R is for Resources and Recommendations

I don’t usually post roundups of links, but I’ve been finding a lot of really interesting and informative stuff lately on the web, so I thought I’d share. To me, that’s one of the coolest things about the blogging community – you find people of like mind and, through them, resources you’d never be able to dig up on your own. So thank you to everyone who has helped me so far. I’ll try to give credit where I can remember where I got this information from. (Those who follow me on Twitter may have seen some of these links already.)

Resources

ORBIS  The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World (via Lora Geneva) – Ever wonder how long it would have taken to get from place to place in the Roman world? Or how much of a factor the time of year is? Well, look no further than this amazing system that lets you pick your departure location, destination, route, mode of transportation and time of year. I’ve found the results on par with the mathematical formula recommended by Leslie Alcock and this is so much more fun!

Creating Better Fantasy World Maps – This is for all my fantasy writing friends out there. I’ve hand drawn my own fantasy maps in the past (which is actually kind of fun, even when you are artistically challenged like me), but from the examples given, this software makes maps look so much more sophisticated. If a later version of this exists when I write a fantasy in the future, you can bet I’ll be using it.

Articles/Blog Posts

Random House Explains What Publishers Do – The PR pro in me says Random House’s PR department did a great job with this video because the writer in me actually thought, “wow, I hope I get picked up by Random House someday,” when I finished watching this. My professional issues aside, it’s an interesting look inside the publishing world, especially for those of us not under contract yet.

Story Lessons from Pixar (via Lora Geneva) – Some great tips. You never know where that perfect bit of advice may come from.

What if Grammarians Had Their Own Magazine? – This is just funny.

12 Ways to Research a Historical Novel (via Historical Fiction Daily) – Some of these may be obvious, but a reminder never hurts.

Books

Food in Roman Britain by Joan Alcock – You’d be surprised how much is known about what the Celts and Romans in Britain ate and where it came from. Amazing amount of detail in this book.

Daily Life of the Pagan Celts by Joan Alcock – How have I written 1.5 books without this resource? Seriously.

Celtic Daily Life by Victor Walkley –  I haven’t actually started this one yet. That’s what I’m going to do after I hit “publish” on this post. But it looks very promising.

And if you want an odd take on Arthurian legend that places Arthur, Avalon and whole kit and caboodle in Lothian, northwest England (now Scotland), try Land of the Gods by Philip Coppens. I can’t say I agree with his theories, but I did learn a lot about Traprian Law and Caledon Wood (two locations in my second book).

What articles, blogs, books, etc. have you found useful lately? Do you like these roundups? Would you like to see them more often?

Love/Hate: Ramblings About Research & Editing

So I was going to write another educational post this week, when the new issue of Writer’s Digest showed up in my mailbox. It contains an article on research by Charles J. Shields, and, like research itself, I’m finding I have a love/hate relationship with it.

Didn’t You Learn That in School?
When I first saw the headline “Research Like a Pro: New Techniques,” I thought, “It’s pretty sad that we have to explain to writers how to research.” I don’t know if I was just lucky that as an English major, and again to get my master’s in public relations, I had to write lengthy, well-researched thesis papers. That’s when I learned about research databases (although this article introduced me to several I hadn’t heard about), interlibrary loans (a godsend!) and the importance of getting to know subject matter experts. I’m not a historian – yet (getting my Ph.D. is in my 10-15 year plan) – but these experiences have given me a solid understanding of research.

But then again, I went to school primarily before the Internet took over. For my undergraduate thesis, we weren’t allowed to use online resources at all. Maybe that’s why I’m still more fond and trusting of information I find in books, as opposed to on the Internet. The article in question focuses mainly on online research, which is nice, but I’m old-fashioned. In general, books have to pass quality standards to be published; anything can be put on the Web. I’m not saying I don’t use online research, but I mainly keep it for minor fact checking or on the spot information. It was a lifesaver when I was writing the battle of Mount Badon. I can’t tell you how many times I used Google Maps to look at Little Solisbury Hill or how many sites I visited to learn about Anglo Saxon warfare in the late 5th century (which my books were oddly silent about). I do like Google Books, but that’s really just a searchable database of books, so I’m not really going too far out on a limb with that site. 

