The internet is a fantastic tool for writers; I can find a lot of what I need to know for my research without leaving my house. Out-of-print books that would otherwise be a challenge to locate are available digitally through university libraries. Plus government databases and historical websites provide a wealth of historical detail.
But no matter how much information is on the internet, it doesn’t contain complete research in every subject. Primary sources like journals, letters, and court documents might only exist in libraries or universities. I’ve also found that picking up a book written by a knowledgeable historian saves me time. They’ve complied years worth of research into a few hundred pages. I’d be crazy not to start there and branch out using their bibliography.
Last night I started my research into radium poisoning and the Radium Girls of New Jersey. I received Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935 by Claudia Clark a few years ago, but I never sat down to read it. Normally, I’ll pick a novel over a history book. The boring, thick history books I read in college stick out more than the enjoyable ones. But picking up Radium Girls rekindled the spark of excitement I felt in college whenever I dove into research.
I armed myself with a clipboard full of paper, a highlighter, and a pen when I cracked open the book. Even after half an hour of reading, there are already dozens of yellow streaks on the pages. And I only just finished the introduction.
Looking at a historian’s thesis and research also opens my eyes to different things I could include into my novel to give the story additional depth. For example, the corporations that used radium would deny that radium negatively impacted their workers health. Instead they would promote all the health benefits of radium. I never thought of including a detail like that in my story. It would make the corporations more realistic. No Board of Directors would want information getting out to the general public that their product could be dangerous. I love that plot element.
Since I’ve only finished the introduction, I’m positive that I’ll discover more details that should be included in my novel. The roles of doctors and the government, the actions of impacted workers, and the way that the population viewed the situation: that information will come. I’m very excited to see where this research will lead me and what it will add to my novel.
Has research led your novel in an unexpected direction?