Novel Research & One Hurt Foot, Part II

Who knew? Even a hurt foot can serve novel research.

There I was trying to stand in Dr. Loop’s splendid 19th century yellow mansion. To see it, I had traveled three hours to the edge of Port Sanilac, a small town in Michigan’s Thumb. Before me was Shirley, a Sanilac County Historical Society volunteer, exuding details about the house—and my foot needed elevation. I was ten minutes into having entered the grand home and I only wanted to sit down.

Months earlier, a fluky accident had broken a toe and damaged tendons in my right foot. Sure, I was equipped with a scooter and boot, but my scooter was downstairs and I was upstairs. Swelling sent my foot to throbbing. I despaired.

“Uh,” I finally said, “I have to sit down.”

Shirley and Brenda, my research pal, clucked my way before disappearing up another set of stairs. The attic! I was going to miss it. Instead I sank onto a little chair in the hallway and elevated my foot, which immediately improved things. What should I do?

It was then that I saw the gift.

There to my right on the landing was a patch of window light. But this wasn’t just any patch of light. No. The patch wore a shadow-lined pattern from the green shutter the light had passed through.


I grabbed pen and notebook and wrote. Had I not visited the house, I would not have imagined window light passing through a shutter. And had I not been forced to sit, I likely would have missed it. This shadow pattern would heighten any scene’s verisimilitude.

In How Novels Work, Professor John Mullan asserts, “Novels have always been intrigued by odd details, by the clutter of life.”

Research hunts for the “odd detail.” And there in the midst of details, my hurt foot slowed me down enough to see a gem.

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