craft, the, research

Mining the Everywhere

Writing is hard. It’s even more difficult when I have to make the historian in me go sit in the corner by themselves. They’re mumbling away: ‘”That isn’t right. You can’t change that. It isn’t true.” My writer self says: “Shut up! It’s fiction, damn it!”

The character in my current WIP has ended up in Sioux City, Iowa. What I knew about the place is minuscule. The few tidbits of history I’d gleaned from my father and husband who both attended college there decades ago. So, I bought a couple of books and inner library loaned several more to immerse myself in the city’s history.

This is what drives the historian in me bat s&%t crazy. I want to find a source–something that goes into in a depth analysis about Sioux City during Prohibition. I can’t find squat print wise. The closest thing I can find is a Master’s Thesis from a South Dakota university on law enforcement during the 1930s and a book about South Dakota during prohibition (Sioux City is rare in that it sits very close to two other states). There are a few things scattered on the internet. The myth of Sioux City being the ‘Little Chicago’ is debunked here. So, I attempt to go to Newspapers.com to see if I can find anything in nearby newspapers.

Grrr….fragments in the newspapers too. But a few things happened at once that helped me get through my current scene.

Cheesy action flicks. I like to have noise in the background, especially things I’ve seen so I won’t get sucked into something new. Commando (1985). It wasn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beef cake one-liner’s that intrigued me. It was David Patrick Kelly’s character Sully. The small, vicious little guy that was always waiting for the right moment to strike only to get squashed at the end. Kelly creates another intense character, Charlie, in John Wick (2014). He makes Charlie memorable with both his wicked humor and the irony of his profession, waste management. Could I create a character with the same sharp characteristics and make him as interesting as Kelly does with both of these characters (likable feels like the wrong word here)?

That one story. Cheryl Mullenbach’s violent summary of the crime committed by Ira Pavey. A local bootlegger who ended his competition by way of a bullet to the back of their head (I had to confirm the story against the newspapers of the time and it checked out).

David Patrick Kelly and the bootlegger Ira Pavey…I needed to blend these two ideas into one. There had to be an intense and funny guy in this scene. Having him would: 1) Increase tension – feuding bootleggers and my main character is caught in the middle 2) Show the steal of my character by showing the mechanisms she uses to hide her fear and disgust of his profession.

Secondary characters are there to enhance the main character. If you (or I) have done it right, these lower tiered characters can be memorable, too.

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