I’m not yet ready to share many details about my new novel, but I believe I am over the first writing hurdle. I have passed that “stuck” place, usually occurring after about 50 pages, when the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, when the initial excitement of starting something new disintegrates into the drudgery of going back day after day and trying to figure things out. No–drudgery is too harsh a word; routine is more like it.
This book is taking me places I hadn’t thought I would travel: to New York State in the 1970s and the nascent abortion rights movement; to a claustrophobic house in Streetsboro, Ohio; to a bonfire at Ocean Beach. The characters are making themselves known to me gradually, as if walking toward me across a field of fog. Some of them I embrace when they arrive. Others I wish would just turn around and walk away.
My exploration of so many of these places would not be possible without two of my trustiest tools: Google (especially Google Maps) and Wikipedia (that’s why I just donated to the fundraising campaign to help support Wikipedia).
There’s part of me that feels a tad uncomfortable with this. Research that once would have required endless hours scouring the local library’s card catalog (does anyone remember that?) and searching the stacks can now be done with a few keystrokes. Wondering when abortion became legal in New York? Just type a few words and scan the results. And we’re not talking fly-by-night, suspect information here but solid sources, such as an article in New York Magazine. Wondering what the street looks like where your character lives? Type in an address, then switch to Street View. There you are, looking at the front door. Wondering what it’s like to be a trucker? Take a look at the Wikipedia article on the U.S. trucking industry.
My discomfort is tempered by a belief that no amount of Googling will replace the writer’s imagination or the ability of a well-crafted piece of prose to paint a picture of what it’s like to be another person. I remain thankful that this research helps me fill in the details that bring the characters alive. It allows me to visit more locations, more quickly, than ever before–and it allows me to time travel!
All this adds up to stories far richer and more nuanced than they might otherwise be. And that must be a good thing.