book learnin’

Originally posted on March 10, 2010 at 8:11 PM

I’m sending queries off like little, benign doves in hopes that none come back the same. In the meantime, I’m starting my next novel with the idea that creating something new might take some of the pressure off of something old. I already have the idea, the basic plot, the genre and concepts. But I need to flesh it out with places, names, dates, etc. Whether or not they go into the book, I like to know every last detail about my settings and characters. I think it shows in the end result—a sort of underlying depth that implies there’s more. That the characters live off stage. (And they do… in my mind.) Which means: I’m researching.

So I went to the library today with the hub-a-dub. He brought his laptop and played computer games to keep me company. It was very nice of him. It also makes it a lot easier to search out and lug around stacks of books if I don’t have to carry my bag too. Plus, it’s so much more pleasant to be able to look up and point out a picture to him, or read a quote in that library whisper. It’s like swishing the wine before you swallow. It aids the taste process.

We were there for several hours, and I got some good stuff, but today wasn’t the golden day. I didn’t hit the jackpot. The research jackpot? Yeah. I’m really that dorky. So here’s how I do it.

First, I search Wikipedia and the like to narrow down my frames of reference. Then I take those basic concepts to the library (I’m partial to the 3rd floor of Willis Library on UNT campus with that big arched window) and keyword search them in the catalog. I write down any and all books that look like they might have good concepts, facts, or pictures. Then I go hunting.

For a while it’s usually an Easter egg hunt. I find one book at a time, hoping to see it nestled in with a half-dozen other, similar books that would be equally if not more useful. Today, I pulled one-by-one. The jackpot is when you find a whole shelf dedicated to exactly the part of the subject you’re looking for. A dozen or more relevant books that will give you ideas, images, and knowledge. But the Easter egg style is okay until then. Just slower.

Also, don’t you just love the smell of old, hardback books? Mmmm.

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