Since Atticus O’Sullivan is about 2,100 years old, he has one hell of a backstory. (That’s most of our recorded history, right? At least the parts that were recorded without hieroglyphs?) Though his adventures are firmly rooted in the modern day, occasionally his past has to come up, and when it does, I have to make sure it’s at least somewhat plausible.
Without giving anything away, I had to do quite a bit of research on the World Wars for HEXED. I was trying to confine it to WWII, but then found out that certain details required going back to their roots in WWI. Most of that research didn’t make it into the book, but I enjoyed educating myself nevertheless.
One of the things I learned in the course of doing research is never to tell people it’s for a novel. They never react like you hope they will.
If you’re a nerd who’s into fantasy, you hope they’ll find you vastly interesting and want to buy you a beer in exchange for a story. And I mean a good beer, too, not “the Banquet Beer”—I’m talking something with a craft name like Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti from the Great Divide Brewing Company in a flagon.
Sadly, no one ever does that. I will cling to the fantasy that it could happen, but experience has shown me that the odds against it are pretty high. You will never get a free beer for telling someone you’re doing research for a novel. You will get polite indifference, outright disbelief, or glazed eyes. On the upside, you do get all of those for free. Free is good!
I think I was talking about backstory.
Researching a huge backstory like Atticus’s can take an inordinately long time. It’s so easy to get distracted. Did you know that the ancient Celts used to charge into battle naked? The idea was that they’d terrify their opponents because they weren’t afraid to let their naughty bits go flappity-flap. It’s not a bad idea, honestly. If I saw a few hundred naked men charging me, I would RUN. But then the Celts ruined the effect by wearing golden torcs around their necks; it was concentrated wealth and it tended to focus one’s gaze. Dudes would squash their terror of floppity man meat long enough to get a shot at scoring the gold.
Wait. Was I talking about backstory or distraction?
Once you realize that you’re sinking time into research you should be using to write, you might think it would help to ration your research or schedule it. You can do that, sure, but you might wind up missing something that way. Free association can lead one to spiffy discoveries. I recently discovered this band called Dark Moor on Pandora, by the way. They do this rocking version of Vivaldi’s Winter and their album cover has a bitchin’ squid dude sitting on a throne with a Corinthian helmet. I’m going to put a link to the video on YouTube below. Only about the first 3:36 or so is the real song…bunch of bonus track nonsense after that, but it’s brilliant up to there.
Anyway. Backstory. It’s tough stuff. Rewarding, though, if you don’t let the research consume you. :)