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Richard Price on his idea of research for his forthcoming novel – excerpted from our new issue mono.kultur #45.

What kind of research have you been doing?

The research I do is the research I always do: I hang out. Every once in a while I want to talk to a particular individual, or to be present for a certain thing that’s happening. But basically it’s all about osmosis. I always quote Jimmy Breslin in his biography of Damon Runyon: ‘He did what all good reporters do. He hung out.’

In the late 1980s, when I wrote the screenplay for Sea of Love, I did ride-alongs with cops and I started seeing more of the world than I ever thought I would. Your first reaction is that your jaw drops. But then you need to get to that point where your jaw isn’t dropping anymore. In the beginning, everything you see is explosive. But you have to get past that until what you see becomes routine, and the nuances start to reveal themselves.

You lose that sense of wonder.

The sense of wonder never leaves me, but the truth of a place is in the small stuff, always the small stuff. So I’m out there with the neighbors, just hanging out, having conversations with people, seeing what pops for me.

Occasionally I’ll go to something I hadn’t planned on doing. It might be a church or a funeral service or a meeting open to the community. For example, I became friends with a guy, an ex-con, who runs a grassroots Stop the Violence organization. It puts together block rallies within a day or two on any street in Harlem or the Bronx where a shooting has gone down. He also has a contract with the city to conduct anti-violence workshops at the Bronx County probation office. I would go with him to both, again and again, until I had an understanding for the near hopelessness of his efforts. But I also gained an appreciation for the power of his optimism, in the face of the monumental personal despair and bureaucratic indifference he chose to confront. Talk about tilting at windmills. His relentless buoyancy was almost frightening.

For me, it’s all about discovering and understanding things that I wasn’t even looking for. But I recognize them when I see them, when I hear them. I need to be ever present. I love being out there more than anything else. At the end of the day I’m still writing fiction, but for me all the electricity is in the learning process.

Original photography by Joseph Rodriguez