I Am The Voice That Cries in The Desert

How many times do I have to say it?  If you’re going to write something, research it.

Sure if it’s historical or science and even if you are an expert on both or either, you’re going to make mistakes.  Partly you’re going to make mistakes because you’re human.  Even say, about Elizabethan England, where I know tons of things, there are things I don’t know, and I’ll come across it and go “Uh, they did WHAT?”

Or take when I was writing the Musketeers mysteries.  This mind you was when the internet was but a toddler, just learning to walk, and not able to say “Dada”.  I found nothing about how laundry was done in the time of the musketeers in Paris.  I needed that for Death of a Musketeer.  So I assumed it was done the same way it was done in the rest of Europe and put that in the book and I’m not going to revise it.

Except… it wasn’t.  Not only it wasn’t, but h*ll it wasn’t.  It was done more like in Portugal in my childhood.  If you gave your laundry out to wash, women would take it to the river and wash heck out of it, including beating it with stones, or sun-bleaching it.

Well, in Paris in the time of the musketeers, it was the same except that there were laundry boats anchored on the Seine, and you had to pay rent to use them.  So professional laundresses rented their facilities from boatmen.

I found this out while reading a travelogue of the time that I didn’t come across till I was on the fourth book.

Anyway…. No matter how much you try to make it right, you’ll get some things wrong.

But seriously — not even trying?

Look, I’m going to be blunt here: whatever you learned in school about a time period is not enough.  Those cute little Writers’ Digest “life in” are not enough, not unless what you’re writing is a short story or a book where only a short bit pertains to the historical period, but for the whole thing?  Too many pitfalls.

Those Writer’s Digest manuals are like one of those cheap booklets that tell you how to ask where the bathroom is, or what the cost of something is.  They’re good for the basics, and even then the grammar will be bad, and a word might not be quite what a native would use. If you’re moving to the other country — and when writing you’re moving to the other country for a while — you need to know more.

Yes, I’ve been reading regencies again.  I do this when I have the flu, because they’re predictable and low effort, being a highly formulaic format.  Thing is, though, all the ones I read had thousands upon thousands of positive reviews.  And yet I rarely found one without an error.

I was okay with minor errors, like having women attend funerals (they didn’t, not in the regency.)  It’s the ones that think the regency was Victorian England, or worse Elizabethan England that get on my nerves.  It’s like people watched a movie, sometime, and that’s the extent of their research.

I’ll even roll my eyes and let it go when they have debutantes wearing bright green satin (seriously, guys, they wore muslin and usually pale colors.) or walking alone with their family’s compliant consent.

What gets me is more stuff where, you know, England is not … the way we expect.  Like, during the regency, Elizabeth will be on the throne.  Or the city of London is divided into two sections, Good Ton and Bad Ton (I SWEAR I’m not making this up) or a girl up from the country and walking alone gets picked up by the queen in her carriage (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) because “you looked sad.” Or….

I’ll be honest with you, maybe this was the ONLY mistake in the whole book, but when I trip on it three pages in, I’m not going to read anymore.

Maybe I’m a minority.  As I said, all these books have hundreds of good reviews (then again, Amazon never was very good at getting rid of all the automated reviews, and there are clubs for this, too) but I will throw them against the wall.

And maybe you think I’m being crotchetty, but I tell you, I am the voice that cries in the desert: get off my lawn.

Before you write something in a time period not our own, in a country not our own, in a discipline you only read about, research.

I do it in three phases, first I get a bunch of general books on the time period (this will often involve one of those Writer’s Digest books.

Then those books, in their biliography will suggest others “for further reading.”  I’ll explore a few of those, then read some biographies set in the time.  AND after I write the book, I try to find a beta reader who is an expert in the field, and I run it by him.

Perhaps I’m fussy, I don’t know.  But I know I wouldn’t go on about the plight of moors in Regency England.

It might not be much, but we must each be proud of what we can.

 

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182 responses to “I Am The Voice That Cries in The Desert

  1. Reblogged this on Miller's Tales and commented:
    From the good folks at MadGeniusClub:

  2. Draven

    I am the terror that quacks in the night…

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    the plight of moors in Regency England

    Yep, the idiocy of putting a black man in a Robin Hood movie. 😦

    Oh, there was one tongue-in-check Robin Hood movie where the black was there to make a “white men can’t jump” joke.

    (Either Robin or one of his Merry Men tried jumping onto his horse and “had an accident”). 😆

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      That seems to have started with Robin of Sherwood. Nasir wasn’t meant to be a regular, but the producers liked him so much they added him to the Merry Men at the last moment. And many of the subsequent versions of the story have added their own variant on him.

    • Chrismouse

      That would be “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”. Who roam around the forest looking for fights. Manly men in tights. (TIGHT tights.) In “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, Morgan Freeman was there because he’d incurred a life-debt of sorts to Robin of Lockesley, who had been fighting in the Crusades. I could see returning Crusaders bringing home servants or a physician or similar. Random dudes, probably not.

      • Matthew

        You’ve got to be a man to wear tights!

        That said, Morgan Freeman was in Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        True but I find it “interesting” that the person brought back by the Crusader is always “Black” not a “Middle-Eastern Type”.

        In Poul Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions”, the main character meets a Saracen in an area that’s a counter-part to Eastern Europe.

        The Saracen isn’t described as a Black but apparently is a Middle-Easterner.

