Wednesday, December 31, 1997

Out of the Dust: The Importance of Research

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Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (Scholastic Press, 1997)is my most recent read in my quest to conquer all the Newbery-award-winning books. At the onset, I was pretty certain I wasn't going to enjoy it. The book is written in verse and I'm not big on reading poetry. However, I quickly became engrossed in the story. It helped that there wasn't a rhyming, sing-songy pattern to the writing and I was able to read it mostly as prose.

The story is set in the Dust Bowl during the depression. As is often true of a good story, this one worked for me because it did such an excellent job transporting me to a particular time and place. I still have to point out that in the well-established Newbery tradition, this book focuses on an orphaned coming-of-age girl. At least this book makes the loss of Billie Jo's mother a part of the story.

For my own writing, the lesson I take away is the importance of research. Hesse wasn't even alive during the depression or the Dust Bowl era. For this book to work, though, she clearly had to do a phenomenal amount of research so that it felt authentic.

With my latest project, Abigail's Atlantis, research becomes pivotal on two fronts. 12-year-old Abigail learns all about sea turtles while visiting her grandparents at Topsail Island for the summer. That brings about its own amount of research, but on top of that I am learning about Atlantis because of the parallel Atlantis-set storyline which will mirror Abigail's.

When researched properly a story - like Out of the Dust - becomes intriguing because the setting feels completely natural and real in the context of its story. In fact, while an author should have the basic story in mind from the onset, the writer should welcome whatever twists and turns the research may add to the story. It will make the journey more authentic.

Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights was published 150 years ago this month

First posted 6/16/2020; updated 7/5/2020.

Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë

First Publication: December 1847

Category: gothic novel/tragedy

Sales: 1 million


About the Book:

Emily Brontë’s only novel is “a masterpiece of imaginative fiction” AZ which is “one of literature’s most disturbing explorations into the dark side of romantic passion.” BN “Considered lurid and shocking by mid-19th-century standards,…[it] was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that…Brontë…was asked to pay some of the publication costs.” AZ

“The book proved to be one of the most enduring classics of English literature.” AZ It “remains as poignant and compelling today as it was when first published” AZ and “is widely regarded as the most original tale of thwarted desire and heartbreak in the English language.” BN

It is “an unpolished and devastating epic of childhood playmates who grow into soul mates,” BN “set amid the wild and stormy Yorkshire moors.” BN “The turbulent and tempestuous love story of Cathy and Heathcliff.” AZ They “believe they’re destined to love each other forever, but when cruelty and snobbery separate them, their untamed emotions…consume them.” BN

The story “spans two generations – from the time Heathcliff, a strange, coarse young boy, is brought to live on the Earnshaws’ windswept estate, through Cathy’s marriage to Edgar Linton and Heathcliff’s plans for revenge, to Cathy's death years later and the eventual union of the surviving Earnshaw and Linton heirs.” AZ

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