One of my favorite things about the writing process is the research. I never write something that doesn’t force me down some hole I haven’t been before.
APRIL IN PARIS required not only thorough researching of the Belle Époque (not to mention a complete vetting of Gilded Age prostitutes) but the modern day protagonist works as a furniture expert for an auction house; certainly not something I’ve ever done. They say “write what you know” but I think “write what you want to know.” What I know would make for a fairly boring read. Though you will usually find at least one minor character who works in finance and/or is from San Diego.
The problem (and beauty!) with research is it never ends. You will always find something else to read. Any writer can tell you of moments of crippling inertia, the inability to even open the damned word document. Once I’m in a document, the words always come. But sometimes clicking “open” is the hardest part. Research is a great way to convince yourself there is no inertia. But I have to look up one more article about les grisettes! It’s part of the process! It is, of course, until it isn’t.
One gem I came across in my research was the book How Paris Amuses Itself by F. Berkeley Smith. Written in 1903 its cover copy promises: “Racy sketches of the innermost life and characters of the famous Bohemia of Paris–its grisettes, students, models, balls, studios, cafes, etc.”
So casual the turn of the century cover copy. “Etc.” indeed.
The book is largely conjecture, one man’s opinion. To wit: “scores of gaudy women…whose claws have been known to have been smeared with the blood of the helpless.” Not to put too fine a point on it. Dude’s a little catty given how much time he spent in dance halls and cabarets. Of course he was merely “researching” his book.
In the end, “How Paris Amuses Itself” wasn’t research in the traditional sense but did help give a feel for the era and where my characters fit in, “smeared with the blood of the helpless” and all.
A passage from the book:
“Fortunately in France the woman who has become suddenly notorious through her divorce or the latest scandal is not snapped up by the theatrical managers as a star before the ink is dry on the Sunday papers detailing her disgrace. In Paris there are music hall revues to receive these meteors when they fall and where they may parade their beauty and their clothes, or their lack of them, with the rest of the demi-mondaine.”