The easiest advice to give about writing is telling someone they should read the kind of books they want to write, and that’s a very true statement. I’d even add to that you should read books about the kinds of things you want to write about. And that’s exactly what I did when I was researching for Dickinstein.
The first book I read is an easy guess. I re-read Emily’s collected poems. I own about three different editions of her poetry, so I’d read it all before. While I was researching, I bought one of them simply for an introduction that was written by one of her editors back in the day, a personal acquaintance of hers who explains the first time he met Emily. He even makes an appearance in my book.
I use various poems by Emily throughout the book, quoting them and also showing what inspired her to write certain poems. One of her poems also introduces each chapter of my book, and serves somewhat as a metaphor for what that chapter is about.
I had never read Frankenstein before, believe it or not, not even in high school. I have now! It came in quite handy for the science portions I wrote. And yes, I even pay homage to the old black and white Hollywood movie version of Frankenstein, though I have still never seen the movie all the way through.
Based on what I know about the movie just from pop culture, the book is completely different (as is expected). The monster was actually very intellectual and even tells his story in the book. It’s still a great book though. It was very useful and inspirational to me, and now I can say I’ve read it.
Lastly, the historical aspect of Emily’s world was important to me. I wanted to get it right. I needed to see her world through her eyes. I wish I could have taken a trip to Amherst and seen it all in person. Maybe one day, but for now I bought a copy of The Dickinsons of Amherst, a coffee table book filled with pictures from Emily’s home.
I changed very little between what I describe in the book about Homestead and what it looks like in real life based on the pictures. If you have any interest in Emily, I highly recommend this beautiful book. It’s worth it for the pictures alone and was very useful to me. I still find myself looking through it at times just to revisit Emily’s world again and again.
And the rest was a lot of researching and note taking online, checking my sources again and again to make sure what I was finding was accurate. But more about that later.
Yep, it was just these few books that were my physical references when it came to writing this book. And I think they were perfect. Yeah, maybe I got lucky because I was able to find the information I needed quickly. That doesn’t always happen. I could have taken years to do the research. But thankfully, I found the tools I needed quickly and they were all very inspiring.
In my next post, I’ll talk some about using the internet to do research.