Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sara K Joiner: Research, Research, Research

Centre Dwelling at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
is now a museum dedicated to Shaker displays
about life in the village.
photo by Sara K Joiner

In 2014 I was offered the opportunity to go with a friend to an even being held at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky. While I had been to Hancock Shaker Village years earlier, Pleasant Hill operated as both a museum and hotel. I would be staying in one of the buildings that once housed Shakers as they went about their daily lives. My mind raced with the wonder of that thought.

This would be a lot of fun.

As happens, an idea for a book sprang into my head while I was there touring the buildings and learning about life at Pleasant Hill. I didn't do anything with the idea at the time. It was vague and unformed. I would give it time to take root.

Two years later, I returned to Pleasant Hill for another event with the same friend. The vague idea had taken root but it was still struggling to grow. It needed fertilizer. Before my next trip to the village, I had to know more about the history of the place and the people. I wanted to be able to use my time there wisely to gather small details that would help make this story idea blossom.

I searched the catalog at the library where I work and found lots of books on the topic. Books for adults, books for teens and tweens, even books for preschoolers. I started with the basics, as I often do, and read some of the children's books. Reading the children's books allows me to ease into the deeper waters of the scholarly adult material. The children's books teach me the terms and phrases I'll need to know. The adult material adds depth but the children's books add interest.
Looking down over the spiral stairs in the Trustees' Office
at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
photo by Sara K Joiner

As I read the material, I made notes of specific information that I would need to know. With only the main character taking shape in my mind, my research would guide me in a direction for the story. As I read, ideas took shape and questions needed answering.

Unfortunately, I wasn't always finding the answers in the books I had.

I don't rely solely on printed material for research, of course. I'm a librarian, and I love to find new sources of information. I watch documentaries. I buy appropriate music. I search Flickr or Google Images. I follow Twitter accounts or Facebook pages. I perform various and sundry Internet searches.

For the research for this book, I contacted the collections manager at Pleasant Hill and asked to meet with him. I had never done this kind of a interview before, and I had to make sure I didn't waste his time or mine by asking questions that could be answered with a simple Google search.

I kept a list of questions and thoughts about what might or might not happen in the book. Being very up front with him about the vagaries of publishing and the early stages of my work on this project (not a word written, yet!), I tried to ask questions specific to Pleasant Hill. Although there were a few general ones thrown in that I hadn't found answers to. It was a fun and exciting two-hour chat.

When I get to writing this story, which now has much stronger roots and is flourishing in my brain, I will certainly owe a debt to collections manager and the research provided by all those other scholars and authors.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

1 comment:

  1. A big THANK YOU, Sarah. Despite the internet, I find it difficult to find appropriate extra resources; you have given me lots of ideas. Best of luck with your Pleasant Hill book