Saturday, June 20, 2009


What is so funny for a novelist is that we have to do research, even though our greatest pleasure is making things up, creating worlds, and flying by the seat of our pants. I spent a lot of time researching open adoption for Girls in Trouble (the results didn't always please the adoption agencies, though the birth mothers made me their heroine.) In Breathe, I had little things to research. what exactly do you see on a sonogram at 16 weeks? What happens if someone dies out of state? I found a great cop to talk to (thank you, Clea!) and I had help from friends (thank you, Leora!) but when I needed to find out things about funeral homes, it got a little tricky.

I was able to talk to a great person in NY, who then told me how radically laws can differ state to state. So I put out the word to people I knew on Facebook (and got one terrific funeral director) and called two places in Mass, where I need the funeral home to be. One of them was coldly silent and said no one could talk to me. The other said, yes, ask away, and when I did, a question about autopsy, there was that funny cold silence again, and he said, "I don't feel at all comfortable discussing this with you over the phone, goodbye." And he hung up on me! Just like that!

Lucky for me, I was able to find what I needed online and from the funeral director.

The thing I do love about research is entering someone else's world. After my 1950s novel, I am writing one around coma and I already found my neurologist to talk to and have pages of notes. Still, I wish that "the more you know, the less you realize you know" would not be such a common thing in my world.


Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

my pleasure, Caroline.

You know what I think sometimes is that there a two charged and censored subject matters, especially in America--one is sex (which we obviously know is a big repressed area) but the other is death. It's one of those very censored and loaded subjects that one realizes is shut out from consciousness and public consciousness. There's a lot about the drama of crime, death as entertainment and artifice in fiction, but actual death is the place too frightening for most to go.

Bravo on you for taking on the dark realms. I wish we had more writers like you, Caroline. I'm so sick of death being a thriller, or media sound bite.

io saturnalia! said...

If you still need a funeral director, I might have a good contact for you. He and I have a pretty cordial relationship (I often have to make a last-minute change in obits for him in my role as night editor of a daily newspaper).

Let me know if I can help.

Caroline Leavitt said...

Hi Jo, I cobbled what I needed together, but thank you for the offer!

Clea Simon said...

That's so true about research! I just finished a project w/ a sympathetic pit bull. I was worried that nobody would like a pitbull, but then I found the head of a shelter who adores them and actually couldn't stop telling me what fine, loyal dogs they are. I'm not a dog person at all, so I basically just adopted his enthusiasm wholeheartedly for my character! And I learned so much!