One of the first books I read before I began my novel was Heartbeats of Colonia Diaz by Annie Richardson Johnson, containing both the history and also details of everyday life in the town. So imagine my delight when I discovered BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library housed Annie’s papers in eight linear feet of boxes. Wow! What a mother lode! I just knew I’d learn so much more by reviewing her original sources.
After making arrangements to view the uncatalogued collection, I arrived at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Reading Room with my enthusiasm undimmed. There I received special instructions: No pens. Take notes only with a pencil. No sorting. No putting things aside. Keep all materials in the same order. Then I waited for the first of the precious boxes to be delivered.
After the library page left Box #1 on my table, my heart beat with pent-up curiosity and emotion as I pulled out the top slip of paper.
What? I blinked to clear my vision. How did a handout from a Sunday School lesson get inside?
To make a long story short—and it was a long three full days of going page by page through boxes of loose papers—the collection contained little of what I expected. (I suspect when Annie died, someone scooped her papers into boxes thinking, “Something important must be here,” and donated them to BYU.)
Yet the exercise had benefits, some from a research perspective and some more personal, such as the postcard I found from my mother thanking Annie for writing the book.
But the most important thing I took from this experience was something I didn’t appreciate until much later. I came away with the impression that residents of Colonia Diaz and the Mexican town four miles away knew each other better than I had imagined, and I wrote Ripples from an Uprising based on that assumption. If I had made them casual acquaintances or complete strangers, the story would have turned out much different.