I do quite a lot of research when I’m writing. In fact, it’s not unusual for me to spend more time researching a particular point about which I’m writing than it takes for me to write the actual passage.
I was amazed to learn that Jonathan Franzen, the very popular American writer, does not have an Internet connection in his office. He must have a marvelous imagination – a subject which I’ll cover in a later post.
As for me, I can’t rely completely on my memory and imagination. For example, I used to live in the town of Aspinwall, Pennsylvania, in the States – a town where much of the action in Sin & Contrition takes place. But I had to use the Internet to remind myself of the names of streets, churches and important landmarks. The professional baseball players who are mentioned briefly in Fishing in Foreign Seas and Sin & Contrition are (or were) real people who were playing major league ball at the time in question. I had to research the Marine Corps training process to write accurately about LaMarr and Jason’s experience of it in Sin & Contrition. As part of my training to become a naval officer, I went through a month of Marine Corps training at Little Creek, Virginia, but it’s not the same – although I sometimes felt much as LaMarr and Jason did. Similarly, I had to research the city of Hue, Vietnam to be able to describe the young Marines walk to the brothel.
For my third novel, Efraim’s Eye, I felt that it was important for me to understand Islam. I bought English language versions of the Qur’an, and I listened to an audio version for hours while I was in the gym. (It absolutely amazes me that some Muslim children in madrasahs learn to recite the Qur’an by heart. My copy of the Qur’an runs to 440 pages!)
The places in my novels are, generally, real places, as are the hotels and restaurants which are mentioned. The menus are (or were) real.
For me, writing as I do about largely fictional characters – though some of them remind me slightly of people I know – it’s important to place the characters in real settings. That way they seem to me more real, alive and credible.