Wednesday, October 17, 2007
old beginnings and new research
I was going to title this post New Beginnings, but really, my current project is not new at all but a continuation of an old project.
With one novel just starting the rounds of publishers, I'm working on getting my next more finished than what it was. That is, it sat "finished" at 30,000 words. Not enough, but I couldn't think what else to do with it. Giving it a break of a year [or so] and having talked to the Creative Director at Varuna House, I've decided to get it back out, dive into some more research and get it really finished. I'm also thinking that I need a better title but that will come later.
So, the one doing the rounds is set in New Mexico/Colorado with forays into other areas [such as Ancient Mesopotamia... naturally] and is very much an adventure story with a hero-type, sidekicks and, of course, a quest that will save the world. There's also some magic thrown in, a murder or two and a good dose of hurt/comfort.
The novel I'm working on now is set only in New Mexico [what can I say, I really like New Mexico] but in two different timezones. Time/story 1 is around the time of the Desert Archaic or BasketMaker peoples and time/story 2 is in the late 1870s. Both stories deal with monsters of their time and the defeat of the monsters. There is a connection between the two stories, of course, but not a direct one.
I find that digging deep with research [which translates as lots and lots of reading - my favourite activity] helps me with a few aspects of writing. The first is that it puts me in the mood to write generally and specifically, and gives me new ideas and paths to consider. My reading is as widespread as I can make it from internet articles, museum & information centre pages [see my article on location research], blogposts and books [non-fiction and fiction]. I also listen to music and look at pictures. Doing these last two help with movement [of story and characters] and description. For instance, if I show a character is feeling the deep resonance of drums from inside out, I draw that from listening to drums myself and putting into words what I feel when I do.
Active research [such as listening/dancing to music] is an important tool for the writer and includes contacting other people for more information including direct experiences as well as detailed knowledge. Not everyone a writer contacts is going to be an "expert" in a specific field - that is, university professors etc. Of equal importance are the ordinary people with similar interests who like to talk about what they know, think and feel. A writer can learn a lot from casual conversation whether it be real life, via e-mail or through blog commenting and discussion boards.
I also try and find some short courses/seminars to attend that cover the area I'm researching. Not only are these a good source for professional information but the other people attending are great for the all-important casual conversation. I usually spend the "lecture" time scribbling down notes from the instructor as well as ideas and details I want to remember for my stories. I try to follow a similar pattern when I go to museums and art galleries and, as there's no instructor to listen to, ask questions of the curator or attendents.
Right now, I'm trying to find somewhere that I can experience Native American drumming live. That's not easy in Sydney, Australia but I'm sure I heard of someone running workshops in this area a few years ago. I'm also combing blogs and other websites looking for tidbits on BasketMaker culture [if you've got any you want to share, don't be shy and let me know]. My favourite blog to visit at the moment is Mark Hinton's Chaco Canyon site. He has some really great images of Chaco and other areas plus maps and an interesting [and easy to read] travelogue of his trips.
A great place to go for pictures is the Wild West Art Gallery right here in Sydney. It's great because it's only 10 minutes down the road from where I live and they have quite a good collection of prints including Bana, Terpning, Doolittle & McCarthy and books from Civil War topics to Native American, Cowboys & Trappers as well as beautiful art books. Drop in to their website - they import from America so whatever they have you can certainly obtain the same in the States.
My next novel is set a little closer to home so maybe I'll post my own "travelogue" of research and pictures... just as soon as I drag myself away from New Mexico that is.
[image: Chaco Canyon 2005]