Friday, March 11, 2011

Centaurs, Da Vinci Machines, and Gold Mining: Research Is a Blast!

My current w.i.p., Twelve Keys, has fantastic as well as historic elements and it has me studying many things.

My writer's notebook contains sketches of pocket watches, DaVinci designs and ancient whales, notes about "hasty pudding" (corn meal mush), the definitions of ravines, chasms, and gullies (because they are all different), and legends about everything from mythical beasts such as the goat-sucking chupacabra to treasure supposedly buried on California Mission land. (No scanner, so I can't show you my actual pages, but the pics in this post give you the flavor.)

Santa Barbara Mission

My research has carried me to "The Early California Population Project," a web site housing historic records of, you guessed it, California's early population. I also get to visit sites with lists of Native American names (so I can find a Miwok name for a character), sites devoted to old-west slang and costumes. The internet is a Wonderland!

Rose Hill Cemetary (Antioch CA)

I've the advantage of homeschooling my 4th grade twins here in California, so it's the year for CA history. :) I read them Sid Fleischman's By The Great Horn Spoon. (Great web site for that book too.) Now we're reading Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, by Kristiana Gregory, and from the American Girls Collection, we're reading the Josefina books. For myself, I just picked up Daughter of Joy: A Novel of Gold Rush California by Joann Levy.

And my sources aren't just books and web sites. You'd be surprised what the people around you know. An online writer friend gave me tips about chupacabra and a friend's little girl knew more about ancient whales than most college professors. Well... I suppose if the particular professor's specialty was ancient sea life, it would be a different matter. :p


Then then there are films. I've been interested in traditional westerns and (woo-hoo!) "The Wild Wild West" (the 60's TV show, as opposed to the movie.) That thing's kickass! You've got this guy, James West, riding around in a train with his sidekick who makes all of these James Bond style gadgets for him. But it's kind of steam punk because it's, of course, old west. (Alas, Twelve Keys has no trains. They don't fit with my time period. But by a strange twist, the characters develop steam powered motorcycles. Go figure fantasy!)

And while my first book, Syzygy, brought me to San Francisco to look at buildings and ride on commuter trains, and into clubs to hear loud music--Twelve Keys, is getting me outdoors. I'm looking at hills, plants, and animals. What color exactly is a red-tail hawk's wing and how big is a coyote? These are important questions. :)

So, it's total immersion. I've even started wearing suspenders. I tried to get my husband to buy me a pocket watch (an item central to the plot), but so far--no go. LOL

"Wild Wild West" between scene thingy


Perri said...

Hi Amanda,

These are fascinating topics, all of them. the gold rush is totally cool.

I've always been a bit scared off by research-heavy topics. I suspended work on a novel that required research on vaccines and alt fuels because I just couldn't figure out how to proceed without sounding like I knew only a little bit. I will get back to it though... one of these days.

I've given you the Stylish Blogger Award, come by and pick it up!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Oh wow, Perri, thank you! :)

Vaccines and alt fuels--sounds like it will be fascinating!! Yeah, it's a lot of work and (and sometimes headache) to research, especially the scientific stuff. I had to learn a thing or two about viruses for my first novel.

Hannah Kincade said...

oooh, I'm intrigued! I love doing research. I've been doing a little top secret research at the moment. All will be revealed in due time...

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Wow, Hannah, top secret research! Now I'm intrigued! :)

Tony said...

I also love the research aspect of writing, though sometimes it threatens to suck up all my time and keep me from starting my project. I'm Googling "hasty pudding" right now. :-)

DRC said...

I'm with Tony. I love researching, but I've often found the time I've put aside to write has been stolen by the reading of interesting stuff - even if it has nothing to do with my WIP. I get carried away.

I also like watching films for reference. At the moment I'm researching old Galleon ships. The best film I found for this is Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. It helps to give you a feel on life onboard ships, better than reading can sometimes explain.

karabu said...

I've been putting off research too, but I think I'm at the point where I need it to finish the story.Library day!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

@Tony~ Oh yeah, research can be a real time-sucker. Yum, hasty pudding! Then you have to cook it for real research! :p

@DRC~ Fun research! Old Galleon ships are cool! Wnd wow, I love that movie, "Master and Commander."

@Kara~ Yeah, sometimes it's best to forge ahead with the writing. Details came come later. Sometimes I put in blanks with *** to fill in later when I know what something is called because looking up even a small thing can yank you right out of the scene you were writing (especially when you start following other fascinating trails.)

Amie Kaufman said...

I love it! I was a history major, so this kind of research comes naturally to me--combine it with writing, and it's too much fun. My CP and I have a running joke that with the types of things we end up googling, we're probably on more watchlists than we care to count, though!s

Amanda Borenstadt said...

LOL Amie, I know. Me too. I'm probably on constant surveillance!

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