Getting Lost in the Reseach

By Janice McCaffrey

Last year during a tour of France my daughter, Bonnie, and I made a quick stop in Marseille; a jumping-off point to Monaco. Our focus was on Princess Grace Kelly; the palace and a drive up the famous, winding, cliff-hugging road.

Our train from Paris arrived in Marseille late afternoon. We picked up a rental car and headed to our Airbnb lodging in the old part of the city. In a blink of an eye we found ourselves on narrow streets filled with cars racing around curves, merging into already clogged streets, with drivers who had seemingly no regard for others.  Very loud motor cycles whipped in and out around moving vehicles, driving not in the lanes, but on the lines that divide them. And Bonnie kept up the pace.

 

 

 

 

Yikes!! I held on tight!

 

 

Flying past ancient-looking pastel stone buildings, I caught a glimpse of a Moroccan man standing in front of a shop laughing with a couple of other men.

The GPS system directed us to public parking close to the apartment and we walked from there. After climbing 107 steps of a circular staircase with broken tiles under foot, yes, with our luggage, we settled into the apartment which was definitely worth the climb. Then we walked down the steps (much easier than climbing up) to the old port soaking up the area’s history and atmosphere.

We were greeted by bright sunshine, clear blue skies with a warm breeze off the sparkling Mediterranean Sea’s varied hues of blues and greens. My kind of perfect day.

marseille w bonnie

                           I fell in love.                          And the story began.

Back home committing my imagination to paper I needed the name of the Moroccan man’s attire. Yea for Google!! After finding info and photos of the jabador more Googling got me a suitable name for him, place of birth, and back story.

 I have to admit that I can get lost in the research. I have spent hours on internet searches and studying the results. And Google maps is indispensable for settings and determining distances. Their street views are wonderful and were invaluable as I orchestrated a chase scene around Marseille.

Besides giving me many enjoyable hours investigating and learning, one thing always leads to another. The history of Morocco pointed the way to the Phoenician peoples where their history gave me the item of antiquity the story would center around.

An article entitled Research for Fiction Writing in Cornell Research by Alexander Chang explains how J. Robert Lennon, author of See You in Paradise (Greywolf, 2014) and teacher of English at Cornell University uses the internet searches to find details for his stories. Here’s a quote:

In doing research as a fiction writer, Lennon embraces a term his wife once called [him and his friends] them: professional dilettantes. “I like that as a description for writers,” he says. “I love going to parties with writers—they always have super shallow knowledge of a zillion different things.”

I had to Google the definition, but it made me laugh out loud!

                                  diləˈtänt,diləˈtäntē/ noun 1. a person who cultivates 

                                  an area of interest without real commitment or knowledge.

That’s me! Due to my love of research I know a multitude of unrelated facts. Like:

Did you know the Phoenicians were the first known people to establish an alphabet? They were industrious and successful merchants who needed a method of keeping their accounts. This was back between 1500 and 1050 B.C. They devised 22 letters, only consonants, to represent the sound of their language. Over time the Greeks and Romans adjusted the original symbols which eventually gave us our 26 letters that represent the sound of our language. This chart shows the changes.

 

                                                                       

 

 

And now . . .  we’re hooked on phonics!

 

 

 

These people also invented ink and paper. And when they bound pages together for the first time in the city of Bylos its name led to two of our modern-day words—book and bible.

I can tell you the history of sweet potatoes. Indigenous of South America Columbus took them back to Spain and Portugal. From there Portuguese sailors introduced them to Nigeria where their main crop was another tuber they called yams (not to be confused with our yams, theirs is white and round and belongs to a different plant family). Eventually the slave trade ships brought seedlings to North Carolina which is now our main growing area for the delicious tuber.

Oh, yes. And then there’s Queen Anne’s nephew Edward Hyde Lord Cornbury who held the office of Governor in both New York and New Jersey from 1701-1708. To open the New Jersey General Assembly he dressed as a woman of fashion. His rational was that since he represented a woman, Queen Anne, he should look like one.

 

 

And if you ever want to know the particulars of the early Pennsylvania-German’s Groundhog traditions, just ask.

For some writers research may be a drudgery to avoid at all costs, but for me it opens the world of ideas, events, characters, and settings.

I love getting lost in the research!

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions . . .

By Janice McCaffrey 

I am a huge fan of Michael Lewis, the non-fiction author who wrote Blindside, Moneyball, and The Short Game to name only those that Hollywood made into feature films. His latest book is The Undoing Projectundoing-project a prose which explains how two Israeli psychologists, between defending their country during three fierce wars, figured out how human brains make decisions.

Soon after World War II Amos Tversky, a Russian, and Daniel Kahneman, a German, became citizens of the new State of Israel. They met at the Hebrew University and began asking one another the whys and what ifs of decision making. Their collaboration continued for over twenty-eight years. They co-authored numerous articles published in scientific journals as they lived and worked in Israel, the United States, and Canada.