        Of course, the Saracen, while out of place, is there for a good reason in story-terms.

        • A lot of the “King Arthur and his Saracens/converts” knight stories from the Middle Ages featured handsome Moorish black men. Not all, but a lot.

          And then there was the popular military saint, St. Maurice, the Moorish Roman legionary officer. Artists loved to draw him.

          So yeah, Robin would probably have been thrilled to make a black African Saracen friend. That is full value stuff for a medieval guy traveling the world.

          Of course, beautiful Saracen girls in medieval romances are usually blonde. And this was pretty accurate for Spain, where the Saracens had overwhelmingly bred families with Visigothic captives made into sex slaves.

          • Couldn’t you have found some blondes elsewhere in the Islamic world at the time? Slavery was pretty popular, and I remember reading that a lot of the Circassians (whose women often went into concubinage) were blondes or redheads.

          • Mary

            But this was not a time of much racial mixing, and you get some weird ideas.

            I still remember the illumination of the Song of Songs where the “black but beautiful” woman is black — as in, ink — and has gold leaf hair and blue eyes, and completely European features (I particularly noted the narrow nose). She looked like an anime extraterrestrial.

            And in King Arthur, Percival has a half-brother whose mother is black. He’s — piebald.

  4. Martin L. Shoemaker

    One more reason I set my stories primarily in the future. I may have only a hazy idea of what Belize is like today, but I am the leading expert on Belize in the year 2040 in my universe!

    • But even so, you need some research. As I found out with Montevideo in 3500ish on a parallel world. Monte. Video. Umm, isn’t this something like mountain view? Where’s the mountain?

      Google Earth is one of the writer’s best resources.

      • Martin L. Shoemaker

        Also Wikipedia, and other online references. I like to watch locally-produced videos when I can, because they give me an idea of what locals think is worthy of attention. Plus they give me voice and mannerisms. Those are hard to get if I restrict myself to just reading.

        To my dismay, it’s really hard to find much video about Belize. The culture seems to be very British colonial in some ways, Mestizo in others. They celebrate their independence from Britain for almost the entire month of September.

        Fortunately I only have a couple of chapters set there. And fortunately, it’s in 2040 (though Belize seems to be a country in no hurry to change).

      • or like the movie Dan watched the other day that thought that Azores was a “tropical island.” AND spoke Spanish.

      • That would be Ciudad de San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo.

        Anyway, you can blame the Portuguese, for naming their local fort “Montevieu.” That is where the name came from.

      • Anachronda

        Monte. Video. Umm, isn’t this something like mountain view? Where’s the mountain?

        I live in a town named Ridgecrest. It sits on the floor of a valley.

        • Many descriptive place names lie. Names were often bestowed in tribute to another place of the same name, or because the namer liked the name, without reference to appropriateness.

        • Terry Sanders

          A book on home design from the Fifties referred to the genius of real estate developers, who will buy a flat, treeless piece of land and name the result “Willowdale Heights,” thus departing from reality in three directions at once.

    • Joe in PNG

      In the “Planetes” anime, they have a couple of episodes set in the future Lae, PNG. And even accounting for possible future development, they’re still quite a bit off.

  5. Sad to say, I wonder if today’s audience would do anything but violently reject historically accurate versions of things like gender relations. A few years ago I remember reading a GoodReads review of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon that did nothing but criticize the book for all the back-breaking drudgery the female characters were (apparently) forced to endure, how this presentation was anti-woman, anti-feminist and brimming with misogyny. I’m not quite sure how this reviewer expected life to be in early Middle Ages England, but apparently she expected washing machines and vacuum cleaners, or maybe live-in maids, it was not quite clear. And this was one of the top reviews via GoodReads’s upvoting system. Because of course it was.

    I say “apparently” in the above because I’ve not read the book. Meaning I guess it is possible this reviewer was exaggerating things. I had planned on doing so, but never did for one reason or another before what a horrible person Bradley was was made public. Since then it has kind of fallen out of my TBR list, to put it mildly.

    • Zsuzsa

      My personal review of Mists of Avalon is that if you eliminated all of the whining and anti-Christian preaching, you’d have a pretty solid 250 page novel. Alas, as far as I can tell, they only sell the 900 page extended version.

      As far as this reviewer’s specific complaint, however, I must admit I don’t remember anything like it. All of the main characters were queens and/or high priestesses, so for the most part, they DID have live-in servants to take care of most of the domestic work. Granted, it’s been about 20 years since I read it, but the worst I remember the women having to do was spin and weave (which Morgause whined about being drudgery, but then Morgause whined about everything, so I don’t think we were supposed to take her seriously).

      • SheSellsSeashells

        My fastest turnoff in a fantasy or historical work is She Who Is Oppressed By Textile Work. It was _damned important_ at the time, thankyouverymuch, and just because hordes of fluffyheaded ficwriters think it’s a good idea to have their sword-swinging maiden allergic to embroidery doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.

        One of my favorite heroines ever is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Fawn, who is domestically concerned, good at it, and coincidentally quite brilliant. So glad Bujold didn’t go with the “only useless/oppressed women ever give a damn about food and clothing” cliche.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          Does this mean you don’t like hearing about safety hazards of a mechanical loom in a mill?

          • Confutus

            “Mirror Sight”, by Kristen Britain. A sword-swinging maiden time-travels to a future with mechanical looms in mills.

