Please welcome back Alma Katsu to Writer Unboxed today! Alma is the award-winning author of THE HUNGER, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party and one that Stephen King has called “Deeply, deeply disturbing.”
Additionally, THE HUNGER was on NPR’s list of 100 favorite horror stories, was named one of the best books of 2018 by Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and was just named a Bram Stoker Award finalist! It released in paperback two days ago, on March 5th.
Her debut novel, THE TAKER, was one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Novels of 2011.
Tips for Complex Historical Research
Is America afraid of doing research?
That’s the question I had to ask after touring for release of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The question I was asked the most at events, hands down, was how did I manage the research for the book?
Why this horrified fascination for research? Were we all scarred writing research papers in high school?
I admit that the amount of research required for The Hunger was pretty daunting, but that’s because it wasn’t merely set in a historic period, it was about a specific and well-known historical event. It had to follow the actual route and timeline, and it also had to cover a huge cast of characters (there were roughly one hundred people in the wagon party, including children). I joke that there are, easily, ten thousand facts tucked throughout the book and that might be a conservative estimate.
Luckily, I was prepared: I’ve been a professional researcher for over 30 years. I’ve found it’s well-suited for historical fiction, maybe even more so than historians. The difference between historians and researchers is that researchers are trained to sift through information surrounding a subject quickly and efficiently in order to make logical sense of it and reduce it to its essential elements, while retaining integrity of all the facts.
Based on questions I’ve been asked, the two main problem areas for most writers seem to be: (1) How do you know when to stop gathering information (“help me, I can’t stop researching”) and (2) How do you organize and manage your notes? I firmly believe you don’t have to read everything that was ever written on your subject before you can start writing. However, you do need to have a sense of what you need to know and the discipline to trust your judgment.
A few tips to bear in mind: [Read more…]