Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Researching Research

Just about everyone I know in the writing community does their research on line. Now, admittedly, there is a wealth of stuff out there for the savvy researcher (who knows to beware of the legitimacy of the source - Wikipedia, for example, is a great place to start, but never ever take their word without confirming info!). And of course, even for folks like me, who love to do hands-on research, some places are too far flung or don't have the right sources in their neck of the woods. But hands-on research can be so much richer.

Which brings me to the beauty of Manhattan. Within it's boundaries you'll find countless sources for researching, everything from bondage and discipline to the history of the NYPD (bondage and discipline of a different sort, you might say).

On this 22 square mile island are found such a cornucopia of resources that a writerly girl could spend her life wandering from museum, to library, to society, to theatre, to arts organization, to club, to restaurant, to historical site. Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, watching, up close and personal, can add a layer of specificity and detail to my writing that I could never hope to achieve by merely reading on line. Or seeing a photograph on a computer screen, or hearing & watching a YouTube video.

In the Tenement Museum on NYC's lower East Side, you can walk through an actual building, re-created as a tenement from the turn of the twentieth century and get an uncomfortable feel for the way the immigrants lived. Speaking of immigrants, Ellis Island offers an incredible look into the welcome those arriving got, after passing the majestic Statue of Liberty. And stretching further back in time is the Fraunces Tavern Museum of the American Revolution.

How do you describe a symphony in writing? You can listen to it on a CD or YouTube, but nothing compares to the feeling of sitting in a space at Alice Tully Hall or
Carnegie Hall or the dozens of other venues and sensing the vibration of the music, feeling the wall of sound as it sweeps out from the orchestra. My character in my WIP Torch is a singer. Where better to embrace the throbbing pulse or mournful wail of blues and jazz and hear for yourself the power of those songs than at the iconic Blue Note Jazz Club?

What about food? Try describing an ethnic dish without ever having tasted it. Welcome to the Big Apple where there is no dish, that you cannot find and sample - if you dare. Including haggis, for those of you writing those wonderful Scottish highland romances. Just wait for the annual Robert Burns Day celebrations!

The Fashion Institute of Technology has clothing exhibits. The Pierpont Morgan has literary exhibits. The Museum of Natural History has animal, vegetable and mineral exhibits. The Museum of Sex has, well, sex exhibits. And speaking of sex, if you're writing an erotic romance with some paddling involved? Where better to "research" than the club, Paddles, where demonstrations of same are yours for the price of a blush! Or you can really put yourself out there and mingle with members of the NY Eulenspiegel Society promoting BDSM on one of their "novice nights".

If the paranormal is more your thing, well, then never fear! We have the Theosophical Society founded on Madam Blavatsky's teachings, Tarot organizations, Wiccan and pagan shops, and haunted New York tours.

Short trips outside Manhattan proper to the neighboring boroughs will take you to even more great spots. Sagamore Hill of the Roosevelt Family. The Walt Whitman Museum. You can see a Scottish Highland Games at the Westbury Gardens and tour a Gold Coast-type estate at the same time. Or trek further out into Suffolk and enjoy the annual Shinnecock Indian powwow at their newly Federally recognized Reservation. Then there is The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, The Bronx Zoo, The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM to all New Yorkers) and Long Island's Cradle of Aviation museum (where one day you might find me in the cockpit of a WWII bomber plane getting a "feel", for my pilot character in the WWII women's series already underway), plus dozens more.

Beyond all of these unique opportunities to visit historical sites, view artwork, taste food, and listen to performances, there is also the glorious, expansive, New York Public Library system. It is truly one of the greatest things about New York that it supports such a vast operation, dedicated to the enrichment and enlightenment of us all.

And beyond the books, and vast collections of papers and writings, there are the specialty branches that offer even more. The NYPL Science & Technology branch is mind-boggling and for those interested in the history of performing arts in NY, the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts has everything from sheet music that can be copied, tunes that can be listened to, and varying exhibits of costumes, memorabilia and biographical subjects.

Let's not forget, either, the researcher's best friend: the indomitable NYPL librarian. They are a fount of information unlike any computer. Ask for help and you'll find suggestions, resources, clues and ideas you hadn't thought of.

So, when I launch my Gilded Age NYC set historical romance series, you can be sure you'll be seeing me, out and about, at all of the best places. The best places for research, I mean.

See you at the museums!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Foodie Confessional

I was always a foodie. When my mother took me to the local pizza place, I liked a lot of garlic on my slice and instead of folding it in half like everyone else, I piled all of the cheese to the center so I could savor the concentration of its flavor. I would chew it until there was not a bit to taste.
Pizza remains one of my favorite things in the entire world. All different kinds of pizza. Whether it be the neighborhood pizzeria or something more upscale like Otto's in the East Village, I love pizza. At Otto's, I fell in love with their olive oil gelato. Sweets are my other food obsession, but that is the next part of this post. When I traveled to Connecticut to try pizza at Pepe's, all my New York friends questioned why I would leave New York to have good pizza. I am going to New Jersey soon for cupcakes as well. I have wended my way through endless New York City neighborhoods to have different culinary excursions. Any place I go in the city I can tell you where I will eat, or what place I want to try.
Will travel for food.
I think about food all the time. Anywhere I go, whatever activity, I wonder where am I going to eat before or after. Preferably after because then I have something to look forward to as I rehash whatever experience it was that I had. In the past week, I have had Russian, French and Ethiopian. I am due to have Moroccan and Indian in the next few weeks; I like all kinds of cuisine. I'll try anything. I recently signed up for Gastronauts because I really am everything they embody and I patiently wait to be invited to my first dinner!
And after dinner there is dessert...
Ahhh dessert, the thing that I live for the most. The cherry on top of every day. Chocolate is a big love of mine. I remember a quiz in Cosmopolitan to determine how sensual are you. One of the questions was which food can you not get enough of--gooey, cheesy pizza and rich decadent chocolate mousse were two of the possible answers. Honestly I could not answer because both of them create a sense of insatiability in me if they are good.
Is it the flavor, is it the punctuation that food creates around so many experiences in my life since I was a child? Is it the exploration of other cultures, or my love of novelty and trying new things? Whatever it is, food and eating and the environment I do it in are major productions, almost like theater in my daily life. Three times a day, the show must go on...
Recently I was studying up on Ayurveda, and implementing parts of a sattvic diet in mine,
getting recipes from Aparna Khanolkar's site. I read Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet and have implemented vegan and vegetarian aspects to my diet. My relationship with food is like any love relationship; I try things that I have never tried before. Try never to be complacent with eating the same things all of the time. Life is too short and there are too many edible things that I can try. I recently became a fan of beets which I never liked as a child and now love. Brussel sprouts and goat are my next targets. Whether I hit the bullseye or not, whether they become new favorites or not it is the experience. I am all about the experience with food.

Photographs by F. Solomon