During college, I experienced a mystical morning. I’d awoken early in my dorm room. It was snowing, and for some reason, I wanted to drive to Georgetown. Inexplicable. But as I was from Pennsylvania and had snow tires on my car, the weather wasn’t a deterrent, especially at the age of nineteen when there are no barriers. As I made my way down Wisconsin Avenue at the top of Georgetown, I realized that no cars had traveled before me. The street was serenely quiet. I pulled over into a rare parking spot that on no other occasion would have been available. I got out. No footsteps, car tracks, or even bird tracks marred the snow’s surface. No one opened a door or popped their head out of a window. I may be one of the few in the world who have ever beheld Georgetown unpopulated without human interference. Georgetown was mine.
Perhaps because of that experience, I decided that I wanted snow in my short story, and could think of no better holiday to illustrate the Washingtonian experience than Presidents’ Day. So, I began to research. It didn’t have to be authentic. But I asked myself, had there been any snowstorms in the late seventies over Presidents’ Day weekend? I found there was one in 1978, which was actually a year after I graduated, but no matter. The year was set.
I had already determined the murder would take place on the C & O Canal running parallel to the Potomac River in Georgetown. It was a secluded area with few businesses along it—a perfect place for a snowy evening murder. (And yes, the motive was revenge, and yes, it was cold.) My characters were much like myself at that age. From Pennsylvania having a car with snow tires and few deterrents. But what would draw my characters there, at night in the middle of a snowstorm?
During the seventies, there was a bar/band venue called The Cellar Door, on “M” Street, which also parallels the C & O Canal and Potomac River, close by to where my murder would occur— how convenient—the scene prior to the murder would be held there. I wondered, on the off chance, if a band was booked for that weekend. I researched The Cellar Door’s schedule. Yes—George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers played there on the Saturday before Presidents’ Day in 1978. The performance review said George dragged a long cord from the amp to his guitar, went out into the middle of “M” Street during the snowstorm and played in the deserted street. Knowing of George, I didn’t doubt the review’s claim. Had I but known, I would have been there, too!
The research and my plot aligned. I began to write.
Needless to say, my short story made it into the anthology, which was published in 2014. There have been a few times when the research I’ve done aligned and enhanced a plot. When it does, my writing is stronger. I have confidence in my story. That’s wonderful, like a story that needed to be told.
As a writer, have you experienced the beautiful marriage of research and plot?