Research showcase

September 30, 2015

IMAGE_STORY_Research_BakerFor faculty members across the university, research and creative activity is an opportunity to learn, discover and give back. What goes into researching a novel? How do composers bring the black dots on a page to life? What happens to the chemicals we regularly spray, pour, dump and store? We’ll explore these questions, and more, in our faculty research series.

Feeding creativity: English faculty member’s research builds fully imagined worlds

For Jacqueline Baker, there’s no end to research. To create the worlds of her novels and bring her characters to life, she throws herself into research that never really ends until her publisher pries her manuscript from her fingers.

“Research has to be done and it could go on forever, but at a certain point, you also have to say, now I need to start writing,” says Jacqueline, assistant professor in the English department. She is currently working on her third novel, following The Broken Hours and The Horseman’s Graves.

Even after completing a first draft for her agent or going through a year-long editing process, she continues her research, whether it’s researching the geography and political climate of her setting, or studying folklore and occultism. During her latest research, she learned that grapefruit juice is the best liquid conductor of electricity, and like any good writer, mulled over that piece of information for her novel.

“In a sense this is where I differentiate from my colleagues who get to specialize in an area,” she says. “I don’t ever feel like I’m an expert—I get a little taste of things. But it’s a fun way to research and it really feeds my creativity.”

At some point in the early stages, she has to shape her research into her story. She estimates that 75 per cent of those research-born ideas never make it through to her final product, but it all influences the end result.

And when she’s stuck, research is Jacqueline’s cure for writer’s block. “My best solution is to turn back to the research again. It’s the research that inspires you in the first place.” She explains that it’s not just about reviewing the support materials for your latest project—research, for a writer, can also be about finding, or rediscovering, the stories that influenced you and shaped your writing to begin with.

“You have to deal with writer’s block,” she says. “Sometimes the best thing for me is to go back to the stories and authors I love and just remind myself what it is about them that I love.”

Over the summer months, Jacqueline sinks into the world of her latest story. “When writing a novel, I feel like I’m always walking around half the time in another world, which is why I don’t write very much during the semesters I teach. But as soon as classes are over, I feel like I step into this other world, and that’s when I start leaving my keys in my door and my cell phone on the front deck.

“Because you’re not really there. You’re living so fully in this imaginary world while trying to be a functioning person in reality.”

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