How Much to Research? Am I Wasting My Time and Life?

Currently I am finishing up a book, called Sunday Morning at the Peak of Hell, the setting of which is the great beyond, the bad place where the souls of all the people we don’t like go. It’s a modern day odyssey through the afterlife, similar to the one Dante took in the 11th century, only updated for modern times. So far it’s taken me five years to complete. Not because of the plot, there isn’t much of one, it’s because every time I had a new historical figure, I feel the need to stop all work and research the hell of that sad soul.

Granted a lot of these characters aren’t exactly well known in the public domain: Decius Mus, Upnastium, Alistair Crowley, Anton lay Vey, Tomas de Torquemada, Hetty Green, Ambrose Bierce, Wilhelm Reich, and John Romulus Brinkley. Recognize any of those names and you get a gold star. However, when I added each of these characters, often knowing very little myself about their lives, I felt the need to stop everything, buy every book I could on them (often this didn’t amount to much more than two books, in two of the cases there weren’t any and I was forced to use Wikipedia alone), and absorb the whole of their lives. Which is why the whole of the book has taken five years to complete.

You’re probably going to laugh when I say that all of these months of research often only resulted in a few extra paragraphs (maybe half a page at most) of text. But I was also trying to absorb the flavor of the historical figure’s personality, so that their dialogue in Hell would seem accurate to the two readers who would read my novel and also know who John Romulus Brinkley or Hetty Green were. For some reason, it needed to be feel right to me.

Now later on, as I’m polishing this work up to actually send to publishers, I’m wondering if I just spent too much time, literally years, on making these obscure characters as real as possible. Maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist. Maybe I’ve got OCD. Maybe I’ve been wasting my time and no one will give a damn.

As a final taste test, I gave the latest draft to my wife. She read over the manuscript and shrugged.

“It’s pretty good,” she said.

“What did you think of the depiction of Ambrose Bierce?”

“Oh, is that a real person?”

Ah well….

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