Oh Wait, Maybe I Was Wrong
The more I thought about it, I realized it’s actually wonderful that we’re teaching people how to research. In an age when the Web runs our lives, Shields’ article has some great tips on how to contact experts and how to use virtual tours to get to know places you can’t actually visit. He also made some great points about “folding in your research,” so that your readers can’t tell what you had to look up or what your sources were.

I can say from personal experience that there’s nothing more annoying to a reader than to be enjoying a book and what the author writes about starts looking really familiar and then all of a sudden, you know what book they used. The whole point of research is to make it look effortless, like you knew that information all along. In my opinion, that happens when you really internalize your subject and begin to live it. If you can get lost in it, your characters, and hence your readers, will too.

Editing: Blessing or Bane?
The other aspect of writing I have a love/hate relationship with is editing. I’m working my way through what I hope is my second to last round of edits before I query again. Sometimes, I’d rather poke my eye out than make a suggested change and other times I change one tiny thing and the whole story is suddenly a million times better.

The other day it hit me: editing is a beautiful process. It’s like getting multiple second chances. It’s very freeing to realize you don’t have to get everything right the first time around. Stories evolve as we write them, so it’s nearly impossible to get everything in the right order or shown the right way in your first few drafts. Editing allows you to not only change things that aren’t working, but foreshadow things you didn’t even know were going to happen when you originally wrote the lead up to them. If you’ll forgive the comparison, it gives you an almost god-like power, because you can go back and redo things until they turn out to where the plot appears seemless. If only reality worked that way. Wouldn’t it be great if we could edit our own lives? Oh wait, that lack of control is one reason we write – to be able to control the lives of our characters.

So, talk to me. How do you do your research? Are you an online junkie or a bookworm or a little of both? Does editing make you rejoice or just cringe?

An Author’s Work is Never Done

booksI’m starting to realize that research isn’t just something you do before you write a novel, while you are conceptualizing the plot. Yes, that is a VERY important step, but you can’t rest on your laurels after that, especially if what you write edges anywhere near historical fiction or has any subject in it about which are not already an expert. Readers know things you’d never expect them to and they know when you’re making stuff up. To quote the movie Pump Up the Volume, they can “smell a lie like a fart in a car.” (Crass, I know, but I bet it made you laugh!) And the last thing you want to do is be disingenuous to your readers.

Like it or not, research is ongoing. It seems like every single day I read or see something that reminds me of some detail I need to double-check in my books. So today I spent several hours in the local library headquarters reading a book in the closed special collection. It made me feel very important that I had to turn in my purse before they’d let me read the book. (Bags of any sort are not allowed because someone might be dumb enough to try to steal a rare book.) It took me a few hours to get through the book and hand write my notes, but it was the most valuable research I’ve done so far. (Lucky for me, it confirmed what I’ve already written, so no major edits needed!) But I also found out details I didn’t think we’re available, so I can now add them in to make my story even richer.

A lot of times when we write we get so caught up in the process we just make stuff up or go with what seems right, but at some point before any agents or publishers see it, we have to make sure those things are correct. So, what are you doing on your Saturday night? I’m going through the pile of about 15 books the library let me check out. Some people would call that sad, but I call it fun (now do you believe I’m a dork?). It’s an investment in my future. By the way, if you’re curious about my sources, I’ve added a research page to this blog so you can see them for yourself. Those 15 new ones aren’t included because I don’t know which I’ll end up using, but I’ll update the page as new sources come along.

And all this is really just for the first two books. The third book involves another culture I’ve only had to have a cursory understanding of so far. That means more trips to the library and more books once I finish writing the second book. And the fourth book takes place (mostly) in another country, so I don’t even want to think about how long it’s going to take me to learn its geography, culture, laws, etc. But I love learning, so I don’t consider this a hardship.

One word of advice to anyone doing research: don’t trust the Internet. (Okay, that was four words.) Anyone can put anything out there. The Internet isn’t all bad; there are some trustworthy sites and they aren’t a bad place to start, but I always try to verify information in a book or at least find two or three credible websites that corroborate whatever fact I’m looking at if I’m going to rely on the Internet. And no, Wikipedia is not a credible source.

Wow, I feel like I’ve just taught a Research 101 class. Well, my mom has always said I’m going to end up as a professor someday, so I guess now’s a good time to start practicing! And if you need me, just look under that pile of books on the couch. I’m in there somewhere.

If you have something to say, please leave a comment using the “comment” link below. It’s after the categories and tags. I know it’s hard to find, but I can’t customize that. Sorry.