Friday, March 26, 2010

Kid? Meet Candy Store!

Also know as "Topographical Ordinance Survey maps? Oh boy oh boy oh boy!"

Gimme a quiet carrel in the back of the history stacks, or come follow me down a rabbit-hole of never-ending hyper-links on the trail of an info-morsel. I'm almost never happier than when I'm bloodhounding around for info for a new project.

Eeeeyeah.... I'm whatcha call a research nerd. I can cheerfully delve into historical minutia until I'm blue in the face and you can barely see the top of my head over the book pile. I don't think I've ever written a book that didn't involve hanging crucial plot mechanics off a specific locale or historical personge or event or bit of lore or, most likely, some combination of all of the above.

When I'm not actually writing (and sometimes when I am), I can most frequently be found lost in a text or a website, consumed by some bit of arcane, obscure fact-checking. It gounds me in my stories. But also, more often than not, it also provides me with my stories.

To wit: I once wrote a short story--a short story, mind you--whereupon I first had to wade through a sea of information pertaining to plant-derived toxins, including but not limited to the identification of a toadstool known as "Destroying Angel" (nice--how poetic), characteristics of the fungus known as ergot (do stay clear of ergot-tainted barley unless you're fond of, y'know, gangrene), and how many parts of the Taxus Baccata--or common yew tree--are actually poisonous (answer: ALL of them--unless you're a bird, whereupon the seeds will pass harmlessly through your digestive tract, or a deer--which seem to have built up an immunity to taxanes... not so much cows and horses, commonly found dead in fields where yew trees grow)... Er... yeah.

That was for a humorous little short story about sorcery. And it all developed from one bit of info and a really bad pun.

Another example of my research pathology: for one of the next projects I'm working on, my upcoming book ONCE EVERY NEVER, I needed a place. A very specific place, actually. A place which has very distinct topographical features and dimensions. And I need it to be located within a specific geographical radius. It was a tall order.

Now, I know what your thinking. "Lesley," you think, "you write fiction. Surely, you could just make the dang thing up, right?"

Well... that's what I figured I'd pretty much have to do because my parameters were so dang narrow. And I was totally okay with that. However, on a lark, I started off on a bit of a surf. I googled around, using broad variations of descriptions for this bit of non-existent landmark, only to find--much to my surprise--that it's not non-existent at all. In fact, it not only exists, it exists right where I need it to.

For realsies. Eu-freakin'-reka!!

I was gobsmacked. It was, in fact, such a perfect match, that I started to almost believe that all my wild, fictional theories--constructed strictly for the purposes of the story and predicated firmly upon a willing suspension of the disbelief in, er, magic--might actually have historical merit!

In retrospect, I don't know why I was surprised. This has happened to me at some point in pretty much every project I've ever written. My friend Adrienne thinks it's uncanny. I think it's just be because I read up so much on my subjects of interest--on the kind of stuff I invariably wind up writing about--that I just start subconciously making these unconnected connections. But whatever the case, when it happens--wow!--it's always a total EUREKA moment. And yummy like candy. Well-researched candy. Mmm.....

No comments: