A new recipe is always an adventure. I’ve recently experimented with low carbohydrate, low sugar recipes. Having never baked with almond flour, this is a quest I hope to conquer. The recent blueberry crumble that I attempted was one of those, “perhaps I should just throw the whole thing out,” experiments. The crumble wasn’t crumbly, and the blueberries, well they disintegrated, becoming a mushy mess.
Starting a new writing project is just as much an experiment. Each book requires a different look at research, and I build on what I’ve learned with other projects. My list might include biography, history, first-person accounts such as diaries and letters, newspapers, photos, and interviews. Learning to experiment with research ingredients is key, just as I do in baking.
Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs, (Chicago Review Press 2017) is a compilation biography telling the stories of twenty-one courageous women from the 1800s to the present focused on finding cures, tending the sick and wounded, and healing with science and compassion. My research for that book included reading biographies, diaries, medical books, and for the living women completing phone interviews. I searched for what the women had in common, what motivated them, and what challenges they faced and continue to face. The facts helped to tie the women together.
In the case of another writing project, Pheasant Sandwiches and Turkey Egg Cake: How One Small Town Opened Its Heart, I relied heavily on newspaper research. This story takes place in America’s heartland during World War II and tells the story of volunteers who met every troop train with homemade treats and kindness. Newspaper research is fascinating because you learn the struggles and joys of people from a different era. Other than the fact that it is very hard on the eyes (tiny print on a screen), the language and facts of the many articles I read placed me in the center of the action.
My research for my Hike On! The Call of the Trail proposal has been a bit different. This middle grade nonfiction project about America’s trails, explores the origin stories of the trails, our connection to nature, and preservation of the trails.
Birds calling, the wind through the tall pines, and the light as the sun sets near a churning river are examples of setting details I will research to help the reader know where the trail is going and who is leading them. And since I won’t be able to hike every trail, photo research will play an important role.
As in all nonfiction projects primary research sources are important. Letters and diaries of the early hikers are especially helpful. What were the hiker’s motivations to forge a new trail? There were many. Hike On! won’t be a biography per se, but it will tell the story of the trail’s life.
So, is the research different from one book to another? Yes, but the basic principles are the same. I use ingredients mixed in fresh ways and ask different questions to uncover the story. The same goes for new recipes. The ingredients differ each time, and results are often unexpected. That is the fun part. Next time I hope to avoid mushy bottom blueberry crumble. Wish me luck!