Falling For Research
Posted on October 28, 2012
In an earlier post about research, I talked about the necessity of research and how it can enhance our writing. This weekend, I’ve been able to research the small town in Virginia from which I’m basing the setting of my current work-in-progress. I’ve found that telling people that I’m a writer and researching the town helps open a lot of doors or gives me even more information than I thought I would find.
A trip to the Visitor’s Center gave me much more than just a bunch of flyers. I also got some photocopied newspaper articles about the old insane asylum that was the focus of my research for the weekend. It’s now been taken over by a development company who rehabbed a couple of the buildings and are selling them as condos. We drove on the property, which has several beautiful acres. The whole set up had been built in the 1820’s with the idea that aesthetics and working on a farm would help cure the patients. The land was so beautiful that they had to build a fence around it not to keep the patients from getting out but to keep the townspeople from coming in.
What started out as a simple trip that allowed me to research a few things has made me fall in love with not only the town but in doing the research itself. We writers have the great opportunity to view the world in our own way and then represent it back to the world through our words.
There were signs posted everywhere not to trespass. This was disheartening because all of the locals we talked to said it would be fine to walk around the grounds and take pictures. But the truth is that peeking into some of the abandoned buildings, I’m not sure I would want to walk around anyway without a respirator mask on (due to lots of asbestos).
The one part I really wanted to get to was the graveyard. I’d found pictures online, and we saw it up the hill from all the main buildings, but I really wanted to go take pictures. We debated going into the office of the developers to ask permission, but in the end we – ummm – took it upon ourselves to go exploring (as quickly as possible and with a black hoodie on).
Going to the graveyard had the most impact on me. Rows upon rows of unmarked graves of over 100 years of patients. We look back on it with contemporary eyes and say how awful. But the markers used to have numbers painted on them for identification. No names were given except one or two personalized headstones because of the stigma placed on the families of the patients. But who has the records of where each of the individuals were buried since no names mark their spots?
The trip of discovery fueled my creative juices and touched me in a way I can’t explain yet. The whole town is only an inspiration for the town of my WIP, so I knew everything would be derivative. But there’s a part of me that wants to give these unnamed beings a voice – I’m just not sure in what way that will manifest in the future. The best news is that our innkeeper may be able to give me contact that could get me onto the grounds and into the buildings if I were to come back. Let me just say that I plan to come back!
What started out as a simple trip that allowed me to research a few things has made me fall in love with not only the town but in doing the research itself. We writers have the great opportunity to view the world in our own way and then represent it back to the world through our words. It’s a great job to have, and one that makes me want to do more in order to make my own writing richer.