 Their subjects included university, high, and elementary school students; medical doctors; psychologists; and economists. The study questions Tversky and Kahnman utilized are based on common situational decisions. I can add that in turn, these examples are simple, complex, and humorous.

For details I’m studying Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow.thinking-book He explains in the introduction that his goal is to “create discussion around the office water cooler.” In other words, he wants everyone, not only academics, to understand how we reach our decisions, and learn steps to help us arrive at better ones. The synopsis says:synopsis

Tversky and Kahneman shared their findings with a variety of disciplines: besides psychology, they included medicine, team-sports management, financial investing, and economics. In fact, in 2002, Daniel Kahneman became the first psychologist to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. Sadly, Amos Tversky passed away before he could share the honor.

As a beginner fiction writer, who’s still on the bunny hill, I wondered how I could use this information. Studying and pondering has brought me to the hope that I can practice the mental steps necessary to make better decisions about my writing and to create characters with more depth.  

I want to show readers the humanness of people portrayed in my stories as they make their choices–the good ones and the not so good. I want to show why their illogical decisions seemed reasonable to them at the time. And I want to put them through their own undoing projects. I look forward to creating multifaceted characters as I learn from these experts.

Thank you, Michael Lewis for bringing Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnman into my life.

Allhallowtide

Capture

by Janice McCaffrey

Today is Halloween, the evening vigil before All Hallows Day. The day set aside to honor Saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us. November 2nd is All Soul’s Day said to be the commemoration of all the faithful departed. These three days together are  known as Allhallowtide. As lovers of reading this week we’d think of authors we revere. Depending on our favorite genre: Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Austen, Poe, the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, Shelly and Byron, just to name a few.

But this month’s book club selection is Gutenberg’s Apprentice a novel by Alix Christie. 

Yes, I remember learning about Gutenberg and his Bible back in some high school history class, but I didn’t understand the genius of the accomplishment or its implications.

 

By fifty-seven years of age, Johannes Gutenberg, a German merchant 

 turned black smith and gold smith, figured out how to forge combinations of metals that could be carved into letters.

Then he built a contraption that used those metal letters smeared with thick ink to print an entire page of words. 

Until then scribes wrote by hand with quill whatever written word folks had.

Then with a grandiose or inspired idea he decided to print the entire Bible. It took three years (1452-1455) of intense, arduous work, but introduced the printing press to the world. The following year his partner/investor won a lawsuit which took Gutenberg’s workshop and printing press from him and left him bankrupt.

Gutenberg’s greatest accomplishment the beginning of equality in reading led to versions of smaller printers; typewriters like this Underwood of 1895.

 

Our universal keyboard of today was created in 1873 by Christopher L. Sholes, a Milwaukee newspaperman, poet, and part time inventor. He called it the QWERTY keyboard.

Guilty of taking my computer and keyboard for granted and complaining about slow internet connections, this Allhallowtide I will venerate Master Gutenberg for his vision and determination. Along with Peter Schoeffer, his apprentice, who went on to become a master printer and the first publisher. And I won’t forget all those imaginative, innovative folks who followed to bring the gift of mass-produced books to the world and me.

 

Research, a must tool for creating a story

By Marie F Martin

Research is what I needed to cement a story that had been running around in my imagination for some years.  I asked my husband if he’d drive me to the mountains about a 100 miles to the west of where we live. Elmer was a good sport and agreed. We packed a picnic, loaded up our two dogs, and enjoyed the ride gradually working up into the mountains.  We passed this lovely old school house.  I used this image as my guide to describe the Ferrells’  meeting house.

 school house (2)  We kept driving higher until we reached the home of a nice couple who agreed to show me their place.  The picture below is Elmer and the dogs checking out the skidder.  I saw a grannie’s fish pond and a still shack.  The nice gal told us her Granny’s whiskey was the best around.  The middle picture the Granny’s still shack.  There was a cold spring coming out of the mountain nearby so she had fresh wonderful water for her whiskey.  I wandered around the spring and followed it course for a little ways down the mountain.  There were scattered violets growing along the edge.  The gal told me that her granny had planted them years ago and they still kept coming up.  It was such a peaceful spot. We stayed awhile, and I heard stories of their ancestors and then we left the shy couple alone.  We drove into a nearby town and I found a church for my character Granny and a main street bar for Frankie’s brawl with the Hoffmans.  I have more pictures of my research on my website www.mariefmartin.com.  We had such  nice day and I came away with a setting for Ratham Creek.

 

inspecting logging equipment.

inspecting logging equipment.

Still Shack

Still Shack

Granny's fishing pond

Granny’s fishing pond