Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan write about their collaborative collection Rift from Unknown Press.
My “research” for the stories in Rift was mostly in the form of Googling odd things I was curious about or watching YouTube videos. I am not very scholarly. I’m incredibly drawn to and inspired by the treasure trove of bizarre that is the world wide web. So here’s the background on a few of the stories I wrote for Rift:
“A Room with Many Small Beds”
I thought of the times when I was young and I’d get a little spacey and float out of my body and watch myself. Usually at school. I was a strange kid. I’d written about this before, in an old story called, “How Elm Trees Die.” I wanted to write about it some more, in a new context. I wanted to write a segmented story using dream imagery as well.
Googled: out of body experiences, weird children, The Five Glorious Mysteries
“A Botched Affair”
I watched the Zapruder film of JFK assassination on YouTube one night after too much wine. Scanned brother’s Twitter timeline. The one who teaches “Hippie History” to high school students and tweets abut the JFK assassination. Read: “A 21 year old was put in charge of removing Kennedy’s brain.” Ok. I was definitely using that.
Another late night watching YouTubes. Found a documentary about a guy who cheated at the game show Press Your Luck in the 80s. Fascinated. Began the story there and let it fly. I ended up bookending the story with a fictionalized version of the cheater.
“There is No Albuquerque”
Working from a photo prompt of a vintage freak show advertisement, I remembered I’d written something years before into a notebook in a Panera Bread while my kids were at the movies nearby. Something about a woman with horns. Like so many things I scribble in notebooks, I’d abandoned it. Thought maybe I could make something of it. Searched old notebooks. Flipped through all the pages. Finally found it in a blue notebook from 2011. Sat out on the deck one July night with my laptop. Messed with the thing until well after midnight. The final draft is much more tender than the original version which surprised me in a good way.
Googled: animal horns, animal tusks, humans with horns, freaks, freak shows, molting
My “research notes” are life stories, they are not deep texts, or notes from studying the Bible late at night, or even irreverence from photos out of some old Encyclopedia, although that sounds fun. Mostly it was late nights, taking a new prompt from our foursome included in the Night Owl Café, and placing bubbles all around the prompt with possibilities. Then firing away on blank pages the following caffeinated morning.
I also selected four to give a closer example of process:
I wrote this story shortly after a big transition, moving from New York City to Los Angeles. Those darkly lit hell-holes did certainly exist — The Formosa Lounge (mentioned in “Night Life”), or Cat & Fiddle. I was writing my first play, Boink, which premiered in San Francisco (1988) and was smitten by Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big Cities, which I’d named my two cactus houseplants. Within three months of living in East Hollywood, I’d already grown that East Coast — West Coast division in my heart, and my pen. In various newer drafts I kept some snark (toned it down) and added more sensory details.
“When He Left It All To Me”
Originally published as a poem. I think the constructs of prose and poetry are slippery, and used more by bookstores. I decided I liked the idea of this enough to sort it out as a story. The rest of this was based in half-truths from my life — there was a quick exit, and the surprising donation of a blue coat (stay open when your heart is breaking!) Even the nod to Eva Cassidy and “Fields of Gold” are somewhat close to what happened. He’d given me a mix-tape, too. So, the construct, all of the material needed is there. Feedback: who is Eva Cassidy? What if I don’t know her? And I’d say — look her up. Then Listen.
“The Literary Savant”
There are some pieces that are more fun, and some easier to write than others. For me, they tend to be the most bizarre. It’s as if once I throw that switch open, my mind just goes anywhere! This story started with my friend Joel, having tea on my patio one July day, and complaining about the latest dating scene, out of the blue, saying “I would date a dog!” And, I said, “Really? What kind?” The entire piece pounced out of me that very day. How could it not? It was more fun to not know how to wrap this up than just staying in every word, each line just getting more and more obtuse. It also plays with disconnections, the way people truly talk with one another.
“The Guy in This Sky”
A mixture of many elements went into this one — some subtle gay references and also the back story hints — a dark shared history — one runs, the narrator hides. So, I attempt to shade with humor, because when you deal with “heavy hitting” material, that black humor quotient helps. There is also a palpable sadness, with the imagery at the end. What is this character longing for? Love? Passion? To be “real” with who we are? Well, aren’t we all, even a little?