Doing research for novels sometimes lands writers in strange places.
I’m writing a novel set in Key West in the 30s around Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway spent a great deal of time organizing and participating in boxing matches in Key West and on the island Bimini. My protagonist–a young housekeeper for the Hemingway’s–is torn between the literary icon and an Argonne veteran who also happens to be a boxer. Boxing will be central to the story. Aside from the Rocky movies, I know nothing about it.
So, I found myself at the Naval Academy for a boxing match last night. It was hot, crowded, noisy, and bloody–and I loved it. It was thrilling. The boxers started out in the light weights and moved to heavy weights. The boxers fought in three, three minute rounds, were awarded points, and each round had a winner. One of the winners had won his weight class four years in a row. They recognized some alumni who had also won all four years, and a group of visiting soldiers from Walter Reed who had been wounded in the war. The vets received a five minute standing ovation.
I was able to stand ring-side and take pictures and scribble notes, and I have some great material for the book. I know that the depression-era, Hemingway-organized fights in the back alleys of Key West would have had a different feel than Navy boxing, but it took me a step closer to an experience I needed for my characters. Seeing, smelling, and hearing things my characters experience makes for better fiction. I was happy to be a part of it, and I’ll go back.