          • SheSellsSeashells

            Naaah, means I’m tired of Rebellious Maiden who is well-fed, suspiciously well-educated, and not dead of cold-related ailments going “But I don’t WANT to do embroidereeeeeee!” Though I’m more a fan of the stillroom myself… 🙂

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              So I can get away with a spoiled rebellious princess who escapes her family being deposed, and travels from fairyland to (insert name of New England mill town), if she willingly works and eventually comes to prefer the life, due to greater creature comforts? (This fairyland probably has bronze age standards of living for nobility, not enlightenment.)

              Good to know, even if my muse is insisting that this is backstory for something inspired by pandering Japanese light novels.

              • *grin* The thing I really, really like about Japanese fiction is they seriously will write about anything. I read a one-shot manga about an elf who loves the modern human world so much because FRENCH FRIES.

                Actually she loved all sorts of vegetable based snacks and food, because, according to her, all the food back in her home realm was really bland. Unfortunately because she doesn’t have as active a lifestyle in the human world, she gets rather pudgy around the middle and needs help from a dietician to lose weight, claiming it’s because she needs to be as she was when she first came through the portal in order to go back.

                She loses the weight but a few months later the dietician sees her again in a local fast food, with a massive pile of french fries in front of her. Now that she knows she can work on losing weight, it’s not so bad!

              • foxfirefancies

                That? Would be awesome. 😀

        • Mary

          I got a crit from an online writing group about the way Charity saved the day in The Wolf and the Ward because it involved sewing, on feminist grounds that she shouldn’t save the day by sewing.

          I ignored it, thank you very much.

        • I have started *cheering* when I come across a woman in any remotely fantasy and/or historical work that–at the very least–has no issues with textile work and is decent at it. It’s an outright party when you find one that LIKES it and is GOOD at it. (Fawn being one of those.)

          I really wonder when the whole “the fantasy heroine HATES NEEDLEWORK” thing came in. I mean, come on. It was extremely useful, and it staves off freaking boredom.

          I’m just glad to finally be finding books where this isn’t the case, and the heroine is perfectly okay with picking up knitting or her embroidery, or something similar. One of my favorite throwaway scenes in the Paksenarrion saga was the famous paladin sitting down and showing a young (male) soldier how to turn a heel. When he expressed surprise at her being able to do this, she shrugged and said “I thought I hated it when I was back on the farm, but when I joined up with the mercenary company, we all had to learn how to knit our own socks. It’s better than not having any, and it’s something to do with your hands.” (Or something to that effect, anyway.)

          • Eowyn did not like it (at least when she was champing at the bit to save the Mark), and a fair number of US and UK heroines of regular novels were impatient with darning stockings.

          • Pariya from Young Brides Stories preferred making beautifully decorated bread over embroidery but is told she must learn. She eventually gains the patience and desire to make proper cloth and embroidery once she figures out a trick to getting over her mental block.

            • I had a minor plot thread in Daughter of Texas – the heroine’s mother was a weaver, and set up her loom and worked at it, every chance she had. One of the very subtle things in the plot was the blankets that the mother re-wove, after buying some local Texas export blankets, picking them apart and re-weaving them. (A local industry back in the 1830s – local sheep wool dyed with cochineal and woven into horse blankets and such. Good wool, excellent dye … barely adequate weaving.) A friend of my mothers was a hobbyist weaver – and she took me to the local industrial museum the last time I was in California, and gave me all kinds of good ‘gen about looms and weaving that I used in that book.

        • Bujold seems to have a solid read on what people are actually like. Well—I think she might have trouble depicting someone who isn’t actually bright. Even Ivan comes off not too badly after a while, despite the whole drumbeat of “Ivan, you idiot.” He’s just thoughtful in a different direction.

  6. Ok, I’m slightly baffled. We are talking about the Regency of George III, when the fat prince assumed the rulers duties, end of the Napoleonic Wars? Or did I miss something?

  7. kaflick

    I have found that doing the research makes a huge difference in how you feel about the characters in your book. A character that you initially design as an intolerant or hard person may actually be quite a permissive softy by actual historical standards. This allows you to write them in real depth as an actual person of the time might have been. Although this might be wasted effort, the average reader’s cognitive abilities being what they are.

    At least you get the satisfaction of doing a good job of it, even if no one else notices.

  8. My most wall-banging book-review was one that I wished I had checked out the “look inside” feature before I committed to review it. A family saga novel set in just post-civil war mid west, which featured a woman married to a prosperous man who owned and ran a fashionable dressmaking salon (or maybe it was a women’s boutique) and had a rebellious teenage daughter who ran off to New York City with a slightly older girlfriend – where the two girls checked into a hotel and went out on the town, drinking and dancing with men ,,, sigh. The whole book was basically Dynasty, only in 19th century costume.I have no notion of where the writer did her research on mid-Victorian social mores, but someone who had an issue with my review insisted that the writer had done said research and called me a big ignorant meanie for pointing out everything that I found wrong about the book.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      A novel featuring tobacco in medieval England is mine.

    • You can find Hill’s Manual online. It’s a book on “social and business forms and correct writing” that is an accidental survey of Victorian-era America. There are even cheap paperback reprints available, though I’m holding out for an original leather-bound printing. (It was widespread enough that you can get one for $50-$80 in pretty decent condition.) There are some great observations in there, including the foreword to the section on how to write a letter declining a proposal of marriage.

