JERRI CORGIAT’S NEWSLETTER
Feature Article: Research! Further Fuel for the Imagination
Best Book(s) I’ve Read This Month
Yep, January’s newsletter in early February, which shows that I’ve fallen, ahem, a tad behind as I race toward a self-imposed first draft deadline on my fourth book (so that I can make the contract-imposed deadline that I have to make, you see). I hope you’re now long-recovered from the whirlwind of the holiday season and are enjoying a sparkling new year! Here’s wishing all the best to all of us in 2005—oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, too, in case my next newsletter is late as well!
SING ME HOME has been nominated for 2004 Best Contemporary Novel with Romantic Elements by RT BookClub magazine! I’m keeping stellar company as fellow nominees include such authors as Nora Roberts and Jennifer Cruisie. Winners will be published in RT BookClub’s June edition.
SING ME HOME has also been honored as a selection of Pat Rouse’s Romance Top Picks List for 2004! Pat Rouse is a well-respected critic of the genre, former reviewer, and now publicist.
My third novel, HOME AT LAST, will be out in September this year. I’m pleased to announce that it will be a lead book for my publisher’s new imprint, Eclipse. (This means that it will hold the coveted first page of the catalog sent to book buyers.)
As I forewarned, my fourth novel STILL has no title. Both titles I’ve drummed up have been nixed. As WHATEVER-IT-IS (catchy, eh?) will also feature a member of the O’Malley family, “home” is a required word in the title. Any ideas?
I’m online at least bi-weekly (sometimes more than bi-weekly depending on how much I’m procrastinating on my real work) at the NAL Authors web site, and would love to see you there. Chat with me and other NAL authors: Visit http://nalauthors.com/forums/. Browse around, see what’s cooking. There are lots of discussion threads, as well as ongoing contests listed under (who’da thunk it?) “Contests and Games.”
FEATURE ARTICLE: RESEARCH: Further Fuel for the Imagination
(Next in the Series on Creating a Novel)
Research sounds like the dry, dusty work of writing, but to me, it’s a left-brained activity that fuels right-brained creativity.
In a recent newsletter, I discussed my belief that characters drive the story. In other words, the personalities, backgrounds, values and viewpoints of my characters are what determines how they’ll react when I drop them into a situation—the characters show me which direction they’ll turn—they tell me what happens next.
But what situations do I use? I need events that will create conflict for my characters, events that make them grow and change either externally or internally or both, preferably both. These events become the nuts and bolts of their stories. My imagination alone can come up with a bevy “what if?” possibilities, drumming up all sorts of scenarios to pick through—and it does. But before the story jells in my head, there’s another tool I use to nudge the creative cells into coughing up even more ideas. Research.
I do research in advance of writing the book. I do it before I’m completely sure that I’ll need to know whatever it is I think I need to know. For example... on the current book I’m writing (now simply known by me as FOUR—as in, my fourth book—since my editor has yet to do handsprings over any of my proposed titles) I thought I’d want the central character to...
...work on a loom.
...make her own spaghetti sauce.
...own a donkey.
...direct a Christmas Pageant.
...possess a dynamite collection of blues music, and
...have a daughter who exhibits some symptoms of ADD.
And what do I know about any of those topics? Let’s see. Knowledge on chickens, weaving, and donkeys? Nada. What about blues music and ADD? Very little. Christmas pageants? I can’t remember the last one I saw. As for homemade spaghetti sauce, is it made by Prego? And vegetable canning? Bwa-ha-ha-hahahaha! (Can you tell I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible?)
My first stop—yes, before the internet—is always the library. I’m fortunate: Mine is nearby and large and things are organized much better than on the world wide web, so I actually find books less time-consuming than surfing. I start with the card catalog and look for books by subject. And I look first in the children’s and young adult nonfiction sections. Why? Because usually these books have just the right amount of information. I don’t need to write a term paper on the topic, I just need simple, easy-to-understand, quickly digested words. And most books at these levels also include pictures. I need and want pictures so that when I paint with the alphabet, I have images in mind.
I don’t ignore the internet, though. Not only can I find details to flesh out my book research, but it’s a terrific resource for firsthand information. For example, in FOUR, my heroine breaks her ankle. Where better to find out what that’s like than reading the diaries posted on www.mybrokenleg.com?
Of course, experiencing the “real thing” is a better option than book learning if doing so is possible. For HOME AT LAST, I spent a day in a home for troubled adolescents—that experience certainly fueled my imagination. For FOUR, I was fortunate to find a textile artist willing to volunteer her time to show me the mysteries of weaving. And for information on donkeys, I actually ran across a writer on a list I belong to that owns one!
All my stabs at first-hand information haven’t been successful, though. When I tried to visit a bakery in preparation for writing FOLLOW ME HOME, I was treated as if I’d asked for the keys to Fort Knox. And while I’ve attempted to find someone willing to let me visit their chicken farm for FOUR, so far everyone I’ve contacted thinks that I’m, uh, one egg short of a full carton.
But whether the research is through books, internet, or personal experience, while I’m taking notes, scene “snippets” surface—small ideas that will round out characters, grow into scenes, or create a new theme. I jot these down amid my notes.
Then, when I type out my notes (in order to flush them out before I forget details...um, anyone who knows me, knows I’ve made forgetting details a fine art), I separate out the scene snippets from the factual information. The facts get organized into files and printed out for quick access as I write the book.
And the scene snippets often become partial scenes at this point (or at some point during the research)—riffs of dialogue, paragraphs of narration, resolution of a theme—saved into a (no, duh) “scenes and ideas” file. They’re not in story order and rarely are they used as I originally envision them. But they give rise, I believe, to some of the best parts of my novels. Pouring over books and surfing the internet might sound dull, but research is definitely a tool that feeds the imagination and unlocks ideas.
BOOK(s) I’VE READ THIS PAST MONTH:
WHERE THE HEART IS, by Billie Letts. Even if you’ve seen the movie about the young woman who gives birth in an Oklahoma Wal-Mart and goes on to build a family and a future with a bunch of quirky characters, do read the book. This is one of my all-time favorites. If something has really tooted my horn, I need to leave breathing room before I launch into my next read. In this case, I had to wait a good three weeks.
METRO GIRL, by Janet Evanovich. A quick read good for a giggle or three.
WRITE AWAY, by Elizabeth George. For writers. An excellent book on craft.
BIG STONE GAP, by Adriana Trigiani. This book launched Ms. Trigiani’s series of Big Stone Gap novels, introducing self-proclaimed spinster, 35-year-old Ave Maria Mulligan. A book with big heart and charm.
Fiction for and about women rediscovering themselves