The Funny Thing About Research

 

Ahhhh, research…

Arguably it’s the most important part of the writing process. How can you write about something if you know nothing about it? That old writing tip “write what you know” is always apt — you don’t want to look stupid, do you?!

But how about other ways you might look in the age of the internet and having access-all-areas? If I were to go through the things I’ve looked up in the name of research it could paint a pretty messed-up picture…

For one short story I had to research the job of an embalmer, how a cadaver appears and feels, how the process of embalming works, etc. For my work-in-progress novel American. Porn Star. President. (about a porn-addicted journalist), I’ve looked up almost every genre there is on major porn sites, and what the world of the porn industry is like, from on-set slang to bloody company rivalries. (Think that’s commitment? Some writers have acted in adult film for their stories — now that’s dedication!) For a short story about a disgruntled employee of a corporate giant, I delved into self-immolation, and came across some deeply harrowing images, and incredibly tragic cases. For my screenplay Let’s Talk About Sex, I researched the most comic and weird sex-related injuries (thinking about it still makes me wince).

JG 1

One, like Jake Gyllenhaal above, could look at this and reach the conclusion that I’m a sex-addicted, cadaver-infatuated nutjob who’s about to set myself on fire in a protest against my exploitative employer (must… crush… capitalism…).

So, is all this research essential when it comes to whatever project it is that you’re working on?

Well, yes… It’s like the method actor approach, although how far an actor — or a writer — would go is another thing. If I’m writing about a murderer I’m hardly going to go out and hack someone to death. But I would likely go to our all-knowing, omnipotent friend (or, arguably, foe) the Internet, and read about individual cases and the perpetrators… What was their mindset? How did they rationalise doing something so abhorrent? Did they even rationalise it? What was their background? How were they raised? What did their day-to-day look like?

I think it’s a part of us, though — this curiosity, this need to know… We’re voyeuristic… Or, as David Fincher said: people are perverts. We’re forever curious about the private (or not-so-private) lives of others. We obsess over individuals like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. We make celebrities out of some of the craziest people who’ve set foot on this planet. We create sensations around porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, James Deen, to name a few). Not that I’m saying porn stars are monsters like Manson and Bundy, of course. To be clear, that’s not what I’m saying at all! I admire adult performers for having the balls to do what they do… pun possibly intended.

But what do they have in common? Well, they’re the outliers, right? And we’re always interested in the people who go against the grain of “normal” society, be it by doing something awful (Manson and Bundy) or something unusual/outrageous (adult performers). We’re forever fascinated by the ones who don’t do the “normal” thing, because, for the most part, we’re surrounded by normalcy; the mundanity of everyday life.

CK1

But coming back to research and writing, what does it all mean for the writer? The one who opens the doors to the often excessive, regularly fucked-up realities of this crazy world? Speaking from personal experience, my research has led me to having some odd, some adventurous, and some deeply disturbing dreams (including being pulled across the bed by a demonic spirit flashing before my eyes. And yes, I do have night terrors… I scream in my sleep sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and a little embarrassing, but it has scared my girlfriend in the middle of the night, and that’s definitely a consolation. It’s okay, she thinks it’s funny)…

Anyway, the great F. Scott Fitzgerald said this of the writer:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.

For me, that’s a perfect — and profound — way to describe a writer. The first time I read it, it simply made sense. I’ve definitely found myself feeling not-like-myself after writing a certain scene or a specific character, and that’s sometimes difficult to shake off immediately. Haruki Murakami has made reference to this in an interview with The New Yorker:

When I’m writing a novel, I wake up around four in the morning and go to my desk and start working. That happens in a realistic world. I drink real coffee. But, once I start writing, I go somewhere else. I open the door, enter that place, and see what’s happening there. I don’t know — or I don’t care — if it’s a realistic world or an unrealistic one. I go deeper and deeper, as I concentrate on writing, into a kind of underground. While I’m there, I encounter strange things. But while I’m seeing them, to my eyes, they look natural. And if there is a darkness in there, that darkness comes to me, and maybe it has some message, you know? I’m trying to grasp the message. So I look around that world and I describe what I see, and then I come back. Coming back is important. If you cannot come back, it’s scary. But I’m a professional, so I can come back.

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Coming back, even if it’s from the “real” world, is imperative. And, as Murakami alludes, it takes skill: he’s a professional, he can come back. He’s trained himself to come back. As made evident by my dreams, clearly I’m still in training.

But to end with Fitzgerald’s above quote in mind, maybe being good has been made easier today with the existence of the Internet, which allows us to do more research without having to leave the house or office. We’re not restricted to our first-hand experiences and our sometimes limited imaginations or book collections; we can delve into these worlds and mindsets instantly using the collective consciousness that is the Internet.

We can write what we know, although we might have preferred life when we didn’t know it.

 

Anyway, I hear the call for last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Header image by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

A Significant Nothing

 

I wrote A Significant Nothing (originally — and, you might say, oddly — titled Cow Goes Moo) back in June. It’s a short script about human behviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

Our protagonist — an introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city in which he works — has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. And despite being quite romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he has found someone with whom he can connect.

The problem is — has he found hope in a hopeless person?

You can read A Significant Nothing here: A Significant Nothing

Book Cover Reveal!

Getting the cover for your debut novel right when you’re on the verge of self-publishing is not only pretty important; it’s also quite challenging! Here’s an update of where I’m at with the cover for ‘Leaving Sadie’, which hits shelves this summer.

So, the brilliant designer Chloë Keogan designed these three covers . . .

