Just finished my next book! I’ve been working on this baby for more than a year, and that doesn’t count the months before I started the actual writing, when I focused on research. This book – no title yet – demanded a lot of research. I had to learn about the tools a carpenter would keep in her truck, the type of projects she would do, which ones she would like and which ones not, what her hands would look like at the end of the day. I had to learn about an architect’s road to licensure, what her office would look like, and how she might approach a project. I had to learn how a locally-produced, home-renovation tv show might be taped, the prep work that would go into it, and the people who would be on the set. I’m clearly summarizing it for you, but you get my drift.
So when I recently picked up a book that had been widely and positively reviewed, I was drawn to it for the way in which the author did her research. The book, which is non-fiction, is The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills, and its focus is on the life of the very, very elusive Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird. Ms. Lee never wrote another book after this one, and, increasingly and insistently, shunned the public eye. How, then, did Marja Mills come to befriend Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, to the extent that she ended up renting the house next door (at Harper Lee’s suggestion, no less) for a time?
This was what fascinated me. Oh yes, I was interested in learning about Harper Lee, her town, her friends, and the South, all of which I did. But what most intrigued me, still does, about the book is the quiet, gentle, insightful way the author won the hearts of these women. There was nothing nefarious about it, nothing stealthy. From the start, she was blunt about why she had come to town, but she wasn’t frenetic about it. Afflicted with lupus herself, her lifestyle was, of necessity, more quiet and measured than some. Beyond that, she genuinely enjoyed the sisters and their environs, and respected their needs to a fault.
I think back to the research I’ve done, not only on this latest book but on so many others before it. Granted, I never made a source the subject of my book, but simply wanted information about a particular field. Some of my sources were standoffish. Men, especially, were wary. I have a feeling they weren’t sure how what they said would be used in a family-drama-with-love-story-and-sex book. Women were usually warmer. Several became friends and remain so to this day. In all these instances, I have utmost respect for my source and his or her work. I never pay sources, other than to name them in my Acknowledgment page and, when the book is published, send them a signed hardcover copy. Some send me thank you notes in return; others do not. I like to think that those who read the actual book felt good about their part in it.
So. Where is my book right now? It’s in the hands of my editor, who loved it, to my relief, and will now “mark it up” with small edits. She wants me to add three brief scenes, which I’ll do at the same time that I incorporate her edits into the manuscript. And that title we don’t have? It’s coming. I’ll let you know as soon as we zero in on the one.
In the meantime, I do recommend The Mockingbird Next Door. Do you ever read non-fiction? If so, are there any books you want to recommend?