It's time once again for some Author R&R (Reference and Research), today featuring Peter Swanson. Plus at the bottom of this post, look for details on how to win a free book!
Peter Swanson is the author of two novels, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, and his latest, The Kind Worth Killing. Swanson's poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Soundings East, and The Vocabula Review. He has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
I enjoy hearing how different authors approach researching their novels, be it through job shadowing, being buried in library stacks, going online, interviews, news reports, or whatever techniques and methods they use in getting the details just right. Or whether they feel too much research and over-planning can be deadly to a manuscript. Swanson probably falls into the latter category, as you will see from his unique take on research:
Truth is, I do very little research. And it’s not because I don’t have to, it’s because I don’t really want to—it’s because I’m lazy. There’s nothing worse, for me, than being in the middle of writing a scene in which a search warrant is presented, and then I suddenly realize that I have no idea what a search warrant would even look like.
But here’s the good news. I can just go ahead and Google it, which is pretty much what I do these days. Voila. An image of a search warrant on the web that I can describe in my book. Here’s the rub, though. That image is probably attached to some interesting story, and suddenly I’m reading the story instead of working on my book. It’s a double-edge sword, the internet—great for research, and equally great for time wasting.
I did do one solid research trip for my last book, The Kind Worth Killing. There’s a crucial scene set in an old cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. I could picture the cemetery, perched on a steep hill that overlooks the town center. I live very close to Concord so I went on a quick research trip one cold and blustery weekday, and spent the afternoon alone in The Old Hill Burying Ground, taking some pictures, but mostly just reading gravestones, and soaking up some atmosphere.
Afterwards, I went to the lovely old tavern in the Colonial Inn and had a drink. Both the graveyard and the tavern wound up in my book. I might not have described them perfectly, but it helped that I was there. I think this is the best kind of research. Just going somewhere and walking around. Getting away from your computer for a little bit. So much more rewarding than looking up what a search warrant looks like.
The Kind Worth Killing was called "Chilling and hypnotically suspenseful … could be an instant classic," by Lee Child (of the Jack Reacher novels). Entertainment Weekly added, "Is The Kind Worth Killing the next Gone Girl? This homage to Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train shares a lot of Gone Girl’s hallmarks but cranks up the volume on each. There aren’t just two unreliable narrators, there are four. There isn’t just one enormous, game-changing twist. Try three, including one at the end that will take your breath away. You’ll also lose count of all the sociopaths. Or are they psychopaths? It doesn’t matter—just know that they’re each deranged but oh-so-compelling."
For your chance to win a copy of Swanson's novel The Kind Worth Killing, just send along an e-mail to email@example.com with Contest Entry in the subject line, and you'll be entered into the random drawing. And if you want to be added to my newsletter list for occasional news updates, you can mention that in your e-mail (you won't be added without your consent and can unsubscribe at any time). Good luck!