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A Bucket Full of Research

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Many years ago, I read that James A. Michener, who did not publish until he was forty years of age, advised young writers to do extensive research before trying to write a novel. He visited the countries and areas he was interested in writing about, interviewing countless people as well as reading more than two hundred books for back-ground material for each of his books -- Hawaii, Iberia, The Source, Texas, Poland, Alaska, Caribbean -- and for some forty other book projects, spanning a fifty-year writing career.

This careful research resulted in Michener winning the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Tales of the South Pacific, his first novel, and other awards.

Michener believed a writer must know the country and experience an event to be able to write about it. I thought this was the right path to take, so I visited Spain, Australia (twice), Japan, China and other countries which, along with my library research, resulted in my publishing many hardbound books.

Such advice, however, can lead you astray -- as in the research I did for a proposed book set in Hitler’s Germany. I read in a Paul Gallico book how the Nazis would put a tin bucket over a person’s head and beat on it with a stick to drive the poor person crazy. I wondered if this were really true.

Remembering Michener’s advice on living the experience before you write about it, I decided to give it a try.

So I went out to my backyard and glanced around to make sure no one was watching. Then I put my scrub bucket over my head and beat on it with a broom handle. The noise was unbelievable and unbearable.

I banged the bucket a few more times to make sure I could write that scene for the book. With my ears still ringing, I quickly pushed back the bucket and found myself looking into the astonished, fearful face of my neighbor, staring out of her apartment window, located directly above the apartment my husband and I were renting.

We stared at each other for the longest time without saying a word. I know she thought I was crazy.

Within the week, the poor woman moved out!


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