Tag Archive: Research


With Moderation

It’s the end of March, and that means that even as winter leaves, convention season shall soon be upon us.

Conventions are coming

Right now, I’m only planning on AwesomeCon and BrickFair, both local events. I’ve been invited to speak at AwesomeCon (though I don’t know which of my proposals they’ll pick; their panel schedule has been delayed); but while BrickFair is awesome, I won’t be there as an editor, writer, or anything but a guy who likes art made out of Lego bricks.

may be at the Catholic Writers Conference (in New Jersey) and possibly at Capclave (DC area again), but I’m not certain. I’ve been invited to speak at the former, but it may conflict with another obligation; and Capclave is just too far out to plan right now. I originally wanted to go to DragonCon again as well, but my schedule just got too full for that part of the year.

Regardless, I wanted to share some tips for one of the things I do well at conventions: how to be a panel moderator. Continue reading

Some years back, I evaluated a manuscript for a publisher. It was a Civil War historical mystery novel, and the Civil War is not exactly my area of expertise. Yet I sent the chief editor seven pages of notes on the book’s historical inaccuracies and plot holes. The editor later told me that, while reading through those notes, she turned to someone else in the office and asked “Who is this guy, Sherlock Holmes?”

It remains one of the funniest moments of my editing career, because it really wasn’t that difficult to do. Almost all of the notes were things that were easy to research. The author had the days of the week wrong in reference to the Battle of Fort Sumter. The date of Easter for the same year was wrong by a month. Currency values were closer to 1980s instead of 1860s. The depiction of proper police methods felt more like Dragnet at times instead of a period when investigative police was a rare thing.

The one and only reason why what I did was unusual was that I’m a knowledge junkie. If I don’t know something, I still have a pretty good idea where to look it up. I have lists of experts to contact, on anything from astrophysics to horse care, from the history of international law to how to sew a dress. My browser’s bookmark bar is a mostly-organized collection of links leading to various topics that I collect, thinking they might be useful someday.

The comparison to Sherlock Holmes is true, but only in this respect: I observe, I collect, and I don’t like being bored. None of that is especially unusual. Anyone can do it.

And if you’re a writer, you should do it. That doesn’t mean that if you want to write a book, you have to become the Phantom of the Library, haunting the stacks and shunning the light of day. Rather, it means you should always keep an eye out for things that are useful. Scratch the surface of almost any topic, and you’ll find something that makes your writing-sense tingle.

Here are some tips to get yourself started.  Continue reading

One more thing!

Always listen to Uncle!

Who says you can’t learn anything from a Saturday morning cartoon? Uncle’s timeless advice always pops up when I get excited about research. (Mind you, it’s usually accompanied by the mental image of an old man whacking me on the side of my head with two outstretched fingers.)

And yes, research can be exciting. If you’re not eager to learn new things and insert them into your craft, you’re probably in the wrong business. Not all research is fun, of course — but from the number of authors and editors I see who share things they find on social sites, it’s fairly obvious that I’m not the only one who likes finding new things.

And I not only enjoy it, but I’m actually good at it, which is why it’s one of my offered services to authors and publishers . . . and one that a lot of people take me up on.

Someone tried taking me to task on that at Balticon, though, claiming that it’s not the job of an editor to do research for an author. Aside from the fact that I get paid for it in addition to more traditional editorial services, I had to explain to him why he’s wrong. And while I’ve talked about the importance of consulting experts already, I figure I ought to give another concrete example.

Almost exactly one year ago, I brainstormed out a YA contemporary fantasy series (The Chronicles of the Ruahim) with my friend and sometime client Regina Doman, and that series is currently coming together. For the sin of coming up with the idea, I’m the managing editor and (technically) senior author on the series. Since it deals with myths all around the world, I find even my childhood fascination with comparative mythology can’t keep up, and I’m constantly doing more and more research on different cultures, different creatures, and different versions of particular legends. Apache, Irish, Norse, British, French, German, Polish, Russian, Jewish, Egyptian, Arabic, Indian, and Japanese have all come up in the context of this series, and we’re just getting started. It also means we have to find words in various different languages, sometimes all for the exact same creatures and concepts.

That’s only part of it, of course. The first book deals with sword techniques, (Irish, Norse, and German techniques, plus modern foil as well), and while I’m pretty knowledgeable on the subject of “real” swords, I know I can always learn more; and of course, I’ve never formally studied fencing, but fortunately I have a good friend who actually teaches it.

The second book (being co-authored by Elizabeth Hausladen of Confessions of a Seamstress) in the series takes place entirely in Paris, which means a lot of research into more mundane matters: maps of the city, Parisian habits, art history, Versailles, the French Revolution, and even life in a convent.

The man who tried telling me off for doing research for an author has obviously never done a typical book project before. I’ve talked before about how an editor is concerned with more than just grammar; an editor’s job is to make the book as high-quality as possible in the time available. That means fact-checking, because you never want your book to contain an error so egregious that experts and knowledgeable amateurs alike will find themselves just talking about what you got wrong.

What I just described for The Chronicles of the Ruahim is merely the most obvious research topics, and only what’s come up so far.  It’s too much for one person. I’m not even talking about the man-hours here; the person doing the research has to process it, translating it into what is necessary to tell the story correctly. Time isn’t so much a factor here as just dealing with all the mess of information that pours in once you open the research floodgates.

Sure, you as an author need to do your own research, but the editor’s job is — among other things — to make certain your work is consistent. If you’re lucky enough to have one already, or you’re willing to hire a freelancer like myself to help out, do it. No one person can do it all alone.

One more thing: listen to Uncle!

I’m woefully behind on my planned blog posts — which is potentially a good thing, since I’ve been too distracted by editing to write about it. Right now, I’m taking a moment between emails to put down a few thoughts.

Odds are that whatever you write about is, to some extent, outside your area of expertise. No one person can know everything about every subject. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, your job as a writer is to get your head into the heavens; if you try to get the heavens into your head, your head will explode. Continue reading

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