JOAN BARTH: ON RESEARCH
I am addicted to research. For my current book set in the 1880s in New York City, I’ve done a lot of it, believing that my readers deserve to know the truth in my historical fiction. Researching is like looking up a word in the dictionary for me—one word leads to another and getting out of the dictionary is an ordeal.
My book, Wild Pigs in Snow, prompted me to go to various sites in New York—the NY Historical Society, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (former home of Andrew Carnegie who had a staff of 64. See what I mean about research?), the Museum of the City of New York. I called innumerable other sites, such as the ASPCA, the NY Public Library, the Metropolitan Transit Co., the Archdiocese of NY, and looked up many others on the Internet. I also made the mistake of paying professional researchers, and later found the same information they provided for free on the Web.
One woman at the NY Historical Society Print and Photographic Department was very helpful in finding photos of pigs. I asked her for any photos or prints of pigs cleaning the streets of garbage. While she didn’t find pigs with trash, she did find them in crowds of people and sent me those photos. It seems that NY was ashamed of pigs, referring to them frequently as swine. After all, pigs are yucky.
So much research! Toni Morrison says that, at some point, we have to give up research and just write. All I know is, I get so involved in it, it takes me a very long time to finish a book. I would suggest setting a deadline for research. Now if I could only do that!
What Joan’s reading now: THE FALL OF ROME by Martha Southgate