Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Confessions and Pleas (and PLEASE)

It might seem like a weird intrusion of the real world into imaginary life, but non-fiction research really is an essential part of the process of writing a novel. Unless I'm going to make up my own entire world, I need to be able to create believable descriptions of fictitious characters living in non-fictitious places - and time periods. Otherwise, people who read my books will spend a ton of time saying, "Hey, there weren't any Ferrari's in 10th century Egypt! What the hell kind of book is this?!" rather than getting involved in the conflict and the characters, and generally doing things that mean they're going to keep reading.

I've mentioned briefly that this new book I'm working on is shaping up to need a whole lot of that research....which isn't going so well.

Ok, I admit it: the internet age has ruined me. I no longer remember how to do traditional research.

I really don't know what I used to do before some dudes invented Wikipedia. I mean, I have these vague ideas that I read encyclopedias and books and stuff, but I don't even know if physical encyclopedias still exist. These days, when I need to do research, I spend my time wading through mountains of Google results for things like "British colonial era in India British family life", or "Tibet mountain villages ancient culture gender roles".

Yes, I know; my Google searches look like stream-of-consciousness exercises. This is what happens when you try to get quick answers to complex cultural and historical questions on the internet.

Clearly, this reliance on these new-fangled interwebs isn't working too well for me. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with Wikipedia when you need to quickly find out how many people live in Botswana, or what the state animal of Montana is (for the record, it's a Grizzly bear.) But if you need to understand why a British family might have moved to India in the 1890s, and to get a clear picture of their lives there, as well as understand how an Indian woman would have viewed and interacted with said British family, then Wikipedia isn't going to be super helpful.

This wasn't really an issue when I was doing research for Cloudland. That's one of the benefits of making up a land in the sky: no research required. The rest of what I needed to look into was fairly simple, and pretty easy to find. Want to know what a school social worker does? Great. Interview one. Want to know how kids process death? Perfect. There are giant piles of child psychology books on that one.

My new project, however, is going to be heavily reliant on good research. Right now, I have ideas for six lifetimes for my two souls... none of which take place in present-day New England, which is the only time and place I'm qualified to talk about without doing some research first.

This is, as I said, a bit of an embarrassing problem. As my Google search terms grow ever longer, my actual tangible results wear thin.

So, internet friends, I'm going to do something silly and embarrassing and rather odd, and ask for your help. I need some reminders of where to look, and how to research, any or all of the following:

  • Day-to-day life in the Classical Period of Ancient Greece, including specifics on the worship and temples and priests of Apollo;
  • Day-to-day life, religion, culture, and gender roles in villages in ancient mountainous Tibet, 500-600 CE; 
  • Information on the indigenous peoples of South America in pre-Columbus times (around 1200-1300 CE), specifically in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, and the details of their culture, religion, and daily lives;
  • The lives and work of the British colonialists and their families in India around 1890, as well as the lives of the Indian people, with specific information on Hindu religion at the time, and any rebellions being mounted against the British. I'm also specifically wondering how these two cultures viewed each other;
  • Life as a sheep farmer in southern Australia in the 1960s or 70s, including day-to-day running of the farm, climate and weather patterns, as well as motorcycle culture during that same period;
  • And finally (for now), the day-to-day life of a preeminent bio-geneticist doing cutting edge research, in the present day. 
I'm not expecting anyone to give me information on the topics above, of course. I'm ready and willing to roll up my sleeves and do the dirty work; I just need a little, eensy, minor bit of help remembering how. I'll take any advice you've got. Please?

38 comments:

  1. Oh, dear. Sorry, no help here. I know zilch about those topics, and where to look. Though I know what you mean about wading through Google, looking for just the right site to magically answer everything! =) Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, no worries! If even one person has some advice, I'll be happy :)

      Delete
  2. I'd go to the research desk at your local library and talk to a research librarian. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that is a very good idea, and I feel a little silly for not thinking of it. Right - there are librarians!! I'll do that. Thanks so much.

      Delete
  3. Can I be a cat and not answer your plea and then ask you a question instead: can you help me with Boston and the East coast/New England geography for my book?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course you can. I like cats, anyway. Shoot me an email :)

      Delete
  4. Wow, Liz. that is a big project. I think I would browse some Amazon, looking for history books and maybe go to the local library and see what they have. Or win the Megamillion lottery and go visit all those locales.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know... sigh. I'm not very good at making things easy on myself! Thanks for the good recs. I think a trip to the library is definitely in order, although I'd much rather win the lottery and travel the world ;)

      Delete
  5. You can still harness the power of the internet for these things!!! Really, something I find most beneficial when I'm researching is to look to documentaries, travel shows, History Channel, How Stuff Works…if you've thought of it, chances are someone has done a documentary on it. Visual stuff like that helps me immensely for novel writing research. In fact, here is a clip with Michael Palin from the Himalayas. Haven't watched all of it myself, but you might find some interesting things in it. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent idea, and a nice break from reading and reading and reading. Thank you - and thanks for the clip!

