I heard somewhere that whenever you write a book, people will ask you One Question about it over and over. And while I'm no expert in these matters, this is proving to be true. My first book
dealt with a not-that-pleasant degenerate-type, and the One Question was, "Is this an autobiographical story?" The new book
takes place in 1851, and so the One Question is, "How much research did you do?" The answer: Not very much. This doesn't fully please the Asker, and so there's an inevitable Follow Up: "Why not?" The second question is trickier to answer than the first; or rather, there's more than one answer, and, yes, laziness is in there somewhere. But mainly I felt it best not to do research because, as everyone knows, if there's one thing a writer must
do when writing historical fiction it's steep himself in fact and minutia, and my thought was that by forgoing this mandatory preparatory step I would have to rely on the intangible and so be forced to write a different kind of historical novel, which isn't to say a superior one — just different. I don't know if I accomplished this, but here was the motivation.
Now I'm writing another book, a book that touches on subjects I know literally nothing about — tenement living, sleight of hand magicians, Wall Street, federal indictment, European expatriation, senior singles cruises, etc. Only this time around I am subverting my prior subversion and will do a ridiculous amount of research. I've hit the books like a fifth grade suck-up; I've taken a research trip to New York City; I've landed a residency in Paris that will transplant my family and me overseas for several months. I'm involved, is what I'm saying. But why am I going back on my "no research" plan? Because — and this is what I'm getting at, and I apologize for meandering — I have an idea! And the idea is this: It's important to upset one's work habits, to topple the cart for each project. If I were to continue to work in an established mode, it stands to reason the work would be limited by this — that it would never surpass the prior work in quality. By starting from scratch every time I'll be challenged in ways I wouldn't have been otherwise, and I'm banking on this being beneficial to the overall output.
Re-reading the above, I'm reminded of the saying, "Everything in moderation, including moderation." If you're ever asked to give a speech at a dinner party, try this. In some mysterious way, it brings a roomful of people closer.