Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stunts or Research?

"Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose." – Zora Neale Hurston

Authors who write non-fiction generally love the research involved. The writers who made the "10 Top Literary Stunts" list in, however, may have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their efforts to be published. Still, I’m not sure if all ten are examples of stunts or legitimate research.

I think Douglas Brown may have had the most fun doing research for his book Just Do It How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) Mr. Brown “…talked his wife into having intimate relations for 101 consecutive days in a quest to find out if such an endeavor is possible even with the pressures of parenthood and work looming over them daily…”

Research for The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs struck me as the funniest. “For one year, Jacobs lived according to each and every rule in the Old Testament. Everything upon which [a woman] lies during her impurity (meaning, menstruation) shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. During a certain time of the month, Jacobs can't touch or sit on anything his wife has occupied, not even in their own apartment. His wife finds this so irritating (apparently women don't like to be called unclean) that she makes a point to sit on every conceivable surface in their home, and Jacobs is forced to purchase a portable stool.”

I think, the greatest sacrifice in the name of research was done by Barbara Ehrenreich, in her book Nickel and Dimed, where she gave up her successful writer’s life to experience the struggle of working-class life in jobs where she earned around $6 per hour. “Although constantly exhausted and abused, Ehrenreich manages to support herself — thanks for the advice for her co-workers (waitresses, house cleaners, nurses' assistants) — but it's not easy. She nearly becomes homeless, even though she starts her project with $1,000 in seed money.”

Other books on the list included, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Word Freak Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble by Stefan Fatsis; Newjack, Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover; Paper Lion by George Plimpton; Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson;Ten Days in a Mad House by Nellie Bly; and, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose. More details about these ‘stunts’ are listed in the article.

What do you think—stunts or research? What lengths will you go to for publication?

Coming Attraction: Some of you may remember the blog I wrote about the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. I admitted I had a difficult time writing sex scenes and according the comments on that post, I’m not alone. Fortunately, C. Margery Kempe, author of the sexy thriller CHASTITY FLAME! Has agreed to do a guest post on Monday, with helpful hints on how to write a sex scene. Don’t miss it!

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Zora Neale Hurston, 10 Top Literary Stunts, Just Do It , The Year of Living Biblically , Kingsolver, Ehrenreich, C. Margery Kempe,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

These are hilarious!

I don't think I'll go too far with my research. Considering I write murder mysteries, that could only get me into trouble.

Mystery Writing is Murder

John said...

I have read "Nickled and Dimed" and I highly recommend it.

I'm working on a novel now that contains a bit of travel, so I find myself trying various ways to envision the towns the characters need to visit - without actually going there. I can't just take off from my job and hop around the towns for myself (which is yet another reason I'm waiting for the day when I can write full-time).

So, the only research I can really do these days is to read about whatever I need to know about. But I'm waiting for the day that I can support myself writing. I feel I'll be able to throw myself into my works even more.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I admire the kind of Yankee ingenuity (not the North/South kind of Yankee, but the American Yankee as in, "the Yanks are coming...") that leads a writer to a clever way to meet a need (or desire) and make money at it. I'll bet the nonfiction projects that require digging up information do the best.

As for research for fiction, it's easy to get lost in the wealth of information we have at our fingertips. One more way to procrastinate. I'm trying hard to research one thing at a time, and only as I need it. Otherwise, I'd never get around to writing.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think Jacobs did his as a stunt.

Now the first one I buy. And I'd certainly be willing to try as well!

L. Diane Wolfe

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I’m conflicted about research. I kinda like to do it, particularly if it involves travel. However, it’s also a time waster, as I get caught up in the details of what I’m reading, or, sidetracked by "sorta" related, but interesting links. Even the in-person kind is tough because I end up looking at everything but the reason I’m there. I especially look for potential fishing spots. No novels in the works about fishing, however. Sigh.

Best regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Helen Ginger said...

Most of those sound like stunts. But they were stunts that paid off. Come up with a crazy idea, pull it off and write a book or go on TV.

Straight From Hel

Marvin D Wilson said...

Too much fun - lol. Hey looking forward to the Monday coaching on writing a good sex scene. My wife says I can't do it. She thinks I'm an excellent writer but no way can I get the romance sexy thing across. Sigh. So I need help! :)

The Old Silly

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I think you're right, Elizabeth, hands-on research on how to commit murders could land an author behind bars!

John, I had not heard of Nickel and Dimed but it does sound interesting. And, isn't it great that we can do so much research now simply by sitting at a computer?

Good point, Patricia, research can be another way to procrastinate.

I bet there are lots of willing "researchers" for that one Diane!

Maybe you should make you next main character, a fishing guide, Galen. I know what you mean about getting side-tracked, though.

"Come up with a crazy idea, pull it off and write a book or go on TV." You make it sound so easy, Helen. Hmmm - if only I could come up with the crazy idea!

Marvin, I thought writing a sex scene would be fun, it turned out to be much harder than I expected so I decided I needed help, too.

Bob Sanchez said...

Hi Jane,
These are great! Those authors have plenty of imagination, and I admire them for it.

Bob Sanchez

Anonymous said...

I loved the Barbara Ehrenreich and Hunter S. Thompson books, and the others sound fascinating as well. In terms of my own mysteries, I've lived the lives I write about - in terms of the mental health and home health care settings, not the murders. So I haven't had to do much research - yet.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso

Stephanie Faris said...

"For one year, Jacobs lived according to each and every rule in the Old Testament."

Okay, all the stuff about sacrificing animals? Did he do that too?

M. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Stephanie, that's an excellent question. Now I might actually have to read the book!

Alexis Grant said...


I love the research part (although, I have to admit, I'm not really doing the kind of research you're referring to here :) That's the main reason why I love nonfiction -- researching, interviews, piecing everything together. It's better than the writing itself!

Anonymous said...

LOL! File this one under People Do The Craziest Things. This could be the beginning of a bew TV realty show.

Stephen Tremp

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world