My novel Wendigo grew out of a short story that pushed for expansion. The story pert near begged to stretch. Once I expanded beyond the 10,000-word barrier, I found myself in some exciting new territory. The folklore element that stood at the center of the novel needed an injection of something...well, more primary. I needed to incorporate the Chinook Trade Jargon to lend the piece authenticity and create a layer of intrigue. Resurrecting a seldom-used language seemed exotic at the time, but as I spent time translating it and working with it, the words found their way into my own lexicon. Now when I think of hunger, my mind says the word olo. When I think of saying hello, my brain barks out Klahowya.
I had to learn the jargon, so I used this wonderful resource.
The internet has given us access to a tremendous wealth of information. We can use google earth to look at natural landmarks. We can use mapquest to find accurate paths through the cities that serve as our settings. We can learn the biographies of the historic figures that influence the plot of our writing.
All of that is nice, but I still enjoy the old-fashioned method. Tim Dorsey, one of my favorite authors of Florida crime fiction, still hits the bricks to lend authenticity to his Serge Storms novels. I'm looking forward to the Skynnard tour making it into the pages of the next Serge adventure.
I had to read David Dary's The Oregon Trail to really construct an accurate passage for the French pioneers in Wendigo. And when it comes to primary data--death photos, Oregon Trail captivity narratives--all of that good stuff--I hit the American Memory Project.
So the ball's in your court. How often do you find yourself looking up from the blinking cursor to open up an Internet Explorer window? What level of first-hand research do you work into your writing? And where do you go most frequently (online) when it comes time to cast your net?
I'm heading out to do some surfcasting on Saturday morning. I think I'll avoid the deep spots just on the other side of the crashing waves (folks, that's like forty yards offshore--forty danged yards!)...