      Marrying For a Home
      Let nobody commence and continue a correspondence with a view to marriage, for fear that they may never have another opportunity. It is the mark of judgement and rare good sense to go through life without wedlock, if she cannot marry from love. Somewhere in eternity, the poet tells us, our true mate will be found. Do not be afraid of being an “old maid.” The disgrace attached to that term has long since passed away. Unmarried ladies of mature years are proverbially among the most intelligent, accomplished and independent to be found in society. The sphere of woman’s action and work is so widening that she can today, if she desires, handsomely and independently support herself. She need not, therefore, marry for a home.

      • Mary

        Then, of course, there are the people who hate it when you do do your research and allow your heroine to support herself. Or worse, to support herself without being a flaming feminist of a later era, or at least at the bleeding edge of what women’s movement was pushing.

        • I have featured several characters in my own books – women of the mid-19th century or so – who did very well with their own various enterprises: Sally Skull, Lizzie Williams, Angelina Eberly, Mary Ellen Pleasant … they all had a sense of enterprise, skills and some small property … and did very well out with that.

          • Heh. When someone starts screaming about ‘oppression’ in 19th century America, I always want to point them in particular to the women during the various gold and silver rushes. Sure, a few staked mining claims, but the REALLY smart ones did things like…run laundries. Or mending services. Or restaurants. Or similar, feminist-despised domestic type things. And because they were frequently the only ones offering such services, they could–and did–charge a freaking FORTUNE, and there were many who walked away with a good deal more wealth than the vast majority of the miners.

            • My relative Elizabeth “Lib” Richter Hedges originally worked as a housemaid, which was how she saved enough money to become a tavern owner, madam, real estate owner and landlady, multiple business owner (including a movie house), and investor. And that was in Dayton, Ohio, which was not the frontier. (And the tavern came after she became a wedded and abandoned mother. Thus the “Hedges” name.)

              She actually was just mentioned in a local TV show about the history of the Victoria Theatre. I knew she had a reserved box and marched a selection of her women employees to the theater to see plays, but I did not realize that she did it on Mondays not just because that was the logical day off for brothels, or as advertising.

              Mondays were Ladies’ Night, when all women were admitted half price.

              She always had an angle…. And she had charm, too, which is how she got away with it all.

              That German/Swiss side of the family has a scary amount of practicality always. She just did stuff with the brakes off, because she had no respectability to worry about. But I have no doubt that someone like her could be successful in any age, at any kind of business. It would not take them as long today, that’s all.

            • There’s a show called “Adam Ruins Everything.” They put up little teaser bits online. One of the bits they put up on the Wild West talked about how prostitutes and madams were a major entrepreneurial and civilization force, because when you’re fulfilling a market need, you suddenly have a LOT of influence. And hey, if you’re going to put your hard-earned money into schools, churches, and theaters, you probably won’t be despised forever, no matter what the moralists say.

        • This always puzzled me. Even in the Philippines of old women were perfectly capable of running a business out of their home without being flaming feminists of the burn-bra stripe. The social stigma of kicking out an elder female relative could be crippling as it wasn’t considered the thing a good Christian would do.

          (One of the points of view of an elder female relative entering a convent was so she could be around women her own age, not have to worry about her younger kin, and relax and pray, as well as be looked after.)

          • Mary

            how shocking! next thing you know, you will be saying that women were not all passive victims until feminists appeared to liberate them!

          • A great many women in Renaissance era Venice got shoved into convents (because the Venetians were particularly weird about rank/marriage/dowries–there’s a reason their nobility pretty much vanished). But there were plenty of those same women who then acquired a LARGE amount of power, wealth and influence from within the convent walls. (Also many who threw huge parties and generally ignored the ‘rules’ and since most everyone knew they weren’t there because they actually had a calling, a blind eye was turned until it got impossible to ignore, heh.)

            Not unusual for women in the convents in general. It was a distinct avenue to power and influence.

  9. I am lazy. I dodged the entire issue by siting the story in places I’ve lived. I know every damn thing about Hamilton Ontario, from culture (how much beer does one bring to a party?) to the best places for a true maniac to drift a long box crew cab around a corner. (Clairmont access, down the mountain. You’d have to be crazy.)

    For a castle in the French Dolomite area, I put it in a different universe and had the bad guy kill everybody three hundred years ago. So convenient! ~:D

  10. Oh yes. Part of it is because of having a bad research bug (“Just one more book/monograph/article and I’ll be ready!”) and part is because of being OCD about things, I ended up reading far more than I’d ever planned about warfare in Early Modern Europe, and about WWI on the Eastern Front and the interwar years (especially the latter. I really do not like reading about the 1920s-30s in Europe.) Did it help things with the books? Well, no one has called out any massive burps in Book One. And it gives you details that really help nail down scenes and places – like the fine sand in Galicia that fouled weapons so terribly. Came from an autobiography.

    • I have to ask, because I’m the sort who starts researching, then ends up doing nothing but reading and researching and lost the story. (Also, again, the main reason why I don’t write science fiction or historical fiction is the fear of that – throwing the reader out of the story because I mucked up some little detail.)

      But how much research is ENOUGH research? When does one decide that the researching is getting in the way of the story you want to tell, and when should you discard the story because it no longer fits thanks to the research?

