Bestselling author James Patterson says, with the vast availability of content on the Internet today there are “no excuses” for not doing research when writing a novel. And I say, why would you bother writing without it?
I cannot see the thrill of writing pure fantasy that comes only from my own head, without any anchor or reference to real life. For me, writing is a learning experience, and the thrill of finding something through research also is my inspiration. In historical fiction it is critical, and is the best part of the writing process. I become a detective in finding minute bits of information hardly anyone cares about, and then a weaver, binding it into the story to create a rich fabric. The process is nothing less than magical, and the bonus is that the reader also learns something new but hardly even notices it.
Years ago I had the honor to hear Father Noel Burtenshaw speak on spirituality at an event on St. Simons Island, Georgia. He’d been fascinated by seeing the redwing blackbirds in the marsh grass on his way across the bridge, this little black bird with a beautiful bit of red on its wings. Being a man of religion, he immediately thanked God for the wonder of such a creature. Then he turned to his wife.
“Did you see the redwing blackbird?” he said, thereby sharing the experience with her.
And then for the audience, he made the sign of the cross by lifting his hand to the sky (thanking God) and then extending it to his side (sharing with his wife in the car beside him).
Discovering something new, appreciating things in the world, and then sharing them with others is a spiritual act.
This week I was thrilled to stumble across something new in my research. It was the “1641 Depositions” from Trinity College Library in Dublin. I was so excited! There are 8,000 depositions from landowners and rebels all over Ireland giving testimony about the causes and events starting the Irish rebellion against Protestant English in the year 1641. I was grateful for it, because it informs my work in new ways. Immediately I shared this with my husband. He returned a blank look, and somewhat sad eyes, as if to say, “you poor crazy person.”
But I know the spiritual joy I will feel as writer, weaving these tidbits into my prose, adding authenticity to my story, and then sharing them by slipping them stealthily into sentences for the readers. It is fun to be both spiritual and sneaky.
Heh heh heh.
Embark on your own sneaky Irish adventure by reading Sharavogue, winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. Available from online booksellers: