Research: The Story of My Life

Research. Ri-surch. From Old French resercher. Circa 1570-1580. Noun. Meaning “diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.”. Thank you Dictionary.com.

As a writer, I get to research all over the place. I’ve been working on an extensive guide to Paradox, my NaNoWriMo future novel (can you tell I’m excited about it?) and while I’m procrastinating on researching things for my history classes, I’ve been researching for that.  If I ever want to publish a book, I need to keep doing research on how to get it done (as Kiersten White so humourously points out in her Monday post, you can’t cut in line, you’ve gotta do it the long, slow way).  My whole life is filled with research, and I’d like to snobbily say that I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Example.

Right now, I ought to be working on my Roman Empire paper.  For a paper, I’m actually enjoying writing it (maybe my title will give you a hint why it’s amusing – “When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do:  Murder and Sex as a Path to Power for the Imperial Roman Nobility”).  I’m not to worried about it, even though it needs to end up at fifteen pages and at the moment, I have six.  Let me reiterate that:  I have six, and I’m halfway through the first book I am using.  Out of five.  My problem has never been about getting the research done.  It’s been about cutting things out and choosing the important stuff.  I’ll write a thirty page paper, then cut it to the core later.

I’m graduating college on May 7th at 1pm.  It’s difficult to answer when people ask me “what are you going to do next?”  Simple answer:  I Have No Freaking Clue.  Complex answer:  I’m going to keep learning and keep writing and work hard at whatever job I can find to make ends meet.  I’m going to get married to my wonderful Bryan and we’re going to England in October and I’d like to get my Masters at Brown, but that’s hours away and incredibly expensive, so basically, I’m going to keep doing everything I can to survive… kind of like you.

Then they ask me that killer question:  “Well, what’s your major?”  It’s like they think they’re going to have some divine influence over me if they know my major.

“History,” I say.  Their expression falls.  Dayamn.  What to do with that?

“You can teach, then,” they suggest, usually in a low mumble.

Oh, what a world, what a world.  See, the funny thing about a History major?  It’s essentially an English major with a different subject matter and a few added perks (dooms).  We read an exorbitant amount of books (sometimes literature, but mostly non-fiction).  We write tomes… I mean research papers.  We critically analyse and tear apart works… sometimes down to the use of a single word (I kid you not… spent half an hour in class yesterday discussing why Edward Gibbon chose the word “Christian” to put in his first sentence of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.)  Then we do one more thing that I don’t often hear about English majors doing – research.

Back to that, de researcher.  As much as I prefer the idea of diving into something with just my imagination and tea and possibly pretzel M&Ms to accompany me, research has been infinitely helpful in my writing process.  The first chapter of Fate is the result of research about the Spanish Inquisition that I did for my Atlantic History class, coupled with personal research about the Salem Witch Trials.  In fact, some of the things Jessica says in her trial are taken directly from the transcripts of Rebecca Nurse’s examination (I think I’ve altered them a little during edits, but my favourite lines were always “You do not know my heart” and “I cannot help it, the Devil may appear in my shape”).  I truly believe that chapter, chapter one, is my very best in the entire novel.

Other things from my studies also appear.  The pantheon of gods in Fate is certainly similar to the Greek pantheon (seventh grade, language arts, studying mythology but specifically the siblings Artemis and Apollo), but the most focussed-upon deity is Kantra, the Mother Goddess, which I pulled from my knowledge of Wicca (eleventh grade, sociology, final paper).  The world around Kyrix is desert, dry and the city resembles Constantinople (junior year of college, Crusades; senior year of college, Islamic worlds) whereas Malai is rich and green with knights and valor (freshman year of college, Medieval Europe).  All of my worlds are surrounded around research and my knowledge of historical cultures.  All my best writing is that way.

I also studied basic chemistry (mostly through Wikipedia……) to work through the science-fiction world of Strange last NaNoWriMo.  Getting the picture yet?

Research is so important to my writing process.  I’m not sure how it happened, but now that it has I realise that it is absolutely indispensable.

In short, for better, for worse… research is the story of my life.

And that is why I’m a history major.

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