Two comments from noted American writers frame my motivation and my method. The first belongs to Flannery O’Connor: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” The second springs from E. L. Doctorow: “The historian will tell you what happened; the novelist will tell you what it felt like.”
Each of my four published novels (Thirst, Plagued, award-winner Orla’s Canvas, and my newly released Painting Mercy), explores questions I ask myself before beginning research and composition. For Thirst, set in 17th-century Venice, I wondered, “What is the relationship between an individual’s desires and the Venetian Republic’s demands?” With Plagued, I asked, “How might it have felt to be young historical Michael of Rhodes joining and rising within the majestic and corrupt 15th-century Venetian fleet?” Orla’s Canvas evolved from the question, “How might a coming-of-age story conflate both personal and national identities during the Civil Rights Movement in Louisiana?” And, now, in Painting Mercy, I wonder, “How does a painter protagonist adjust to life-changing fallout from the Vietnam War as well as an unexpected revelation about her intended’s sexual identity?”
After I clarify my questions, I begin research. read voraciously, view as many pertinent films/talks available, and, whenever financially possible, visit the locations that serve as each novel’s settings. Researching in Venice, Fiesole, New Orleans, and the Louisiana bayou, for example, for extended periods of time affords me the opportunity to include the sensory elements of place in plot and character development. Immersing myself in settings helps me know how each protagonist “feels” in the physical environment. Coupling interior monologues (where I figure out what I think) with physical setting and action (the domains of plot) offers a template for the conflicts that comprise potentially engaging stories.