      • Draven

        Hey shadowdancer, I need to reach you by email or something

      • “…why I don’t write science fiction or historical fiction is the fear of that – throwing the reader out of the story because I mucked up some little detail.”

        Um, may I just say, screw that guy.

        Given the odious crap I see in the bookstore, printed and pushed by Big 5 publishers and written by Name authors, some little detail you may have missed is not going to be a thing.

        I have seen plenty of SciFi where they forget you have to feed troops. Or where you time travel backwards by going faster than light. I myself am pretending that nanotechnology can make a whole robot that looks like a human, out of whatever happens to be lying around. In twenty minutes.

        Yes, there is some guy out there who knows that ain’t so, and he’s going to be all mad. Everybody else is going to want to know what the robot is going to say.

        It’s fiction. We make stuff up. ~:D Go make up something cool.

        And pay attention to Sarah, she’s smrt. The Phantom is just some guy who lives in a hay field. What do I know, I have zero published works so far.

  11. Matthew

    You could always pull a Ringo and run with something so obviously wrong as to be awesome.

    Irish vikings in Georgia who practice selective breeding and make the best beer in the world? Eh, why not?

    • Uncle Lar

      Of course John said so up front. Entire series is based on flights of his fancy with absolutely no intent to mirror reality. Were that not the case, the main character would have died in the first third of the first book.

      • Matthew

        Of course. The whole series is an exercise in “go big or go home”

        The point being that if you’re going to break with reality, break hard and be absolutely unapologetic about it.

        • Joe in PNG

          Kind of like the “Christopher Walken/ Brian Blessed” rule in acting. If you’re cast in film to make a buck, the script sucks, and there’s a miasma of incompetence in the air, go big. Order up a LARGE HAM, and chew the scenery like an army of starving termites on meth.

          • Robin Munn

            A.k.a. what Jeremy Irons decided to do in the Dungeons & Dragons movie, singlehandedly moving it from “Blech” territory right into “So Bad It’s Good Hilarious”.

            • Oh my, he was the only good thing about that movie. (Although it’s sequel–Wrath of the Dragon God–is actually a semi-decent fantasy film. Not great, and not really even good, but definitely ‘decent and watchable.’ No Jeremy Irons, alas.)

              He was also the only good thing about the Eragon film, and looks amazing in leather. 😀

              And with other large hams…I’m fairly certain people wouldn’t have liked Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves half so well as they did were it not for Alan Rickman pretty much chewing up all the scenery and enjoying it hugely. (Not to mention the woman playing The Witch. She and Alan Rickman in the same scene is an utter delight in a two-way hamfest–especially if you watch the version with the extended scenes, most of them involving those two.)

              • Alan Rickman in Prince of Thieves is the *ultimate* example of chewing scenery. Usually followed with an admonition that “you are not Alan Rickman, so don’t do that.”

                (I knew one counter-example to “you are not Alan Rickman.” Hilarious actor. Perfect Poo-bah.)

        • Mary

          Eh, there’s some poetic license allowed. I have myself read someone having vapors that depictions of the French Revolution often have as many executions as were typical at the height of the Reign of Terror at any earlier period.

    • richardmcenroe

      hey, itworks fine as long
      as you grab the axe before the dancing starts.

    • Umm . . . there was an editor of either The Atlanta Constitution or The Atlanta Journal who claimed evidence that Vikings had traveled as far south as Georgia and Northern Florida. Then there’s that bearded Indian Hernando de Soto met in the same region.

      If I were to try it, it would be an revenge story. A group of Vikings who were wiped out traveling up river to see what they could find, the survivors held captive at a major Indian town, with the sole survivor escaping and returning with a band to destroy the town. Set it around 1200 AD. That’s roughly when the Mound Builder culture in Georgia collapsed.

      • There was a historical I read — about the Welsh Prince Madoc and his family who came to America about that period … and inadvertently did all sorts of damage, because one of their cohort had syphilis. The novel was all tied up with the Mandan tribe … kind of complicated, and I think that the historical record was probably pretty tortured in service to the plot … but still an interesting read.

        • PM

          For your consideration: not sure about torturing the historical record. I have a memory (admittedly vague, and thirty years old) of a book on language (possibly written by a scion of the Berlitz family) where a British military unit (pre-Revolutionary War) which recruited from Wales, was stationed in Mandan territory, and some of the troops who spoke Welsh as a first language were able to converse freely with the locals in their respective “native” languages.

      • I think one of my favorite semi-obscure historical tidbits about that is that the Vikings showed up, and the (much more populous at that time) Indians were Not Impressed. Had to have been a heckuva wake up call to the Vikings, who were awfully used to everyone on their side of the pond being terrified of them… (And that the New World the European settlers came to much later was, essentially, a post-apocalyptic wasteland with as much as 90% of the population there wiped out a few generations back…)

        And there’s a Viking runestone in western Arkansas. They definitely got around, those Vikings.

    • snelson134

      Ringo’s whole problem with that started when he used one word: Varangian.
      As in Varangian Guard.

