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- 267 Ned Stuckey-French d An Essayist’s Guide to Research and Family Life W hen you have two writers in the house, research becomes a family project, a way of life. It seeps into everything the family does—the whole family. Family vacations, dinner parties, birthdays are all bound up with our research. My wife and I give each other old books for Christmas. In the summers we have taken our kids to see Elvis tribute artists and the childhood homes of our favorite writers. Research is what we do even if sometimes we don’t recognize it as research (though the IRS guidelines for tax deductions help remind us that it needs to be identified and labeled as such). Even our friends— most of whom are writers too—are pulled into this vortex of research. They throw us book parties featuring our obsessions: mermaids, Memphis , rockabilly, and Montaigne. They give me collections of essays and a history of Greenwich Village for my birthday. Our friend Bob Butler, who knows and shares our Elvis obsession, gave us an authenticated lock of Elvis’s hair and a portrait of the King made from candy wrappers . At our house it’s all research all the time. Elizabeth is a fiction writer; I write personal essays and cultural criticism . She publishes with New York trade houses; I publish with university presses; we both collaborate with our friend Janet Burroway on a writing textbook published by Pearson. We both teach in the Department of English at Florida State University. Every day we write and talk about writing. Every day we do some kind of research. We are also both the children of writers. Elizabeth’s father published poetry, short stories, and literary criticism; her mother wrote plays and children’s books. My dad was an agricultural economist and academic who also wrote for popular magazines. Elizabeth’s parents even gave her the middle name of Caroline, after Caroline Gordon, a friend of the family and the subject of a biography Elizabeth’s dad published in 1972. Now we have two teenage daughters of our own—Flannery and Phoebe. Can you hear the literary allusions in their names? ned stuckey-french - 268 Soon after Phoebe was born and about the time Flannery turned three, Elizabeth and I landed our first full-time university teaching jobs. The academic life, especially because we teach at a research university , means we are expected to write books, stories, essays, and articles . It also means we have a lot of freedom to pick our projects and we get to work at home a lot. This is mostly to the good, of course. We have generous vacations, and there’s no need to use a sick day if one of the girls gets sick. It’s easy to schedule parent-teacher conferences or doctor’s appointments. It’s a good gig. If there is a downside it has to do mainly with finding the time, the quiet, and the space within one’s own home to do one’s work. Research and writing don’t always look like work, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves and our daughters that what we do is real work and should be treated as such even if we don’t head to the office each morning like other parents do. At our house there is a lot of “I can’t help you with that right now. I’ve got to finish this book review. You’ll have to talk to your mother.” Our house is small, and the only real study we have is a converted garage in the basement, which we use sparingly. As a consequence, the wall we must build to establish our working space is largely virtual. Elizabeth and I have to both pitch in to keep this wall from crumbling. Take, for example, the fall of 2001. About the middle of August, Elizabeth’s editor at Doubleday told her she had put Elizabeth’s as-yet-largely-unwritten first novel in the spring catalog, which meant Elizabeth would need to deliver the manuscript by the end of December . When al Qaeda started crashing planes into buildings, our house had already been in panic mode for a couple of weeks. The girls were three and six at the time. I took them to the park a lot. I took them grocery shopping a lot. I took them to the library a lot. But sooner or later the three of...


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