch of other stuff that may or may not make it into the book. I wrote a few poems. I wrote a couple more. Then I got stuck and found myself using the excuse that I needed to do more research. Read just one more case history. Google a few more phrases. Watch one more movie. (Hey, movies are GREAT for research.) But after a few days of this I realized the truth. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t researching. I was just procrastinating. Sometimes I wonder if procrastination is just a stew bubbling on a backburner, waiting for us to throw everything into the pot, stirring and adding interesting ingredients until the smell overpowers us and we simply have to dig in.
So yes, research is important. But knowing when to stop researching is important too. The research will still be there after I finish a draft, if I feel I really need it but you can’t factcheck a book you haven’t written yet.
And in the “thank you for all the kind words about me” department, I’ve had a few more shout-outs. It always feels a bit awkward tooting my own horn but here goes:
My picture book Oliver’s Must-do List received a nice review from Jen Robinson’s Book page.
Jen also reviewed Hugging the Rock. My favorite lines in review? “Rachel’s voice is pitch perfect.” and the fact that she calls the Mother’s Day poem “brilliant” and that she said, “I give it my highest recommendation.” Wow! Thank you, Jenn.
Thank you so much for your support of my book.
Today was off to Santa Cruz day for errands and research. We got a late start so we only had about an hour and a half to wander around and scout out places for me. I knew a few landmarks I would have in the book and I wanted some pictures of them but I can get them any time. I was really looking for where Frankie’s mom might work and most importantly, where he lived. I took some pictures but nothing felt just “right” so I was fairly resigned to another trip and more thinking to figure it out. We took care of our errands and had dinner. After dinner there was still a little bit of light left, the sun was setting but it wasn’t down yet. I asked my husband to drive down to the boardwalk though I knew that was more of a background than an actual setting for me. We dodged the few remaining tourists and suicidal bicyclists, but still, nothing felt right.
“There’s always Beach Flats,” said my husband.
I uttered a very firm “No.” There was no way I wanted to set my story in that run-down scary part of town that was forever being fought over and/or trashed in the local newspaper. No. I knew Frankie had troubles but there was no way he lived in Beach Flats. Nope. Not on my watch.
We headed down Riverside and I’m basically looking straight ahead, not really absorbing anything except the fact that the sun was going down and it really wasn’t an area we wanted to be in after dark. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the sign for The Peter Pan Motel and I got one of those wonderful little shivers. That’s it! That’s where Frankie’s mom works. I did a 180 in my seat to snap a quick picture and didn’t pay attention to the fact that we were driving deeper into Beach Flats.
We turned the corner at the little psychic shop (picture taken, of course) and my idea machine shifted into overdrive wondering if there was a psychic in the book and what that might mean to the plot (that plot that still eludes me)
And then I saw it. Frankie’s house. I KNEW it was his house. It was perfect. Not what I expected but I knew it was the right one. I could see one of Frankie’s hiding places and the porch where Max liked to sleep. I snapped a few pictures but the one-way street was so narrow that I couldn’t get the roof, or a nice full picture. My husband wouldn’t let me get out of the car and said we’d have to go back in the middle of the day when it was 100% daylight. I knew he was right (he’s got all the common-sense in the house) but boy it was hard not to jump out of the car and pace up and down the street. I doubt he’ll ever let me do that.
We zig zagged up and down a few more streets and actually found a tiny park called, appropriately, Beach Flats Park, and some other interesting areas. All in all I shot 63 pictures which wasn’t bad.
My husband indulged me on the ride home with my ramblings and brainstorming about the elusive plot. I do wonder about the phsyic. She? He? could be very interesting, especially if I add in the Tarot card idea. But that set off another whole discussion – if I use Tarot cards in the book some people will be against the book (not that that is a bad thing) and of course, those same people will be against the psychic idea too. Ditto the crystals. Yet all of that is very much a part of the Santa Cruz scene. I know we shouldn’t let society dictate what does and doesn’t belong in our stories, that power belongs to the story and what is the right way to tell that story. But I’ll admit to thinking once or twice that maybe I should just play it safe.
Sigh. I don’t know yet. I have this problem with playing it safe. I’ll end on a high – I finally figured out what kind of dog Max is (after many hours of searching through Petfinder.com) He’s a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix and he looks like this:
Bedtime for me. Tomorrow it is ALL about Rachel the revisions for her book. Okay, and mailing out some of the publicity stuff for Oliver.