The novel I’m currently working on screams for more information on various subjects, and not just in the sense of underlying metaphors, mythologies, or fairy tale roots. The following are just a few of the things my book and characters insist that I’m woefully naïve about, need to experience, or better inform myself of.
- Sometimes the fact that I seem to have a passion for characters that live through disturbing circumstances leads me to grisly places. Lately it’s taken the form of reading books like Public Executions and watching videos on the holocaust and other atrocities. I find this simultaneously depressing and inspiring. I also think my capacity for the morbid might be going out of bounds.
- Some experiences can’t be gained by reading about them, especially if one is seeking a novel description or understanding. How does a camel’s fur feel or smell? Do they have slitted eyes and how do their pupils respond to the light? What does their gait feel like? Do they yawn or have any other movements or expressions I should know about? I know I can’t afford to put off my book until I can arrange an expedition across the desert, but the most I can summon from my “knowledge” about camels seems to be that they have humps for water storage and that having one spit on me isn’t desirable. Then there are all those questions about the desert itself. I lived somewhere that was technically desert once, but that hardly included miles of rolling sand dunes and blistering heat, and my family stayed in one place and had the bonus of running water and electricity. The best I’ve been able to do in terms of authenticity so far is give myself a case of mild heat stroke at work before going home and writing the account of my character’s experience with it.
- Safran’s father was a culinary expert/genius in his time, and he passed his love for the craft and some of his knowledge to her. This might be the stumbling block that breaks me. Sure, I can console myself with my first hand experience of the way kitchen crews gossip and play, and the basic principles of how cooking works, but today’s kitchens and food stuffs are a poor representative for what I’m trying to create. Think for a moment about the differences in food availability, storage possibilities, and wood burning stoves (I’m guessing) of long ago vs. the flat tops, gas powered burners, ovens, and fryers of today. Also, how does one scrub a pan if a soup or sauce burns or crusts? Would the scrubber use a piece of hide, some sort of brush or sponge? What would the dishes and pans look like and be made out of?
- “Feral” children. See my blog post A Perspective on Feral Children for a rambling explanation on why this is so important to me. In brief, when I pursue this topic I feel I not only have to be aware of things like critical periods of development, the different circumstances which create feral children, their role in previous media, and not only the length of time the child was deprived of normal society, but when in their lifetime the deprivation occurred.
My list isn’t comprehensive. These little issues are only the beginning, and I can’t even begin to express how much admiration I have for authors who actually write historical novels, science fiction, or thrillers with legal and psychological ramifications. My mind boggles at the idea of writing a textbook. How do you do it, writers? I must confess I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.