Posts Tagged ‘research’

Shelfies – The Research Shelf

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This thing called #shelfie is going around Twitter right now, and I thought readers might be interested in seeing my research shelf.

Click to enlarge and see the titles!

Click to enlarge and see the titles!

When we finished our basement, my husband built me a custom writing office, which includes a library that houses my many hundreds of books, but this particular shelf is in an alcove right next to my writing desk, because I wanted my research books close at hand. I used to only be able to fill one of those shelves, but over the years I’ve accumulated enough books that I’m on the verge of outgrowing the alcove (there is one more shelf above that top shelf, but I keep family pictures up there). I’ve used most all of these books at some point or another on a story, but my all-around favorite ones are the Codex Florentine (that twelve-volume dark orange monstrosity down on the left), The Handbook to Life in the Aztec World (the white and gray book sitting sideways on that bottom shelf), and Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl (the maroon colored book on the second shelf). I haven’t bought any new books in a while, but I’m always on the look out for new ones to add to this collection.

Which other author’s research shelf would you like to get a gander at? I challenge Aliette de Bodard, Jeannie Linn, and Christopher Cevasco to post pictures of theirs for reader enjoyment. 🙂

Bone Flower Throne on Scalzi’s The Big Idea

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the-bone-flower-throne-displayI got the opportunity to talk about my new novel The Bone Flower Throne over at John Scalzi’s blog, so if you’re curious about what inspired the story and why it took me four years to get it finished, hop on over there and give it a read. Here’s a little sample:

I’m an Aztec geek; whether it’s history or mythology, I devour it all. It’s a love affair that began in college and has taken over my fiction writing life. It gives me immense joy to immerse myself into that world, digging up the forgotten treasures and intrigues, and finding voices and figures my high school history and English classes never bothered to mention.

Like Quetzalpetlatl, the most famous woman no one knows anything about: the woman the gods used to ruin Mesoamerica’s greatest hero.

Embarking on the Next Novel – Process

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With the first book out of the way, I still have the nearly finished second book waiting to be finished, but on the advice of friends, I’m not going to finish it just yet. There’s little practical purpose to finishing it so long as the first book is unsold. Instead, I’m starting an entirely new novel, this one being an “Aztec West” story (same universe as “The Hearts of Men”, which is swords and six guns/historical fantasy). It will featured more resurrected Aztec gods causing mischief in 1850’s New Mexico, and and Mextli is a character in it, but not the protagonist. Instead it’s going to be told from the POV of death’s messenger, Xolotl.

My friend Janice Hardy suggests starting out the writing process of a new novel by writing a query for it. I personally hate writing queries, but having been in the query-writing mode anyway, I decided what could it hurt? And I ended up writing what I think is a pretty darn good query. I think the thing that helped most was that I really didn’t have a clear idea of the story’s events yet, but I knew the basic things that I wanted to happen and themes I wanted to explore, so it was easy to put those down without having to sift through the clutter that comes with a completed novel. I mean, I can’t put in all the extraneous crap I’m not supposed to when I don’t even yet know what all the extraneous crap is yet. When I really think about it, the query I ended up with for the last novel really stuck pretty true to what I’d originally imagined theme-wise before I started that book, before all the character re-imaginings and redrafting and insisting that the new stuff I’d added was the real core of the story when really the true core hadn’t changed at all; it’s was just a change in execution. The only difference between this new query for the unfinished book and the one I wrote for the one I’m shopping is voice, namely that I don’t know what my protag’s voice is yet, and so I’ll have to tweak it later. But that doesn’t matter because right now that query is just for me and it’s got the core of what I want to do in this story, and that will be useful when I go to write the final query to sell it.

So with query done, I decided to write an outline. I’m a really big fan of outlining novels (I occasionally also outline short stories, but not often) and this is usually step number one for me. Now, with this particular story, I’d already written a short story that got some important things in motion, another that I’d finished and tried to sell, but it didn’t stand alone and so I’d already put it aside as something I wanted to expand into a novel at some point. And then I had a third story that I’d figured out basic events for that I decided I wanted to wrap into this story too, as a kind of bridge in the middle. Of course, as I started outlining, I had a ton of characters and needed to get rid of some. There was also an issue with there being no positive female characters. So I eliminated two characters and basically plugged in what I had for the stories and now I have a basic bones to build on. I’m still not happy with the lack of sympathetic female characters but I’m formulating an idea to fix that.

But in the mean time, now I’m starting to figure out the fine details: where exactly is this taking place, and what year exactly. I have some issues with character communication to figure out, for my protag is incapable of speech–challenging, but why back off just because it’s going to be difficult and require extra creativity? I’d rather challenge myself than take the easy route and switch protags. My silent protag has more moral dilemmas to face and is in need of changing, so he’s a natural choice.

