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Location: Baltimore-DC Area

Author who writes for a living and lives for writing. // WOMB: a novel in utero (Merge Publishing 2017) // TRACKS: A Novel in Stories (Atticus Books 2011) // FLIGHTLESS GOOSE, a storybook for children (Writers Lair Books 2008) // www.EricDGoodman.com

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When Research Finds the Writer

As novelist E.L. Doctorow will tell you, sometimes the best kind of research is the kind that comes to you without effort. I experienced that sort of research recently.

I was out for a walk with my son in our neighborhood, full of large, old trees. One of them had a sign posted on it. “Scheduled for elimination by Division of Forestry.” The reasons checked off were “Dying” and “Diseased.”

Just days earlier, I happened to pull out a story I wrote a couple years ago and was putting some polish on it. The story, “Leaving,” is about a woman infatuated with her yard. In the end, the government tends to her dying tree when she refuses to.

Some readers asked me, can this really happen? I told them that I knew of a person whose tree had been felled by the government. But their questions planted a seed of doubt.

Seeing the sign nailed to a tree was more than just validation — it was the perfect detail to add to my story. I copied the sign verbatim and have added it to "Leaving."

It reminds me of the method of research Doctorow shared when he spoke at the National Book Festival. He explained that he once bumped a library shelf, a book fell out, and the open page led him to write Ragtime.

Not to say that “Leaving” is my Ragtime, but at least I seem to have the “stumble upon research” bit down.


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