All The Light We Can Research

In the back of his blockbuster novel, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr provides an extensive acknowledgment list. It is not uncommon, of course, for authors to publicly thank those who provided support, but in the novel world it is an element seldom carried out to this extent. Anyone reading the book wonders how, for example, the author became so familiar with radio electronics, and with the intimacies of those caught in the last days of the crossfire of World War II. The acknowledgments show how. Moreover they remind those who write of what it takes to produce a blockbuster. On rare occasions, a book like the nonfiction Tuesdays With Morrie, thin and wobbly but emotionally contagious, becomes iconic. But more often it takes much more work on the part of the author than he or she would imagine at the start. This is, of course, daunting news for those who think that top-of-the-head work will yield a best-seller. The good news is that total immersion is one of the rewards of writing. At some point the writer, having done the extensive homework, becomes the master of the subject, as Doerr became the master of his in a book that offers new light on a well-explored period of history.

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5 responses to “All The Light We Can Research”

  1. Carmen Fernández English says:

    Dear Lary,
    You may remember that almost three years ago I started to work on an historic-ish novel set in 16th Century Antwerp.
    (Reminder to myself: no one but me picked the time, the place, the characters or the ever-changing story-line.)
    I just dove in. Little did I know how little I knew about the time period… Long story short, I can now spell GOOGLE up-side down, with my toes.
    My research has been the the most unnerving, infuriating, exasperating, and rewarding time of my life, and has allowed me to bond with my leading character in a way I could not have imagined when I started. She has become more difficult to write, and sometimes I want to send her off on a little pilgrimage so I could have some peace and quiet… This morning I woke up wondering if enough was perhaps enough and should I just throw my rough draft in the fire.
    Three things to be grateful for. One. I write on my MacBook which one simply does not throw in the fire. Two. But just in case one might, weather not conducive to building a fire. Three. Your post arrived, Lary, reminding me how much I have enjoyed my “total immersion”, and that it is the only way to write anything at all. You and Suzanne’s Memoir Class inspires me still to close my eyes and write from deep inside. Thank you, again.
    Now please write about daring to be done. Really. Please.

    • Carmen Fernández English says:

      PS–just in case… by “daring to be done” I was referring to writers like me who could go on with their research until Doomsday. I should be much more careful when I joke in B&W. I so hope I didn’t offend you.

  2. linda reid says:

    Hi Lary
    I’m reading it ! But I keep falling asleep. Maybe what I’m really doing is immersing myself in it in the darkness of all the light we can only see when we are sleeping?
    Silly. sorry. Miss you.

    • larybloom says:

      It’s a good sleeping book. Your mind tries to picture the details in the lives of Werner and Marie-Laure, and that takes energy. One of the remarkable things about this book is that the chapters are so short you can finish one even as you doze off.
      Miss you too. Keep reading and writing.

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