Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Research - My Bread and Butter

All those years as a historian certainly aren't going to waste--aside from my nonfiction book, The Specter of the Indian, being released by SUNY Press in September 2017 and which I just finished the copyedits for (yay!!), my historian's brain has been hard at work for the past few months researching the ancient world for my novel in progress, Up From the Bog. I'm an American historian by training, but have used that training to become an expert in the supernatural and the gothic in the nineteenth century.

Fairly accurate assessment of the book count. For nonfiction,
multiply by 1000.
Researching as an academic is not fun. It means reading a book a day or more prepping for oral exams, and being held accountable for reading, touching, analyzing, etc. ad nauseum every source, historical and recent, that exists on your topic, and all related topics. That includes traveling to special collections archives, knowing multiple languages to do your own translations, taking serious amounts of notes and building arguments and connections. You can see why I chose a topic like ghosts, to keep my eyeballs from falling out.

Everyone knows the Witch of Endor
The characters in my new book dictated that I be an expert in Egyptology, archaeology, bog bodies, Celtic Druidism, British witchcraft, the Roman occupation of Britain, and general Roman habits--especially those relating to class divisions, social interactions, sexuality, marriage contracts, ancestor worship, and popular theater. AND, the supernatural or occultish trends in the ancient religions of Britannia, Roma, and Egypt more specifically, so I might make distinctions between religion, magic, and witchcraft. Goodie goodie.

So even though I could now write a plausible thesis on such things, I choose instead to imbue my story with the best references and facts, using actual connections and universalisms to give my narrative thematic cohesion. I was so pleased to find details that, alongside the dry but necessary things that help describe environments and behaviors correctly, there were so many wonderful connections that were just too good to be true, that really helped forge a better concept in my head about how my story would progress, and how I could execute the overall tone that I was aiming for--one that broods and toes the line b/w dark fantasy and horror, all resting on ancient and classical themes.

Confidence about progress in fiction is a great feeling-when your outline is so clear in your head that it comes out as a chapter draft on the page-that's a solid day's work. Knowing that in just a few weeks I get a month-long break from the work that gave me the skills to create this story? Even better.

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