Doing Research

I think one of the reasons my fiction is usually set in the past is because I love doing research. There's just something about learning things. Historical writers get to totally immerse themselves in a world first through their research and then through their writing as they apply that research. It's incredibly fun. You get to imagine yourself in that past world, eating what they ate, wearing what they wore, doing what they did.

But at the same time, you have to make sure you're not doing research for research's sake. I could go on researching indefinitely because I love it so much. But I can't, because at some point I actually have to write the dang story or novel. And really, how much of that research are you going to be using in your book. Probably only a very small amount. After all, you're writing a work of fiction, not a history textbook.

And then there are writers who are the complete opposite. I'm sure we've all read at least one work, historical or no, where it seems the author has never heard of the concept of research. I'm the opposite of lots of history buffs - it doesn't bother me very much if the plot involves real historical figures but is mostly made up. This is fiction, after all. Making things up is what you're supposed to do. But the fiction is also historical. To me, that means you need to make most of your details accurate. Accurate and vivid details are what convince the reader to immerse herself in the story and temporarily accept it as reality. It's not like you need to go and check out every single book the library has about ancient Roman life. Sometimes it's a simple as getting one of those children's nonfiction books called Daily Life in Ancient Rome or something like that. It's very easy. If you don't, someone's going to call you out on that eventually. I know that I'm rather picky about the notion of historical accuracy in fiction, probably pickier than most. But please, do at least some research. And if you don't, then don't say that you did.

Okay, done with that rant. It probably sounds very crabby and kind of harsh, but sometimes I need to let off steam about things, especially this thing. Now I feel better. And of course I'm not exactly consistent about this issue. Have you ever seen that old movie The Egyptian? The one where the guy Sinuhe is adopted off the river and ends up becoming court physician to Akhenaten and then is banished (I think) and travels all over the world? There was also a Babylonian courtesan named Nefernefer, and she had a tendency to wear oddly-colored wigs. If you're an Egyptophile, you probably know that that movie is pretty inaccurate, both in terms of plot and also details. And I love that movie. I adore it in all its cheesy glory. I also love The Mummy movies. So take everything I said above with a grain of salt.

In all fairness, some works (especially older works) were considered accurate at the time they were written, but later discoveries and/or scholarship brought a different perspective to the table. That is the case in some ways with Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Mara: Daughter of the Nile, which is the first book I'm going to review. I'm really looking forward to it.

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