Research Notes · 10/02/2020

Sybelia Drive

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Karin Cecile Davidson writes about Sybelia Drive from Braddock Avenue Books.

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Five things I didn’t expect to research for Sybelia Drive

The blueprint of a 1960s one-story contemporary home, perfect for a modest-sized family. Design C-2201. 1811 Sq. Ft. / 32,708 Cu. Ft. L-shaped with interesting glass areas and contrasting materials. Fine zoning. Pleasurable living patterns. Sloping, beamed ceilings. A homemaker’s kitchen. Create a character that, by trade, is a carpenter and builds this house for his family. Eventually, the rooms ring with their laughter, their yelling, the TV blaring Merrie Melodies, the scent of bacon and eggs drifting through the rooms, sunbeams flashing through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The anatomy of a canoe. Sure, there’s the bow, stern, the seats and the paddles. But then there are the forgotten fragments: the keel line, the center yoke, the gunwale, the painter for tying up. There are the kinds of strokes — sweep stroke, J stroke — that a one-armed man paddling solo needs to make. There is a steady breeze that can drive a canoe sideways or the lack of wind that can ease a crossing. But the most unexpected element is the woman progressing across the lake in a strong breaststroke, her white bathing cap glowing in the moonlight, her hand suddenly on the gunwale, her fingernails dark with polish, and her laugh quick and breathless.

USMC CAP Marines. History books, memoirs, novels, military maps, websites, newspaper archives. Well, yes. If one’s going to write about a small southern town heavily affected by the Vietnam War, then military rankings and divisions will come into play. Inside the investigating and the reading, the Combined Action Patrol division of the United States Marine Corps comes forward and chooses a central character. Make him — no, not a Lieutenant — an enlisted man. A Sergeant. Give him a squad of men, a ville to patrol, make this part of the story short and contained, keep it in the background. After all, the focus is not the front line, it’s the home front. Send an email to the head of an online group of USMC CAP veterans, who shares your email with the hundred group members. Soon after, everyone is talking, recalling, pointing out the correct TAOR for that village, which divisions and squads might have been there between 1967 and 1970. Realize there’s a lot more to learn.

Vietnam War vocabulary. Become best friends with this thick glossary. Yes, there’s an entire book of acronyms and words specific to this war. Read through the alphabetical lists with wide eyes and realize which characters will own these words. In country: Vietnam. The world: the United States. DMZ: Demilitarized Zone. APO: assigned postal ordinance. MOS: Military Operation Specialty. SOP: Standard Operating Procedure. TAOR: Tactical Area of Responsibility. KIA: Killed in Action. MIA: Missing in Action. Listening post. Short timer. Huey. Tracer. Flak jacket. M-16s. Bandoliers. Landing zone. Klicks. Calling cards. Cowboys.

West Palm Beach nightclubs of the 1950s, 60s, 70s. The ones the JFK and Jackie frequented, the ones where Sinatra performed, the ones themed as Polynesian paradises. Ta-boó, The Poinciana Club, the Royal Palms. Mai-tais with the perfect little orange umbrella, Martinis straight up with a twist. Cha Cha, Swing, the Bop. Big Band sounds echo Ellington and the rhythmic babaloo of Ricky Ricardo. Business deals are exchanged at the bar, politics at six-top tables, and partners on the dance floor.

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Originally from the Gulf Coast, Karin Cecile Davidson is the author of the novel Sybelia Drive (Braddock Avenue Books, October 2020). Her stories have recently appeared in Five Points and Story. Her latest award was a Fine Arts Work Center Summer Residency. She is an Interviews Editor for Newfound Journal.