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- 73 Katherine Hall Page d Research Can Be Murder I have had a lifelong love of research. Possibly it started junior year in high school with the little dark green metal box I meticulously filled with 3x5–inch index cards for a very wordy final paper about the creation and development of the US Foreign Service— each lined card corresponding to my detailed outline with source and page number noted. I recall sitting at my desk at home surrounded by stacks of books checked out from the Livingston, New Jersey, Public Library . Even more memorable were the trips taken to the Newark Public­ Library—yes the same as the one in Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus— and using the reference books there. The library was, and is, an architectural gem—a beaux arts design inspired by an Italian palazzo. The interior is filled with mosaics, murals, archways, columns, and an extraordinary stained-glass ceiling covering the atrium. It was an important building, and I had important work to do. It was a library palace, a bibliophilic dream come true. I would have liked to have moved in. Thinking back to that kind of research—stacks of index cards, outlines on pads of paper, canvas-covered three-ring binders—I’m struck by how tactile it was compared to the way most research is conducted today. The only touch is that of fingers on keys or a screen and perhaps soon not even that. Siri will do everything for us. I write mystery novels now, having graduated from term papers—­ although writing to contract is quite a bit like always having a paper due. The metal boxes have been replaced with notebooks—the French ones with graph paper in an attempt to keep my handwriting legible— but for me the basic research process has remained the same, even in this Googlepedia Age. My amateur sleuth, Faith Sibley Fairchild, is married with children. Ms. Fairchild is also a caterer (whodunit often irrevocably linked to whoateit). She grew up in Manhattan, fell in love with a New England minister, and finds herself much too far from the Big Apple in Ale- katherine hall page - 74 ford , a fictitious small town west of Boston. The attributes that make up my protagonist, plus the fact that I alternate locales for each book between Aleford and someplace else (Norway, Maine, Vermont, Italy, to name a few) mean all sorts of opportunities—necessities, in fact—to do research. These opportunities have usually been so much fun that it has been hard to stop and write the book itself. Once I know where Faith Fairchild will find the latest body, I start to amass books, not printouts, about the place—nonfiction and fiction. I also turn to other sources—what is called “B-roll” in film (all that footage that supplements the main event, adding intriguing information ). Since food plays a major part in the books, my research takes me to restaurants, markets, and other culinary venues. Throughout these initial preparations, I talk to people. If you want to be a writer, I tell school groups I visit, you have to like to be indoors and alone a lot. Talking to people gets me away from my desk. Upon occasion I travel many miles. I have never been able to write about a place I haven’t been—even Aleford is a compilation of places I have lived in or know near Boston. Some authors are able to employ the virtual world, typing in the requirements for a specific setting and transcribing what pops up on the monitor into convincing prose. I need to not only see the spot but feel it. The first few lines of The Body in the Piazza (2013) are Faith Fairchild was drunk. Soused, sloshed, schnockered, pickled, potted , and looped—without a single sip of alcohol having crossed her lips. She was drunk on Rome. Intoxicating, inebriating Rome. I would not have been able to write that without having been there. This is not to say that other forces aren’t playing a role. My favorite quotation about writing comes from Madeleine L’Engle, who described the process as “taking dictation from my imagination.” This is very different from having one’s characters “speak” to one—whenever I’m on a panel and hear a writer say this, I am deeply envious and wish I were not left alone to do the heavy lifting. However, dictation from imagination is hearing a voice in...


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