In my last post on February 6, I explained how reading nonfiction can improve a writer’s fiction and promised to tell you about my background reading for my 2009 novel, Like Mayflies in a Stream.
Since then, Kaz Augustin posted about the boggling array of scientific topics she needed to research for her current science fiction romance novel. (See her post here.)
I'm not sure I ranged as far afield as Kaz, but I did need to research a wide variety of topics. Like Mayflies in a Stream is a historical novel set in ancient Iraq in the world’s first city, Uruk, during the time when Gilgamesh was its king. In contrast to most historical novels, for which writers can use contemporaneous records, in Gilgamesh’s time, writing was still in its early stages and was primarily used for record keeping. Historians and archaeologists have to rely on archaeology, later texts, and lots of deduction to reconstruct this time.
When researching, I referred to books and articles for children, laypeople, students, and professional archaeologists in English, French, and German. The sources I used to make Like Mayflies in a Stream as historically accurate as possible and to bring it to life for the reader included:
• Two online dictionaries of Sumerian
• A book about 3rd millennium B.C.E. Sumerian and Akkadian personal names
• A book about cylinder seals
• Historical and modern atlases
• Online photographs of items in the collections of the Baghdad Museum, the British Museum, and several American museums
• A book about cooking in ancient Mesopotamia
• Several books on Mesopotamian religion
• Several books on Mesopotamian history
• Several books on daily life in ancient Mesopotamia
• Maps of the temple complexes at Uruk in different historical periods
• Online and printed resources on geography, deserts, desert animals, palm trees and other natural resources of Iraq, growing seasons for various crops, Sumerian proverbs, clothing, Marsh Arabs, magnetic prospecting in archaeology, beer making, growth hormone disorders, city planning, history of the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” and the history of Uruk
• A videocourse about the ancient Near East
Thank goodness I did this research; it kept me from making many embarrassing factual mistakes in my book. But was it enough? No. I still had questions that I could not find answers to. I extrapolated from other societies or time periods or wrote around the problem. Some things in history will always remain a mystery.
What odd things have you had to research for your novels?
I’m glad you stopped by today. I’ll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on March 8.