How much research do you do for a memoir? Journalists go back and interview people. Academics do research in libraries. The reason I never considered journalism, although I was a kid who wrote well, was because I wasn’t outgoing enough for the job. And I’m way too ADD to devote myself to serious research.
Instead, I’m taking the Sebastian Junger approach. I read three-quarters of The Perfect Storm in a summer cabin in New Hampshire while suffering from insomnia. They had more than one copy of the book at the cabin, and I liked the book so much I stole it.
(Side note: Booksellers and former booksellers often don’t read books that are insanely popular, because we are tired of looking at them and/or find their likelihood of being any good highly suspect. So I was surprised at how good the book was. And, yes, booksellers can be snots.)
Junger never figured out what happened to the Andrea Gale, the boat that was lost in the storm. So, instead, he wrote about what it feels like to drown. He wrote about what it takes to do a sea rescue. He wrote about how intense (not a meteorologically precise unit of measurement) the waves had to be to blow out the Gale’s windows. He wrote around everything he couldn’t answer. And it was absolutely engrossing.
I couldn’t do what Junger did, in that he was still a journalist and still interviewed total strangers, something that makes me practically break out in a cold sweat. However, I can write around the shit I don’t know. Yesterday’s five hours and 200 words? I never figured exactly what my father did at [job redacted] in the mid fifties, but by god I learned enough that I could write around it, Junger style.
How do you write around gaping holes in your knowledge?