by Paul D. Marks
The things we do for our art: I’ve braved riots, vandalized classic Victorian buildings, suffered through the rich and delish food of New Orleans. It’s a tough life.
Does pre-research count? Did I just invent a term?
I’m not sure I’ve done anything particularly unusual while specifically researching a book in advance, pretty much all the usual stuff that’s been talked about here earlier in the week. But I have lived life to some extent and many of the experiences I’ve had make their way into my stories or inform them one way or another.
|Los Angeles - "Rodney King" Riots|
My short story Howling at the Moon (Ellery Queen 11/14) takes place in Southern California’s Death Valley, the lowest and hottest spot in the US. Though it’s been some years since I’ve trekked there, I have been there and drew on those experiences to hopefully give the story a sense of verisimilitude. I remember how hot it was – hotter than hell and if you squinted just right that’s where you thought you were.
|Death Valley, California|
I recently sold another story to Ellery Queen called Ghosts of Bunker Hill (no publication date yet). This one takes place in an area of downtown LA, not the famous Revolutionary War site in Mass. And today’s Bunker Hill is very different than what it used to be.
Bunker Hill was LA’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. But it got run down after WWI and became housing for poor people. Lots of film noirs were shot there (Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Kiss Me Deadly and many others). It’s also where John Fante lived when he wrote Ask the Dust and other books. But in the late 60s it was all torn down and redeveloped. They even flattened the hills. Ghosts of Bunker Hill is set in and around there in the present.
|Bunker Hill, Los Angeles|
Bunker Hill is also where the famous Angels Flight funicular railway is/was, from which Michael Connelly takes the name of one of his novels and which I used as a short story title before his novel came out. And I got to ride the original Angels Flight as well, which I’ve used in multiple stories including the eponymous Angels Flight. It was later moved up the street and a “new and improved” Angels Flight was put there, but it closed not too long after it opened.
But something just occurred to me that wasn’t pre-research. I was working on a screenplay set in New Orleans and I had never been there. Now, I could have researched it in books in those days or asked people about it – I could have gone to New Orleans Square at Disneyland – but I felt I needed to have the real feel for the place. So I just had to go there and see it for myself. I don’t know if it made the screenplay any better or more real, but it sure made me and Amy happy to be there.
So, in terms of research, I draw on all of these experiences, plus others, as well as traditional research methods, such as book learnin’, the internet and talking with people, to hopefully give my stories a feeling of really being in the place or with characters who come off as real.