I was thick in the middle of writing Sons of Steel, when I took a trip. Scheduled to be a family trip with our youngest daughter (the only one still at home at the time) we booked a cruise on Carnival and envisioned a couple weeks of rest as we drifted away to parts of Mexico for some sunshine and fun. During that same time, I was also thick in the middle of MFA school at the University of Alaska Anchorage. I was in the middle of year two (it's a three year program) and considering my strategy for year three.
Back then, I was afraid of things like research.
And my professors clearly weren't. In the evening hours of the summer residencies, after we were full from the nice meals, we students headed over to one of the campus buildings where our instructors and mentors read for us. They talked about their writing lives and shared slides of their adventurous research trips. And the whole time, I was certain I was wasting away our family income for an education that would result in very little return on investment...because there was no way I had the guts to explore like that.
So, I did what I tend to do when I'm faced with failure. I decided it would be my goal (before year three) to do some real research. After all, those professors kept saying things like "all they [potential interviewees] can say is no" and "most people want to be included in the creative process." Mind you, not that I felt much like a writer or believed I really had a "creative process." More often than not, I've got a serious case of impostor syndrome, which, I guess in some ways does make me a real writer.
My plan was to develop and execute a research plan.
The development portion of this was easy. I made a list. I added bullet points to my list. I devised several lists of questions to ask my interviewees. I wrote and edited and poured over my research plan. Because that part was easy.
Part two was also easy. I spent time online googling and searching for the people I wanted to talk to. I had it narrowed down to three basics.
Someone related to the steel industry
Someone related to the specific location (Gary, Indiana to be exact) in a school setting
Someone in the baking industry
Let me take a minute to let you know right now, there is room for error in the world of research. Or more accurately, there was error in MY world of research.
The steel industry piece was surprisingly easy. I located a union in the Hammond, Indiana area, and fired off an email. This started an ongoing exchange for which I'll ever be humbled and grateful. More on that in a future post.
Location/school setting--this too, should have been easy. Or at least easy enough to get accurate. I located a high school in the Hammond, Indiana area and sent an email to the principal. A follow up email was later necessary because, silly me, had made my original attempt during summer vacation. Oops. (Mistake #1) Once we connected, though, we began a friendly conversation via email. It wasn't until much later--two days before I arrived at the school, to be exact--when I learned about mistake #2.
Part of the draw for this collection of short stories was the connection to my history. Lee Buttrone, the main character in "Blind Guy in a Bar," is a character loosely based on my late uncle. Also close to my heart (and history) was the location. I was born in "The Region" and spent many summers there as a child. My memories of the area aren't always good ones and for most of my life, I felt a certain level of shame in telling people where my roots begin.
That being said, Sons of Steel was, in large part, a road toward healing.
Anyway, Jack-Jack and his brothers, were kids when their father relocated them to Gary, and they had to go to school. What better place to send them, then the high school my parents went to, right?
Except, I learned the day before going there, that I'd not only chosen the wrong school but I'd told the principal that one driving force for selecting her school was that it was my parents' Alma mater...
Thankfully, the principal of Calumet New Tech High School was nothing but generous with her time, resources, and in brushing off my major boo boo. NOTE: My bigger mistake is that I have yet to send a few copies of Sons of Steel to the Ms. Trevino, staff, and students who were gracious enough to let me and my daughter spend time with them and ask a million questions while we were there. If you're one of those kind souls and you're reading this, please know I haven't forgotten about you. It's a simple matter of life getting in the way and I will work to resolve this ASAP.
Finally, the baker. My first attempt was an epic fail that nearly had me in tears. I'd reached out via email to a local bakery near somewhere in Florida. I followed up with a phone call. And never heard back from anyone. I was bummed out.
Didn't everyone want to talk to me about their specialty?
Didn't everyone want to be acknowledged in my book?
After I had a quick pity party, I decided to try again using Facebook. Have you ever searched for a page on FB and ended up with some random, obscure page that leaves a lot to be desired but somehow manages to have a phone number? Yeah, it was weird. So weird, I decided to start by making a phone call. Lo and behold, someone answered.
A kind soul, Mrs. Johnson not only agreed to let me interview her, but we became fast friends afterward. We've since visited one another several times, taken a trip together, and she's become like family to us.
Life's funny like that. One minute you're petrified of research and the next minute you're neck deep in interviews. One minute you and another person are strangers and the next minute you're close friends. One minute you have an idea for a book and the next minute you're a writer (with an embedded fear that you're a faker!).
And one minute you're promising to keep in touch with Ms. Trevino and four years later you realize you better get to it. >>dashes off to hand write a letter and mail some books<<
How do you face your fears? Do you often experience impostor syndrome? Personally, I think this syndrome affects people no matter what their role. --Parents, teachers, lawyers, titans of industry...aren't we all a little bit afraid that one day someone will come along and find out we're just out there faking it to make it?