The Miracle Girl
Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Andrew Roe writes about The Miracle Girl from Algonquin Books.
OK, I’m going to start with a confession: I’m not a big research guy. That’s not to say I don’t do research (because I do), and I certainly did a fair amount for The Miracle Girl. In fact, now that I’m sitting down to write/think about it, it was actually more than I realize: articles on the millennium, akinetic mutism, and traumatic brain injury, to name just a few subjects; several books, including Michael Shermer’s How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God and Joe Nickell’s Looking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions, and Healing Cures; plus untold hours of Internet sleuthing to investigate everything from Doubting Thomas and Cessna planes to L.A. rock radio in the 1980s and the proper spelling for 7Up. I learned about the famous “Miracle of Saint-Marthe” hoax in Canada (a railroad worker engineered a fake bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary, using a concoction of his own blood and pork and beef fat), and that there was a thriving market for religious relics during the Middle Ages and the Crusades, including such sought-after collectibles as the splinters from the cross Jesus was crucified on, vials of Mary’s breast milk, and the bones of Thomas Aquinas. Not long ago, I was paging through the book looking for a specific passage and came across this quote from Saint Augustine: “Miracles do not happen in contradiction to nature, but only in contradiction to that which is known to us of nature.” Nice quote, I thought, not remembering where, when, or how I’d stumbled upon it, yet there it was — it had somehow found its way into the book and I was glad. All these things I’ve mentioned somehow found their way in, bits and pieces, details and texture, over the years as I worked on the book (there was, of course, plenty of information that didn’t get included). But I don’t carve out large blocks of time for research, and there’s no pre-writing period of immersion in a given subject matter or area. Instead it happens organically (or, one might argue, haphazardly). It’s part of the overall writing process for me, done on an as-you-go/as-needed basis. I really like this quote from Stewart O’Nan, from when he was asked about researching F. Scott Fitzgerald for his recently published novel West of Sunse_t: “I took notes on all that, and then put the notes away and tried to think about the material in a creative way and then write from memory and imagination.” That was pretty much my approach for _The Miracle Girl too. Taking notes. Not taking notes. Reading. Exploring. Following fruitful paths as well as encountering dead-ends and material that ultimately wasn’t pertinent or usable. But not letting any of that dictate or get in the way of the story I was trying to tell. So, as you can see, I don’t have an established, rigorous method. And I do, at times, feel guilty and a little weird about this. Am I doing it wrong? It’s a question the writer will often ask him/herself, not just about research but about many things. I admire those hard-core researchers, how they can commit and immerse themselves and bring certain facts and history and knowledge to light on the page. And who knows — maybe I’ll handle research differently at some point. After all, each book is different. You have to listen to its own unique demands.