One week from today, Adeline and I are going on a journey back in time. Back into the history of my family and the history of our country. We’re traveling down to Tupelo, Mississippi to do research for my novel and I am so.freaking.excited.
The novel takes place in Mississippi during the Great Depression and is inspired by my Grandmother’s life. It will deal with themes of poverty and racism, in addition to the more timeless themes of family, love, and loss.
I’m going down to Mississippi because I feel that I need to be there and see it before I can really write about it. I need to breathe the air, feel the dirt under my feet, see the way the clouds travel across the sky. I need to smell the plants, touch a fence-post, listen to the ambient noises. More specifically, these are some of my goals for the trip:
1. Go to the farm. The farm where my grandmother grew up is still in our family. I plan to go there (I haven’t been since I was just a little older than Addie is now). I want to take a lot of photos and get a general feel for the layout. I want to see what kinds of plants grow there and whether the land is flat, or if there are slight hills and gulleys. I want to get a sense of how big it really is. I want to sit for a moment and just be there. Of course, I’ll have Adeline along, so that might be a hopeless dream…
2. Drive through the countryside. I want to drive into more rural areas and see what they look like. A friend from Mississippi described it as a place where “time stands still, while people are rushing toward the future at the same time”. I want to get to a place where time is standing still. I want to see what poverty in Mississippi looks like.
3. Meet some Mississippians. I want to talk to people. I want to hear the cadence of Mississippi speech and the kinds of words they use. I want to see the way that people move their hands and bodies when they speak and what kinds of expressions they use. This one will be hard for me, since I don’t really like talking to strangers. But I’m going to do my best to suck it up and meet some people. Again, my friend from Mississippi is helping me out here, with an introduction to someone already set up.
4. Just watch people. I want to sit at a restaurant or park and just watch people. How do they interact? How do they walk? Do they really move more slowly than we do up north? I know that a lot may have changed in the 80 years since the Depression, but I still feel there’s a lot to be gained from learning about Mississippi today.
So here’s my question for you: Have you ever done research for a novel? If so, what did you look for? What am I missing? And even if you haven’t, what would you want to know if you were going down to Mississippi?