      Delete
  6. I'd say do some of that the old fashioned way and hit a university library. Or contact historical groups for each of those time periods.
    Sorry I'm not much help. I spent an evening researching sea kelp and could tell you all you need to know about the plant...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope, that IS helpful. Thank you!! If I ever need an expert on sea kelp, I'll know who to turn to (and that IS peaking my interest...)

      Delete
  7. A college library might be most helpful if you live in the vicinity of one. When I researched the Ohio-Erie Canal I drove to the University of Akron because they have a canal archives collection. Make some calls to libraries within a couple hours of your house, figure out which ones have the info you need and then plan to spend the whole day at the library, researching and copying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also good advice. I live in Boston, so I have quite a few to choose from. Thank you!

      Delete
  8. So true. My Peter Stoller series is set in 60s London, and while I'm quite familiar with London, I don't live there and wasn't alive in the 60s either, so I do a lot of research to make sure I'm not being anachronistic, etc. (And even then I may have missed something, so apologies to my readers if something is incorrect.) It IS difficult to remember having to go to the library to write research papers . . . So fortunate to be able to do the work from home, at least most of the time! (And if I must go to London now and then, well, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's a tough sacrifice!! ;) I bet I can do some of this from home... I'm getting some good ideas from everyone, and am off and - well, if not running, then at least walking quickly!

      Delete
  9. I'd say make a trip to the library. A good place to start is to go to Amazon and look up books related to your topics. Then see if you can find them at the library. Then it's read, read, read!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Libraries are a great idea, and movies. Also, historical fiction and non-fiction books can be awesome. Biographies of scientists, etc. living in the time periods you are seeking can be a good start. Also, museums could be another media to explore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooo, the biographies are a great idea. Thank you!

      Delete
  11. It involves a sheep farmer and motorcycle culture? This is going to be an awesome book!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ambitious! And here I am sweating over my current WIP that takes place in Louisiana (where I'm from). *Goes to hide* If I were you, I would do a quick Google search for professors/historians who are even remotely related to each topic and then email them for reading suggestions. If some are at a nearby university try and set up a time to meet and pick their brains. It couldn't hurt. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also a great idea. I do know some teachers, too. I hadn't thought of that. Thanks!

      Delete
  13. I'm a librarian and would also suggest going to the library and asking for help. I think they would probably be able to give you some suggestions. Although I'm ashamed to admit that I am very reliant on Net research too now!
    Sounds like an awesome book!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, right! I forgot that you were a librarian! Thanks, Julie :)

      Delete
  14. Lol as a child of the internet age, I have no idea either!

    Although, I think I can suggest you try less specific search terms and read up a lot. It's the only way I managed to get valuable information out of google when I was writing my period romance. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, at this point, I'll try anything! Thanks :)

      Delete
  15. Honestly, I think a few days at a good ol' fashioned library might be in store. I use the internet immensely...it's good for general knowledge (and some specific, if you can find it right away)...but to get in the nooks and crannies of behaviors, traditions, rites, etc., I still use books.

    The last one could use the internet. There might be a cutting-edge biologist blog!

    If I don't see you before, have a safe and happy holiday season.

    M.L. Swift, Writer

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right. I'm planning a library trip this week. Great idea about the biologist blog, too!

      I'm sorry I haven't gotten over to your blog yet! I will shortly. Have a great holiday!!

      Delete
  16. Your local library (inter-library loan is a great way to get books your library doesn't have), a nearby community college library, or even a used book store - sometimes they have interesting history sections. I found all kinds of great info on Clipper ships in my little library on Cape Cod many years ago. I even still remember some of it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also an excellent point. Sometimes I forget to use the resources at the local branches!

      Delete
  17. Hi Liz, try this site; http://voices.yahoo.com/the-best-free-online-research-libraries-3783252.html

    ReplyDelete
  18. Those are very specific research topics. You're gonna be so busy! Best of luck, Liz and happy reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know!! I'm in a little over my head... ;)

      Delete
  19. Maybe check with a history professor? The history/social studies teacher at my middle school seems to know everything -- and she's probably good at bs-ing, too. =]

    ReplyDelete