Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, writing our best copy involves research of one sort or another.
Sometimes, we can do our best piece with a few hours of online sleuthing, proud of cleverly formulated search terms and the lack of a single Wikipedia article in the results. Other times, we pack ourselves up and brave social interactions for an archival library, giddy as we slide into a favourite carrel amid the smell of aging paper, our eyes already blinking against the dry air. Still other times, we steel ourselves to begin the chain of emails and phone calls that will track down that one expert scholar on a particular point of contention that we cannot. let. go.
Research can be our grounding in reality, in history, in the gritty details of life. Research can also be the infamous proverbial rabbit hole, tempting us to sidle down dark corridors and twisty paths until we end up uncountable levels away from our original question. Whether or not that’s a bad thing, in my experience, depends on the day, the topic, and how closely a deadline looms…
But I freely admit: I love it. I love getting haplessly lost in beautifully-letterd missives and intimate journal entries. I love discovering new stories and heretofore hidden perspectives. I even enjoy skimming pages of cramped, spidery handwriting or dry typewritten facts. I’m fairly certain that in another dimension, I’m a nerdy scholar of history and lore. (This would be the same dimension where artists and scholars are at the top of the socio-economic pyramid, mind you.) Though, as an author of alternate history novels and short stories in this universe, I feel pretty blessed all the same.
And as such, of course, the point of all this research is actually the writing. How does one condense a week’s worth of research into just the right turn of phrase? Is three hours of research worth that one sentence in the manuscript that maybe 1 out of 50 readers will note for its verisimilitude? If what we write is fiction, what do we owe—and to whom—to get our facts straight?
Lucky me; I get to explore these questions and more on August 18th with a group of erudite and accomplished crime fiction writers. My plan is to elicit lively anecdotes and useful tips. My hope is that readers and writers alike will tap into a sense of wonder at this seemingly straightforward process, a process which I assert is nothing short of alchemical magic. ◊
S.G. Wong is Past President of SinC—Canada West and Chair of the 2018 Retreat Committee. An Arthur Ellis Awards finalist in the First Novel and Short Story categories, she writes the Lola Starke novels and Crescent City stories: hard-boiled detective fiction set in an alternate history 1930s-era “Chinese L.A.” replete with ghosts and magic. Her next publication is “Survivors’ Pension” in the Vancouver Noir anthology, coming November 2018 from Akashic Books. Connect with her at sgwong.com and on Twitter @S_G_Wong.