      1. That was a real-world organization, proven to exist.
      2. It was formed from Vikings. From all over the Viking world. Rus (Swedish Vikings), Danes, Normans, Norsemen. The last Norwegian Viking King, Harold Haardrada, joined it and made his well-chronicled reputation as a fighting Viking leader in it. He used that reputation to go home and take back Norway’s throne and rule until he ran into King Harold Godwinson of Wessex, who ruled Saxon Britain, at a little place called Stamford Bridge in 1066. The casualties and exhaustion from marching to, fighting, and rushing back South led to King Harold’s defeat at Hastings by William the Conqueror. All real world events.
      3. It was formed under the Byzantine Emperors, who at the time counted Georgia on the Black Sea as part of their empire, and were also known to send units of Varangians out to fight on various frontiers; the aforementioned Haarald made his reputation when sent as commander to re-conquer Sicily. Also well documented.

      All of this fit quite nicely into the plot of Kildar and subsequent books, and it’s why every fan believes more of Kildar is real than is warranted. Be careful how big a dose of reality you use.

  12. This applies to building your own world, too. You have to make it *work*. If you have a society that is somewhere with scarce resources, that’s going to affect a lot—and the same with a place of abundant resources. There are, for example, charts out there that will tell you how much land it takes to support a family and how much extra land it takes to support a soldier.

    I’ll give a fun example: the Disney movie Tangled. (I love that movie.) Were it not for the obvious cues that this movie is told by an unreliable narrator*, the whole setup would be even more absurd than most Disney movies. Tons of guards standing around to protect a piece of *jewelry*? Guards pouring out of the castle doors by the dozen? You’d have to have an empire like the Romans to support that level of palace guards, and one heck of an enemy to feel you had the need. (The Tower Guard has a grand total of fourteen members, for comparison’s sake. The Tower is still listed as a royal residence.)

    Anyway. If your world is not internally consistent, it will show to those folk who know enough about how things work to see the flaws. Your best bet is to base your world on a previously-defined set of circumstances so that you can just steal details as needed.

    *If you watch the movie as though it’s told by Flynn Rider at a bar, everything makes total and complete sense.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Or the skyscraper towers in the Dungeons and Dragons movie. I know they have wizards, but still . . .

      • Yes. I love D&D style fantasy and games, but I boggled when I saw one gamebook state confidently that even the smallest communities would be as well-lit and clean as modern cities.

        • Mary

          Huh? Only a fifth-level cleric, and you have all the continual light spells you could wish for. Light is no problem.

        • This is the new fracking crazy thing of the left. People always lived this long, were this healthy, things were this clean. Brother. I was born in the second world and I can tell you, they INSULT the benefits of civilization.

          • One walk with actual *looking* through an old cemetery should (should, not will) correct that illusion.

            • I did such a walk through the old Catholic cemetery in Fredericksburg, Texas, a couple of years ago. It was only in use for about fifteen years between 1855-1970. About fifty marked graves, and all but about ten were children and babies. Two young to mid-adults killed by Indians, and one couple who lived to their seventies and eighties. Quite an eye-opener; the babies who only lived for days or weeks after birth, and the children with the same surname, and dates of death three or four days apart.

            • Or not even a very old cemetery. I live in Pennsylvania, and it can be chilling to walk through local cemeteries and see just how many deaths are recorded for the years 1919-1923 or so, especially of children. Or to see how many kids died in the mid-50’s or so, I once asked my mother about it and she said, ‘Because that was the last big summertime polio epidemic, that’s why.’

              • And that, right there, is the reason why I want to strangle all those parents who are anti-vaccine. We only eliminated polio in the 90s, in the Philippines. DO THEY REALLY WANT THAT SHIT BACK?!

                • My mother worked as a candystriper/nursing assistant in a hospital nursery in the late 40’s, and she saw what happened to children whose parents couldn’t avoid getting Rubella and the like. She wanted to arrest people who didn’t vaccinate their kids.

                  And a friend of mine in California told me that the immigrant parents are VERY big on vaccination. It’s apparently the upper class yuppie puppies who hate the evils of modern medicine.

          • People have always . . .
            What the blazes? Haven’t they’ve seen the dates in cemeteries here?

            • They, for whatever reason, but mostly I think to immiserate the vast majority of people without protest, want to minimize the benefits of civilization, so they’ll say things like “if you survived childhood, you lived about the same time.” It’s more “if you survived childhood and had a decent enough diet and a non-dangerous occupation.” So, yeah, it tracks for the wealthier people in the more recent centuries. BUT it still didn’t track. When I was a kid in the village (and yes, we were poor as Job, but in my time no one was starving or eating the weeds from the side of the road) when people died in their sixties the reaction was “He/she was old.” Now when people die at seventy, we get “So young?” And my son who is in Health Care tells me it’s not unusual for people to live to their 100s, which, when I was a kid, was a mythical age no one lived to.

              • That, and wouldn’t it be patently obvious that having more children survive is a benefit of civilization?

              • I’m involved in a Gilbert & Sullivan group. Whenever ages are pointed out, I make sure the younger actors involved have some idea of the relative age decrepitudes, health issues, and so on. Ruth, in Pirates of Penzance, is considered positively ancient at 47, so I tell them why. I make sure to mention things like the effects of childhood illnesses on quality of life (if not longevity), chronic conditions, the type of health care available, and so on. A lot of them have never had it pointed out to them, and it makes them understand a bit better what’s going on.

                We’ll be doing Patience this year. (Speaking of chewing scenery…) I’m going to try for Lady Jane, but the irony is that at the age of 40, I may not look old enough to pull it off… even though she’s probably all of 25 or 30 in the text.

