Research Notes · 11/16/2012

The Alligators of Abraham

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Robert Kloss writes about The Alligators of Abraham (Mud Luscious Press).

+

The Alligators of Abraham was born from equal parts imagination, personal history, and research. This was not a harmonious birth. There was open warfare throughout, as one faction gained control over the other, and as other factions plotted and schemed and dreamed of murdering the other two.

The novel began as imagination, pure imagination, as dream. It began with a man living inside an enormous alligator, the family he forces to live with him, to protect them, to hold forever. The family that dies. The family he then, in my mind, stuffed or embalmed, floated in enormous tubes of liquor.

And so I researched the history of embalming, and so intruded historical fact. The idea write about the Civil War came from a book called Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? In this book a president is said to have twice exhumed his dead son and this is what I now wished to write about.

A kind of fever is created when historical fact and historical persons intrude into a world of imagination. And the question becomes then, how to strengthen the historical world that is being shaped and crafted without alleviating the fever? How to carefully nurture the fever without hopelessly twisting the history into madness?

And how to place a thousand, thousand alligators into a novel about the civil war without creating a kind of bathos?

As I researched, the history, the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant and WT Sherman and the tycoons of the Gilded Age and Henry Ford and the Arctic expeditions, began to strangle me, to choke me with nostalgia and romanticism until I wanted no more to create imaginary worlds. Now I longed to make men and women and worlds long vanished rise from the vapors. I wanted only to recreate lost passages in time.

But I am no historian and the flesh that became the flesh of my historical characters was drawn from the stuff of the life I have lived and the lives I have witnessed. And the men and women that I created from history blended into those I began from imagination. And the cities that had once thrived as historical fact were now transformed into those that had thrived with alligators.

The Alligators of Abraham was my first extended foray into research-based fiction. And it was not my last. Now, two full novels in, it seems to me that too much research necessarily limits the imagination. Perhaps this is for the best. Perhaps too much imagination, too many alligators, will murder a good book. But now, going forward, I want to leave behind the research, and see how far my mind can dream. I have some ideas already burning.

+++

Robert Kloss is the author of a novella (How the Days of Love & Diphtheria) published by MLP Nephew and a novel (The Alligators of Abraham) published by Mud Luscious Press in November 2012 and his short fiction has been published in Caketrain, The Collagist, Crazyhorse, Gargoyle, Unsaid, among others.