Diving into Research

With Nightwind sitting with my beta readers, I’ve turned my attention fully to the research phase for Into the Sweetbitter Sea, my next project.

This new novel is one that I’ve attempted before and then abandoned due to lack of confidence. But, now that I have a few novels under my belt, I feel like I can approach the project with more confidence and wisdom.

Switching back to historical fiction is exciting and also a bit daunting. I love historical fiction, mostly for the cadence of narrative that I can write in the genre. I don’t have to worry about crafting fight scenes like I do in fantasy (at least I’m not as likely to encounter this in the plot of the story I’m going to tell). Also, my writing style really fits better with historical fiction. I’m less about action and more about description and wordplay, which makes me more suited to historical or literary fiction. Though, I must admit, I am seeing a lot more literary fiction elements in fantasy these days (and I LOVE it!).

World-building in fantasy is hard work. But so is the research phase of a historical fiction story (Also, let’s be real here, all novel writing is hard work!). During my previous foray into my Sappho project, I spent lots of time in the library picking up books about life in Ancient Greece. I perused some 32 books during this process and learned all about ancient rituals and celebrations at the different phases of a Greek person’s life and in their calendar. But, I didn’t spend much time with the mythology. Now, I’m rather familiar with Ancient Greek myths, but rereading them and looking for inspiration for my story has been hugely helpful, particularly given the way I’m planning to weave myth into the story telling. And it has contributed to my growing confidence as I prepare to outline and write because it just fits better with the type of writer I am and how I want to tell this story.

Currently, I’m studying Richard P. Martin’s Myths of the Ancient Greeks which is a useful blend of historical explanation and mythological storytelling. As I’ve been reading, I have come up with questions and/or ideas that I want to study more intently and which may end up woven into my story. Here is a sampling of where my mind has been as I’ve been reading all about the Greek gods exploits and misadventures.

  • In the book, Martin explains that every Greek place claimed a myth as their own and as part of their origin story. I want to figure out what myths are claimed by the island of Lesvos, in particular their origin story. If I can weave one of them into my story, I think that would just set things up nicely.
  • I’m also intrigued by bodily fluids and the earth. Whenever someone bleeds or sometimes if saliva hits the ground, flowers grow. Plants are important in all cultures due to our reliance on them for so man things, so I am especially interested in this theme. Examples I’ve read include:
    • Kerberos – when “flecks of spittle fell, there grew noxious plants.” The people discovered they could make a poison fro these plants.
    • Adonis – When Adonis is mauled by the boar, Aphrodite pours nectar on the blood that spills on the earth. From that mixture, the Anemone flower grows.

Writing a story about a real person who we know almost nothing about is a huge challenge. But, I’m coming to realize that Sappho has become such a mythic figure that I need to embrace the freedom this lends me. Instead of being hardwired to history and worrying about how experts in the field of Ancient Greek and literature studies would respond to the story I tell, I have the luxury of interpreting her story in whatever way the character guides me. Delving into research, particularly into the myths of Ancient Greece have been incredibly useful in helping the world I’m creating come to life. In your own projects, research of all kinds can be helpful, whether you are working in the real world or in one of your imagination (or somewhere in between).

Are you a historical fiction writer? What sort of advice do you have for others who want to write in this genre when it comes to research and setting yourself in the time and place of your narrative? Please share your thoughts in the comments!