Researching research

Joe’s Post #117

So how do you do all this research stuff? I’d love to hear from other writers, especially ones who have worked on a historical novel.

holland 1940For me, this one has become a bit of a challenge. It’s set in WW2. In Holland. I need to know the details if I’m going to bring my book to life. It’s what I got from Don Maass. What’s their favourite hot drink? What do they mix in it? What was the weather like and how did they dress? Were air raid sirens sounding before the war? Did the canals stink at times? What was their form of bread (everyone seems to have a favourite form). How were the Jews treated before the war? Blah, blah, blah.

And there doesn’t seem to be much on the subject.

So let’s look at the options.

First, in this day and age, it’s the internet. Simple searches can reveal links to books, sites and forums that have good information. Find a good one and they’ll lead you to other sources. You can even post on a good board asking for help.

To date, I’ve found a PhD dissertation on Holland from 1850-1950, and that was kinda cool, but lacked the details I need. I guess when you’re writing a PhD paper, you don’t mention how the coffee tasted.

I even wrote 3 emails to experts in Holland, but so far have received one, “I can’t help you,” and 2 no replies.

Sigh.

anne frankNext are books. I had great success with this when I wrote my last book. I found all sorts of great books on serial killers, on brainwashing, on profiling and even on route 66. I have a whole shelf now.

However, here, again, I ran into problems. I ordered a half dozen books online in an effort to get an idea of what life was like. Anne Frank-like books. A pair of histories of life under the German occupation. One on tanks, cuz, you know, I like tanks. And one on the politics between the UK and Holland from 1940-1945 (a text book!)

I know I’ll get some more details, but I’m still thinking it’s not quite enough.

Next step – visit a library. Them librarian-folks gots some big brains on dem so I’m going to tap into their experience and data base and see if they can find any books. Thanks to a suggestion from my amazing brother, I’m also going to go to UBC and bug them there. Who knows if someone else wrote a paper on the toiletries of 1940s Holland.

Lastly, and by far the toughest step, is to actually go and talk to people or walk the location.

I did that in the last book and it made a HUGE difference for me being able to bring the California setting to life. I could see all the little details that my writer’s eye gobbled up (wait, did I mix a metaphor there? Can eyes gobble?) From clothes to salt shakers to ruined gas stations, I was able to mine a ton of great details.

I also talked to people to get a feel for them. Each place has a character and the people in the California desert are no exception. San Francisco is to the desert towns what Rome is to a village in the Cotswolds.

But both those options for this book are limited. However, I’ve reached out to my friends to see if they know people who have lived in that time or who are Dutch or who are just plain interested in helping me. So far, I have recommendations to go and talk to 3 people.

Then I remembered talking to my great-great uncle about WW1. He didn’t much want to talk about some of the details, but I was 10 and loved war in the way that only a 10-year-old can and bothered him until he was able to tell me some of his stories. Most were horrific and fascinating, and form the basis of my character’s experience in WW1.

Huh. People. Talking to them. Yeah. I need to do that. There’s nothing like talking to someone first hand, and talking to several someones may actually give me an idea of what life was like.

heinekenBut it’s all going to take time. More time than I thought it would. I know I can make stuff up if I have to, but depth in setting, real depth, comes from being able to build a world that my readers will want to live in.

So today my books arrive. Today I’ll contact the 3 people to see if I can meet with them.

Any suggestions on what more I could do?

*****

Best Show Last Week. Walking Dead, again. Very few people on the planet could make a lollipop a symbol of oppression.

Outlines Done – 0

Pages written on New Book – 10 (yup took a stab at the opening scene. It sucked.

# turkeys eaten – 0!!! Not a one. Nada. So sad.

# of new friends made on Twitter – 73

#books ordered for research – 7

# of people spoken to – 0

# of days I doubted I can actually write this book – 7

 

6 thoughts on “Researching research

  1. Hey Joe, you might want to check out biographies of Audrey Hepburn – while on vacation as a young girl with her mom in the Netherlands in the 1930’s ( they lived in Britain at the time) the town where they were staying was taken over by the Nazis. Audrey suffered from malnutrition and depression during the war years.

  2. Okay, Joe, I’m sending you emails with stuff I’m finding. This is too fun. Maybe I should be writing a historical novel? Also a book recommendation on research (including exploring “the deep web”: “How to Find Out Anything” by Don MacLeod. I’ll tweet that one too.

  3. Maybe my own experience will help, maybe not. I wrote a historical novel about the Trojan War as an allegory of our invasion of Iraq. I’d been interested in Greek mythology since 6th grade, so I already knew many of the satellite myths (how and why the war allegedly started, what happened to Odysseus and Agamemnon after the war, etc.) I re-read parts of the Iliad, and researched the main and secondary characters online, to learn more about them, and other satellite myths that might have other characters. You might read A Bridge Too Far, Ann Frank, and maybe research windmills online, to see if there’s a reference to anything the Nazis did to hem during the occupation. GET AS MANY MAPS OF HOLLAND AS YOU CAN, AND LEARN ABOUT THEIR DIKES, THE ZIDER ZEA, AND HOW HOLLAND’S GEOGRAPHY INFLUENCED THEM AS A PEOPLE IN GENERAL, AND AS AN OCCUPIED PEOPLE IN PARTICULAR. Geography, important in its own right, might mention other things that you can research online. Look up their monarchs online, I think they had a Queen Beatrice, which may tell you something about her during the invasion. The idea, as I see it, is to get a broad p;picture, during which you’ll find mention of the occupation, which you can track down and expand upon. I put up a companion blog to the book, which delves into issues raised in the story and can give you some research ideas. See xenoseye.wordpress.com. Hope this helps.

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