I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Anne Girard, author of PLATINUM DOLL and MADAME PICASSO to my blog today. Not only is she an excellent author, but she’s a wonderful person, too. I count myself lucky to call her a friend. My review of PLATINUM DOLL will be up tomorrow.
Without further ado, Anne Girard..
Researching an historical novel is not so much a job as a wonderful journey…
In many ways, the research phase of a book is my favorite of the whole, complex and wonderful process that I am about to embark upon each time I begin with a new subject. More than just the ‘getting to know you’ portion of a project, the research invariably becomes a great adventure, one that leads me to places, and people—many of them experts—that I can’t even imagine when I am just beginning.
Naturally, the first part of researching a real character for history for a fictional biography requires combing meticulously and laboriously through every existing biography on the subject so that a framework and a preliminary outline can be created. I always seem to write about completely different characters every time so I have often likened this part of the journey to working toward a college degree in a new subject.
Familiarizing myself with the written material by other experts is similar to one’s freshman year.
Next, I try to make contact with one or more experts or scholars in the field. That could be anyone from professors, to biographers or, in one case not long ago, a personal friend of the character I was writing about. I can say without a doubt that meeting one of Pablo Picasso’s last living friends was not only a career highlight, it was entirely unexpected when I began the process of research and writing Madame Picasso.
Not all roads work out. Some of them lead to frustrating dead ends. Some experts are unwilling to work with novelists because of the different perception they hold regarding their work and that of a fiction writer. I can say, however, that in several cases, when I did communicate with these contacts, my research and commitment had rivaled there, so as the cliché goes, one should never judge a book—fiction or otherwise—just by the cover.
At some point during my work with experts, I am also traveling to the location in which the story is set. The iconic author Irving Stone advised me many years ago to always try to walk the streets your characters walked, see the same trees, the buildings, houses. Hopefully, on occasion, if the stars are all aligned, I see some of their personal effects; clothing or furniture. Only then, when I am as immersed in their world as I can make myself, do I believe I can bring them to life for readers.
During the writing of my most recent novel Platinum Doll I was able to walk through a portion of young Jean Harlow’s world in the Los Angele area, which was an enormous thrill. I spent time
inside on of her homes, sat in her living room, and walked up her staircase. I felt like I was seeing the same sun shining through her windows she must have seen when she was the beautiful young queen of Hollywood. Later, I saw some of her actual personal effects, including a bottle of her favorite perfume, a hand-written letter, and a couple of her dresses.
It is all of these components that go into the research of a novel. It is always a long, and often a winding road, once the process begins. I never know exactly where it will take me but, honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love every step.