I try to keep a schedule for the blog posts but some weeks it just doesn’t fit comfortably. And comfort becomes important as I juggle two writing projects. (Not to mention planning a launch party for the third novel.) One of the current projects is genealogy. It’s been years in the making, documenting the lives of my great grandparents, researching the times and places in which they lived, the ways in which they traveled. Not that it’s all fact. That’s not possible. I have to make it clear in the text where I draw my own conclusions. Otherwise, I can and will note my research sources, admit my suppositions, do my honest best to memorialize these people whom I’ve never met.
The other work in project is fiction and it grows daily. I hadn’t planned it, am surprised that all these words demand my attention. Or maybe it’s the characters who want me to recognize them, let them live on the page. Problem is, I don’t know where we’re going or where they’ve been. Fictional characters don’t leave a paper trail. And because I don’t plot early on in fiction, the characters do what they want. In less than 10,000 words so far, I have three strong characters and another two about to emerge. If the plot goes where I think it might, there will be others. It’s out of my hands despite my fingers on the keys.
In both of these projects, rewards spring up when I least expect them. A character whom I imagined as passive sticks out her hand, welcomes in a stranger, takes charge of the scene. Instead of a petite white woman, she’s a stately black woman. Who knew? Ancestors rarely show their faces but I find their lives in census records, city directories, immigration lists. Truth and fiction are not so different this week. It’s hard work keeping up with all these people, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’ve heard the adage about using the whole buffalo? Hold that thought. I read this week James Alexander Thom’s The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, in which he warns about the danger of relying on the digital storage of extensive research, and the need to retain the material after a book is published, in case some picky sniffer challenges you, or better, you are asked to speak about the book in the future.
I was reminded of the laptop I killed by watering a philodendron hanging over my desk. Ouch! Further more, the CDs on which I had backed up don’t meld with my current computer. (In fact CDs are pretty much obsolete, a fact driven home when I realized that the only device I own that plays my CD music is my car.)
Alternatively, I’ve long touted the use of index cards–cheap, portable, easy to sort or color code, and impervious to dripping plant pots. (Realistically, you can lose them or have your tote bag catch fire. So far I’ve lost a few but the tote bag is intact.) Given Thom’s convincing argument for hardcopy back up, I spent a useful hour this week tidying my card catalog. I tossed index cards that had lost the connection to whatever topic I had researched. I kept the bibliography cards, where I record the author, title, and location of books or online information that I’ve found useful. I record where I made notes from the source in question. Because I date my journals/notebooks, a typical entry might be “Notes: Jan 2016, p. 7.”
Ta da! I can continue my compulsive scribbling as I read, and I can retrieve the scribbles if I need them. Some part of the beast has become unexpectedly useful, like burning dry buffalo chips in a new campfire. All my “chips” are arranged alphabetically by topic in a file box made for index cards. If the house doesn’t flood or burn or get ransacked, my research is safe. That’s a relief.