Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Kind of Peek Under the Hood

Jim Ruland, of LA's Vermin on the Mount fame, is celebrating the anniversary of his short story collection, BIG LONESOME, by giving the stories-behind-the-stories in this blog. It's worth a read. Ruland's work relies heavily on research, and his process is instructive for anyone else who might like to tell stories that take place in worlds other than our own.

My favorite in the collection is "A Terrible Thing in a Place Like This," the one set in a 19th-century slaughterhouse. In his blog, he doesn't exactly tell us where his fiery, rich prose comes from, but he does let us in on the source for the subject matter, the extensive reading he did before composing the story. His initial burst of research, into a specific historical event, uncovered numerous characters and a setting, but he didn't have an entry into the story until he read the local newspaper from the thirty days before and after the event. And the authorial angle he found comes not just from coverage of the event, but from everything else in the paper--the editorials, even the ads--that gave him a real sense of the emotional landscape of the time.