I tell aspiring novelists, “If you need inspiration, interview somebody who’s willing and, ideally, a little offbeat.”
Along those lines, writing for a newspaper is a great source of inspiration, and research is built in as part of your job. A few years ago I wrote a small feature on a performance artist named Michael Higgins, who fit the above criteria: he was willing, and he is charmingly, fascinatingly offbeat.
Higgins is a chainsaw sculptor who carves mascots before school audiences. I had never seen anyone transform — with chainsaws, before a crowd of hundreds — an enormous hunk of wood into the likeness of an eagle. In about thirty minutes. Sitting in the audience, I was awe-struck. It’s no coincidence that a favorite character in my debut novel (which, in case you missed it, is now titled SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH) is a seventy-something renaissance woman who manages a thriving chainsaw art business.
Other research experiences for SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH had nothing to do with my newspaper work. For example, when my Dutton editor encouraged me to include an original recipe as an epilogue, I spent a lot of time in my kitchen, experimental-baking. One morning I set the smoke alarm off, a “life imitating art” moment that made me feel irrevocably connected to my narrator Zell (short for Rose-Ellen) who, in the very first pages, almost burns down her kitchen.
Extra tidbit: At a book event last fall, a very well-known New York Times bestselling suspense writer cautioned against “over-researching.” In fiction, he said, too much description of a process or topic can be tedious for readers, and it allows unimportant details to bog down the essential elements of story, such as character and plot.
What do you think about any of the above? I’d love to know!