Research Notes · 04/24/2015

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.

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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.

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Andrew Roe is the author of The Miracle Girl, which was recently published by Algonquin Books. His fiction has been published in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, The Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Oceanside, California, with his wife and three children. His website is http://andrewroeauthor.com/ and you can find him on Twitter @_AndrewRoe.