I am trying something a bit different than normal though. I’m writing it all down scene by scene, putting everything that comes to mind down on the paper, regardless of whether I’m going to use it or not. I’m doing a lot of thinking things out on paper, something I find immensely helpful when it comes to brainstorming. I’m not allowing myself to erase anything, but rather to let the hard-ass editor rationalize why this or that won’t work and why it needs to be changed. I’m also doing some supplementary research as I go (I found a fascinating website chocked full of census records and maps from New Mexico dating back to the time of the Mexican/American War. I could spend hours there.). I’m still being rather generic about events, but I’m also working out my protag’s voice, letting him describe it rather than me. I’m putting in bits and pieces about motivation as they come to me, but mostly I’m wanting to figure out before I start what the actual trail of events are, in hopes of avoiding an extra draft requiring massive cutting. The good thing too is that I’m already running into issues with my initial outline where I didn’t consider some pretty important things, like how character appearance will affect their ability to interact not only with each other, but with secondary characters. My original imagining of the middle won’t work as I’d originally planned because Mextli’s physical appearance will make it exceedingly difficult for him to interact with most people without guns being drawn. Had I not gone to this length of detail before starting, I probably would have written myself into a corner and had to back track, or I would have tried to force it work.

I’m not done with my detailed outline yet, but I should be done by the beginning of next week. And hopefully at that time, I’ll have figured out how to fix my lack of sympathetic female characters and be ready to start the actual writing phase.

Guest Post: Let’s Get Ready to Research

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Still busy chugging away at the rewrite of the novel, so this post is from my good friend and fellow WIBby, Janice Hardy, in celebration of the release of her newest young adult novel Blue Fire, now available in hardcover from Balzer + Bray. Blue Fire is the second book in her Healing Wars trilogy. Janice is going to talk about research, something I just love doing (as my collection of 50+ Aztec research books will attest). So without further ado, here’s Janice.


Let’s Get Ready to Research

Anyone who’s ever read a TL Morganfield story knows she’s a history buff. The amount of research she puts in is amazing (if a little daunting to the non-historians like myself). Even if you aren’t writing stories steeped in history, doing a little research can save you writing time in the long run.


I’m a fantasy writer, which means I make up worlds for a living. But making up every single detail for every single aspect of those worlds would take me longer than writing the book. So when I create a world, I start with research and give myself a foundation on which to build. For example, for my trilogy, The Healing Wars, I wanted a tropical-style island city on a lake. I did a little looking and found Lake Victoria in Africa. It fit the climate I had in mind and provided me with a geographic area that had all the built-in details I could need.

If I wanted to know what crops grew in my fantasy world, I had that information on hand. If I needed to know weather patterns, or when the rainy season was (if they even had a rainy season) it was right there in my research. Art, fashion, history? I had notes to draw from. Even better, I found real life details I was able to incorporate into my story that gave it a deeper sense of realism. Problems commonly found in that region that I adapted to fit my made up world and cause my protagonist trouble.

But don’t think this is just for genre writers.

Even if you write in the real world, a little research can go a long way. Take a few hours and research the town or area you’re setting your story in. There are probably a ton of details you can find out on the Chamber of Commerce site or the local visitor’s bureau. These details can add local flavor and help you create a deeper and more realistic world.

How to start researching
Search engines are your friends. I just plug whatever topic I’m curious about in and start reading. Titles will jump out at you, other links will be provided, and you can just wander around and see what inspires you. For my lake city, I typed in “world’s biggest lakes” and started reading up on each lake and the surrounding area. I crossed some off my list because they didn’t fit the vision I had for my tropical city, but several were interesting and could have made great foundations to build my world upon. I read more on them until I found my perfect lake and setting.

You don’t need everything
You’ll probably find a lot more information than you’ll need, so don’t feel compelled to use it all. And don’t worry if you want to change anything to make it fit your story better, As long as you aren’t writing an accurate historical novel, you can pretty much do whatever you need as long as it doesn’t violate the facts (like claiming a city is in a different state or the like). The more fantastical your world, the more you can get away with. The goal here is to let the research inspire you and fill in some gaps, not just find “stuff to put in to the novel.”

Choosing what to use
For me, I did my research, made my notes and then pretty much let it all simmer in my head. Whenever I came across something in the story that, A) required a detail I could easily find in my notes, or B) could be made better by using something in my notes, I added it. This worked wonderfully for all those background setting details, because I didn’t have to stop to make things up that may or may not have gone well together. Like mixing two foods that never would have grown in the same region, or having something growing that wasn’t indigenous to that area.

A little research can provide a wealth of information with not a lot of time spent gathering it. It’s like having pages of inspiration ready when you need it.

BlueFire 72Blue Fire Blurb
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Janice Hardy CMYK 72Janice Hardy Bio
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.