Recently I read on Kirkus about novelists “who do really funky research.” Like Jodi Picoult who spent time in a prison. Susan Minot traveled to Uganda to get to know girls kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Peter Rock explored an underground shelter used by former members of a New Age religion. Ann Tyler has written: “I write because I want more than one life.”
It made me wonder. What would I do? How far would I go? My just-finished work in progress is about the Vietnam era, and it’s been tough. A girl coming to age, watching young men she cares about grappling with going to war. It’s been hard, not just to hear about and think about all that went on during the war (I’ve interviewed vets, read lots of books, and watched tons of video footage), but it’s also been tough to get into the mind of young soldiers, particularly those who’ve come back with PTSD.
I’ve struggled and (consequently) so has my main character. She’s never seen combat and neither have I. Once when I was a kid I was living in unstable Uganda and a guard shoved a machine gun into the Land Rover I was riding in, but that’s the closest I’ve come to a wartime experience.
My next WIP is about an adrenaline junkie who does extreme things for a thrill, to make himself feel more alive. I made a list of things I would might think about doing to research that novel.
1. Visit a warzone. If I did, would there be any way I could truly feel the feelings of being a combat troop? Or what it would feel like to be there day in and day out? Although it would bring me closer, I’m not so sure it would achieve more than a glancing view . . . like being a tourist or voyeur into a life. Unless I actually picked up a weapon and was in combat. No one wants me in their platoon. Trust me.
2. Go bungee jumping. Earlier today I saw a terrifying video on Facebook—and by me, I mean my husband (I was too afraid to even watch). A bungee cord snapped as an Australian woman was bungee jumping over the Zambezi River. It took forty minutes before she was rescued, after she floated downriver through rapids and white waters. I don’t want to do that. The truth is I’m as chicken as they come, scared of anything that might cause me bodily harm. But I wonder. I saw cliff jumpers in an IMAX presentation once when I was on a field trip with one of my kids. I had to cover my eyes and peer through my fingers. I’ll cross these two things off, too. [Read more…]