When I began writing a book about the books we read over and over again and a quirky little used bookstore in peril, I had no idea I would end up mired in research about the federal criminal court system, reading documents like Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (which has a foreword by the current chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, whose delightful last name happens to be Goodlatte–seriously, it is) and perusing websites with colorful maps of Circuits of the Federal Judiciary and flow charts about how cases move through court.
And yet, here I am, hunched at my desk, squinting through it all and trying to figure out just how a couple cases in my novel’s backstory would have gone.
Imagination, if you let it, can take you to places you’d never expect (or go on purpose). This is not the kind of research I enjoy. I love reading well-written books about history or biographies of fascinating people. But reading dry-but-necessary material put together by the government makes me feel a little like this:
And occasionally this:
So if there are any federal judges or district attorneys or lawyers out there who want to help me out with this, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. Sometime in the future you may get a free book with your name in the acknowledgments out of the deal.
Now don’t everyone all jump up at once…
The last time I was drafting a novel, I used checklists, maps, house plans, foam boards, photos, a loose outline, and a bunch of notes to keep myself on track. It worked beautifully. That manuscript, working title The Bone Garden, is making the rounds among some literary agents I deeply respect. I have high hopes for it to be my debut novel.
But in the meantime, I’m beginning my work on a new manuscript. This time around I’m doing some of the same preparatory work. I’ve been busy reading background material and making notes.
I’ve managed to outline the first half of the book and am already adding notes to it.
I’ve been spending a lot of time simply focusing on who my protagonist is and where she is coming from, work that I’ve not done quite as much of on the front end in the past.
I’m doing much more of this preparatory backstory work now because I’m hoping to write in a very deep first person point of view, and it’s hard to do that if you don’t know your protagonist intimately from the very start.
I’ve made a list of big thematic questions that will be considered in the course of the story. I’ve even written the beginnings of a query letter to focus my mind on the core story.
All of this preparation amounts to me being able to start off the drafting process with a clear idea of where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. Every day new information falls into place. Every day I add to my little notebook. Every day the story takes up more permanent residence in my brain.
And on November 1st, the first day of NaNoWriMo, it will begin to take up residence on the page.