Sunday, November 06, 2011


I was cleaning out a section of the store room and came across a big box of books I had stuck out there. We were about to make a Powell's run, so I figured I'd go through them and see if there were any I could lose.

Turned out there were more than a few that could go away, so I stuck them into the trade-in bag.

A decade and some ago, I wrote a novel set in a fantasy version of Nineteenth Century Java. I was deep into my silat training, and, doing research, I found all kind of things I thought fascinating, so I figured what-the-hey, I'd use it in a book.

The book, Master of Pamor, couldn't find a traditional publisher who wanted it, so I eventually stuck it up as a POD, then an ebook, where it has sold slowly but steadily since. 

While I would have loved to have seen it become a bestseller, it was an odd duck, and hard to categorize: It had a little fantasy, but ambiguous enough so it wasn't right to stick it under sword & sorcery. The historical stuff was fun, but it didn't feel like a historical novel. The martial arts were thick, and so much a part of the thing that it was probably more information than most readers wanted. Rated R, for sex and violence. It fell, as they like to say in New York publishing, between two stools. Who was the audience? 

Mostly, the audience was me. I wrote it because I wanted to write it, and after that, it did what it did. I liked it, that was the main thing. Sometimes, that's how it happens. Type -30- and move along.

But going through the box of books, I realized how much research I had done on the sucker, There were nine books about Indonesia in the box–histories, culture, language, and even a cookbook, as well as a couple of detailed maps. I also had a fat file on the computer with web research, and maps I had made detailing my fictional landscape, as well as a slew of pictures.

Most of the writers I know like to do research. It means you don't have to actually write if you are poking around for background material. (And let it be known that if you aren't putting pages into the pile, you aren't really writing, you are getting ready to write, or avoiding same. Yeah, yeah, you have to answer fan mail and do research and drop by the bank and read galleys and ninety-seven other things necessary for the maintenance of your career, but if you aren't getting pages and chapters done, none of that really counts. You aren't writing.)

There's a trap here you have to watch for–two of them, actually. First is, you could spend too much time and energy doing research, and not enough writing the book. Second is, you love the stuff you found so much you want to put it all into the novel, and you run the risk over overloading the story. 

I've done both, so hear me now but listen to to me later: Do enough to make it feel real, then stop ...

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