Next Book, First Steps = Research

This is part of the Bittersweet Book Launch case study, where Dan Blank and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore share the yearlong process of launching her novel. You can view all posts here.

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

The gift I’ve given to myself the last couple of weeks, in the midst of trying to get a lot of other business done for Bitterweet, is to allow my mind to stretch a bit into my next book. A few months back, I thought I had it all figured out, but then realized I needed to go back to the drawing board. Which means the particular first steps of this book are being retraced, as I try to puzzle out how to change the book I thought I was going to write into the book I’m going to write.

Last week I was hard on myself about all this- frustrated when this transition wasn’t feeling as seamless as I wanted to be, when the characters weren’t fully formed (as they had been in the previous incarnation of this idea), when I didn’t know enough about the time period and some of the subject matter I’m writing about. But all that frustration was good, because when I took a step back from it over the weekend, I realized it meant I’m just not ready to write yet.

But I am ready to think.

So I’m stepping back from writing for a bit, and instead am diving into the “research” phase of things. Yes, some of it is formal research– Wikipedia has been an open tab on my desktop for most of today. But I also mean researching the people I’ll be writing about– the inner workings of their minds, their personal histories, their secrets.

Here, on my bulletin board, are some character sheets I worked up:


On each character sheet, I’ve included an image or two¬†of what I imagine the characters might look like (since this book has some movie stars in it, I decided it would be fun to cast it like a movie):

And because much of the book hinges on a contested will, I put out an APB on Facebook for someone who knew a bit about California law (where the will is drawn up), and Elizabeth Silver, who shares with me the incomparable Christine Kopprasch as editor at Crown, graciously offered to spend an hour on Skype answering my insane and detailed “what if” questions (it helps that in addition to being a lawyer, she’s a writer, because then the “what if’s” didn’t seem too silly falling from my mouth):

I’m back to feeling good about the book. Sometimes it helps to escape the tyranny of the page for a bit…