          • And they’ve always had the same sexual morality they do right now. No matter what society they lived in.

            • I like how The Dragon and the George dealt with that. Because the protagonist was modern (1970s), the author was able to point out the differences in how the medieval characters treated love.

          • Mary

            I think that may be why they targeted the Scouts. Even camping would give these people some level of reality.

          • snelson134

            “even the smallest communities would be as well-lit and clean as modern cities.”

            Sarah, what you and Eric are forgetting here is the effect of working AND reliable magic both divine and arcane. Especially if there are whole orders of people devoted to deities of healing, agriculture, etc., and combining their efforts with “mundane” medicine, etc.

            Will it be perfect? No. Will it be orders of magnitude better than the “real world” prior to 1850. Absolutely. And when writing fantasy, the availability of magic needs to be on your world building checklist right after “Does the Sun rise in the East”.

            • snelson134

              Oh, and let’s not forget the presence of manifesting deities on motivations. You may not believe that the gods care about you or your people (see Weber’s hradani) but the number of atheists will be zero.

              • Actually, the main fantasy tabletop RPG I know of (Paizo) has both active gods in the setting and at least three nations with atheism as the ‘state religion’. Though it’s more a case of ‘allowing worship causes more problems than it’s worth’ then actively denying that gods exist.

            • Mary

              OTOH, they don’t think it through. Sure, there’s magic enough that it’s feasible for women to adventure, showing low maternal and infant mortality rates, but everyone still fights with medieval weapons. You still have castles, too. A lot of medieval/modern mash-ups in the silliest ways.

              My favorite D&D webcomics, Order of the Stick and Rusty & Co. are comic and make a lot of fun of this, because, really, there’s no realistic way to treat it.

            • Terry Sanders

              Joel Rosenberg’s *Guardians of the Flame* series includes a major city with no sewage problem. They bought a baby dragon from a hunter, and when it got to a certain size, chained it in a deep pit and routed all their sewers into it. The dragon incinerates everything or it drowns in offal.

              The heroes’ decision to free the enslaved dragon basically defines the whole series.

  13. What gets me is more stuff where, you know, England is not … the way we expect. Like, during the regency, Elizabeth will be on the throne.

    Now that is a book I’d like to read. Is she a lich, a vampire, or a zombie?

  14. Zsuzsa

    “I’ll even roll my eyes and let it go when they have debutantes … walking alone with their family’s compliant consent.”

    I’m not a reader of Regencies for the most part, but that is the Jane Austen period, isn’t it? Elizabeth Bennet spending quite a bit of time walking alone without receiving any more disapproval than mildly scandalizing the Bingley sisters when she showed up with a dirty petticoat–and even that was mostly excused on the grounds that she wanted to see her ill sister. Was Elizabeth simply not high-class enough to be considered a “debutante” and thus the rule didn’t apply to her and her and her circle?

  15. Uncle Lar

    Been watching a new TV show, Taboo, set in 1814 England. A bit reminiscent of Penny Dreadful, though public cable so slightly less risque.
    Major subplot is efforts by the lead character to obtain a large amount of gunpowder. He enlists the help of a chemist and they set up shop on a rural farm and start collecting urine and dung. Process is going far too slowly so they steal a wagonload of refined saltpeter from the East India Company, but then proceed to mix it into their caldrons of witch’s brew.
    Leaving for the moment that what is obviously desired is commercial quantities of gunpowder, which a wagonload of material would not make a dent in, the formula for black powder is 75% saltpeter, 15% wood charcoal, and 10% sulfur. Grind fine, mix wet, then grind the resulting cake into powder grains, at all times being ever so careful not to strike a spark.
    So, much hand wavium over the alchemy of the process and wagon load quantities when shiploads are the goal. Almost at the point of figuratively throwing the show against the wall.

  16. Christopher M. Chupik

    Show I was modestly interested in until I heard the premise: Into the Badlands. Takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where they use martial arts because . . . guns are banned. Yeah, and how do they enforce this? You can tell this was written by a liberal.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Yep, I heard about that show.

      Unfortunately, it’s up for a second season.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Oh, what’s funny is this “The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.”

      IE The Barons (the bad guys) were the people who somehow “banished” guns. 👿 👿 👿 👿

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        If they were smart, they’d outlaw guns for everyone but themselves. But that wouldn’t last forever.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          True.

          Of course Japan outlawed guns for a while which worked as long as the outsiders “stayed out”.

          Of course Edgar Pangborn had a apocalyptic future where one country banned gunpowder but another one IIRC “just south” of the first didn’t ban gunpowder.

          How long would the first country last if the second country decided that they wanted the first country’s territory? 😈

          • Actually, as Princess Mononoke pointed out, there were Japanese gunsmiths, and not all of them worked for the shogun. The trick was to have guns without bringing the whole shogunate down on your head.

      • It is Darkover! Seven domains, guns banned….. Any telepathy?

        (Cracking up.)

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          From what I’ve heard, the only “special powers” in it is the “special power” that prevents guns from “coming back”. 👿

      • Doesn’t that show also show the Barons having all sorts of advanced tech goodies while the entire population is seemingly reduced to peasant dirt farmers? How does that even work?