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Sadie Design 2

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That was after we had gone through a number of concepts. When I posted the three covers on Facebook and on this blog I got some invaluable feedback on each one (thanks again!), as well as some butterflies in my stomach at the thought of putting this out there for people to see (can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when I finally publish the work!).

When we tallied all the votes we found that most people leaned towards cover 1, with cover 2 in a close second. Personally, I was leaning towards cover 2, and this presented me with a conundrum: How would I decide on the cover when I’m leaning towards one and most people are leaning towards another?

Well, Chloë suggested printing the covers and putting them on physical books I have in my apartment. So we did that. Chloë also brought along some alternative versions of each cover to try on for size. Chaos kind of ensued . . .

Choosing Sadie Cover

(Okay, I concede that doesn’t look so chaotic. Exaggeration can help sell a story, though)

As I looked at the covers, it occurred to me: something is missing.

And this wasn’t an oversight on Chloë’s part; she had delivered exactly what I’d asked for—she was right on brief every step of the way! This was on me and my direction/requests.

It was only when I held the covers (or fake Sadie books) in my hands that I realized they weren’t true to the tone of the novel; the story focuses on the often turbulent nature of relationships and the madness of the arts (and of course the madness that is family :p), but it does it with a wink and a smile—there’s plenty of playfulness in there. And that’s what was missing from the covers we had in our hands: a sense of fun and adventure.

Then Maria got involved . . .

Maria & Moi

(That’s Maria, my girlfriend. She’s a very beautiful and talented woman, and she can do an incredible dolphin impression. Anyway . . .)

The three of us sat down, drank tea and chucked around ideas. Then Chloë went away, worked her magic like she always does, and came back with a brilliant new design (something of a redesign of cover 1).

So, let me reveal to you the latest draft of the cover for my novel. This is close to the finished version; only small changes will be made in the coming weeks. Here it is:

Leaving_Sadie_Final_NEW-01

Like it? Let me know what you like about it! Hate it? Tough shit, buddy!

Thanks again for all the comments and help along the way. And thanks to Chloë for being incredibly patient and for her unique talent. You can check out her work on her website.

More updates on the novel coming soon!

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Conversations with Family Members (and the Bits In Between).

 

 

The mother (i)

 

My mother calls while I’m in the middle of editing a piece that’s to run in a tabloid.

I pick up, because she’ll keep calling until I do.

‘Hey, Mam. I’m kind of busy.’

‘I know, you’re always busy, can you just do something for me for a sec?’

‘What’s that?’

‘I can’t get into the Facebook.’

Sigh.

‘Why can’t you get into your Facebook?’

‘It’s asking for my password. What’s my password?’

‘I don’t know; it’s your password.’

Silence.

‘But, is it my email?’

‘Is what your email?’

‘Is my password my email?’

‘Is it your email address?’

‘Is what my email address?’

Frustrated deep breath and closing of eyes.

‘Are you asking me if the password for your Facebook is your email address?’

Silence.

‘No, is the password for the Facebook the one I use for the email?’

‘I don’t know, Ma. I told you to write down all your passwords in the notepad I gave you after I helped you set them up.’

‘I did!’

‘Well, where’s the notepad?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Okay.’

‘It says,’ she begins again. ‘Beside the box for the password it says. . . email or phone. If I press phone will that put me through to a helpline?’

‘No, Mam, that’s your username.’

‘What’s my username?’

‘Your email address or phone number.’

‘Oh.’

Audible exhale on my part.

‘Can you ring Aaron? I really need to get this done and sent before ten.’

‘Okay. Are you working on something?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is it good?’

‘I think so.’

‘What’s it about?’

‘How the sexuality of men can be shaped by the toys they had as kids.’

‘Oh. . . That sounds interesting. Will that be in the paper?’

‘Yes, I’ll pick up the paper for you.’

‘Your dad used to play with your granny’s clothes when he was a boy. It makes sense, I suppose.’

‘Mam, I didn’t need to hear that.’

‘And you used to play with Barbie with Amy across the road.’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘You did.’

‘Did I?’

‘You did, and your brother played with anything he could get his hands on.’

Smile on my part and think about that one.

‘Mam, I really have to get this done-’

‘Can you try blog-in on your computer?’

‘Blog?’

‘Yeah, can you get in to the Facebook for me on your computer?’

‘Mam, I can’t get into your Facebook if I don’t have the password. Did you click on forgot account? I told you this before.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘It’s below the box where you enter your password.’

Silence.

‘But I don’t know my password.’

‘Okay, bye.’

‘Oh, you’re always so impatient, I’m only asking!’

‘Bye, Mam.’

 

The brother (i)

 

My brother calls an hour later as I put the final touches on the article.

‘Hey bro, I’m in the middle of-’

‘Did you tell Ma to call me about her Facebook account?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Dickhead.’

‘Hello?… Aaron?’

 

The piece I’m editing is something of a throwaway article on a recent study about how men’s sex lives are fundamentally shaped by their childhood toys – Stretch Armstrong and cable ties featured prominently from ages six through eleven so I’m not entirely sure what that would indicate for me, but anyway, I tell myself it’s okay that I’m writing a frivolous article because these additional jobs pay for the additional expenses, i.e. fun things like drinking (fun apart from the hangover) and films (fun apart from the bad ones and the cost of a cinema ticket and food) and gym (fun apart from the big men who look at themselves in the mirror psychotically, and who release audible exhales and loud groans similar to those of a Game of Thrones character being disembowelled, and with whom I’m afraid to make eye contact).

Kite

 

It comes on slowly, gently at first.

Afters years and years, after fears

And arrears and tears.

 

It comes on slowly.

And on a day like any other,

The wind arrives.

 

And the kite is airborne.