        • Terry Sanders

          Infrastructure? We don’t need no stinking *infrastructure!*

          • I’ve learned more about the show. Apparently the Barons (who rule everything) have working automobiles, but weaponry is limited to things like spears and swords (and a few crossbows). This despite the fact that the only engineers left are all slaves. And having another culture around (the Nomads) who hate the Barons and fight them constantly.

  17. Hey, do your research: There are no lawns in the desert!

    (Ducking)

    • Tell that to the homeowners in Phoenix!

      • Yes! I had a lawn in Phoenix, and it was quite a pain. Imagine its 110 out, and you have to cut the grass.

        I had to -vacuum- the lawn once. Seems there’s these weeds that have seeds of a perfect size to go up between the dog’s toenails and his skin. They are expensive to remove, vets cost a fortune.

        The seeds are persistent after you cut all the weeds down. So you have to vacuum all the crap out of the decorative river stones that make up one side of the driveway. Also fallen leaves from the non-native trees go in the stones. If you get a leaf blower, you instantly create a dust storm. So, they have massive vacuums for the lawn. For rent.

        Interesting side note, in the desert, dog poo is forever. The dog leaves an offering, if you go look six months later, it will still be there. Unless the red ants get it. Then there will be a ton of red ants.

        Feeding the red ants is -bad-. Don’t do it.

  18. Bad research is one of the reasons that I dislike reading most books written about the South during the Civil War time period. Most authors just don’t seem to care about getting the culture correct. But then again, I understand. If I’d only read from my history books and not from writings actually written at the time, I wouldn’t know half the stuff I do.

  19. My own pet peeve is the Sword-and-Sandal movies that have Roman legionaries riding horses with stirrups.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Well, Roman Legionaries on horseback can be a problem depending on when the story/movie is set. 😉

      • My biggest problem is that stirrups weren’t invented until the 4th century (in China) and did not come to Europe until the Middle Ages.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I’m aware of that, but Roman Legions were normally Infantry.

          While later Roman Forces were Heavy Cavalry (sans stirrups), I’m not sure if they were called Legions.

          I’ve seen “history channel” shows that have Romans vs Gauls with Romans on horseback.

          • richardmcenroe

            Roman cavalry were organized into squadrons called ‘alae,’ IIRC. and treated as auxilia to the serious fighters in the legions.

    • Cheaper than finding stunt men who can ride without while keeping their manly bits intact in that armored skirt.

      • Terry Sanders

        Like the movie Riders of Rohan, who rode into battle *with their shields still hanging from their saddles*? Because (someone told me, so I can’t swear to it) they couldn’t find that many stuntmen they trusted to ride at a gallop with a shield strapped to their arms?

  20. The Byzantines appear to have had stirrups in the 7th century.

  21. richardmcenroe

    MOORISH LIVES MATTER! NO JUSTICE, NO PEERS! NO JUSTICE, NO PEERS! *reaches for Guy Fawkes mask, realizes it is out of period.* Dammit.

  22. There were Regency English black people (including a famous boxer), and there was a lot of stuff going on with Islamic people in the developing British Empire. But rarely did the two combine.

    Marguerite Henry’s book King of the Wind, about the Godolphin Arabian, one of the famous foundation sires of Thoroughbreds, features a pre-Regency Arab kid in England.

  23. Robin Munn

    “And maybe you think I’m being crotchetty, but I tell you, I am the voice that cries in the desert: get off my lawn.”

    I am SO going to steal that, though since I’m not yet old enough for the word “crotchetty” to make sense applied to me, I’m going to have to substitute “curmudgeonly” or “a curmudgeon” when I use the line.

  24. It was a dark and stormy moor. Wasn’t that a Sherlock Holmes tale?

  25. moors in England. Don’t they appear in Jane Eyre, a novel I found totally incomprehensible when we read it in iirc eighth grade?

    George, being unreasonable.

  26. Your post came at an opportune time for me. I want to write a book about 19th century London–actually about a character at that location in that period of time. Like you, I already have a lot of general information. How could it be different when there are so many movies about that era? Still, I want street names, businesses, and so forth. I want my readers to be able to actually put themselves into the story walking on those roads and visiting those businesses.

  27. On the topic of “research”, as there will be a Sad Puppies VI next year, I offer a bit of a reading list, the SF novels (novel = 100,000+ words) published by Smashwords this January.

    rom The National Fantasy Fan, February 2017 (Volume LXXVI, Number2), the newsletter of the National Fantasy Fan Federation (founded 1941).

    Science Fiction and Fantasy novels published in January 2017 by Smashwords (smashwords.com) and available in many electronic formats. Note that I adhere to a rigorous definition of “novel”; the work must be over 100,000 words. Some of these are over 300,000 or 400,000 words.

    Science Fiction

    The Two Worlds of Geratica – The Women of Geratica by Anne Hampton
    Another Girl, Another Planet by Lou Antonelli
    Pandemic by Terrence Aubrey
    Lélekcsapda by Soma Csátvák
    The Year of the Dragon, 5-8 by James Calbraith
    Beyond Saturn by Stephen Brandon
    Surviving The Evacuation, Book 9: Ireland by Frank Tayell
    A Wintering of Evil Book Two The Pandora Affair by Lee Earlywine
    A Wintering of Evil Book One The Pandora Affair by Lee Earlywine
    Zombie Fallout 10: Those Left Behind by Mark Tufo
    Animus Intercept by Lawrence Ambrose
    The Solar Alliance by Ray McCarthy
    Daniel by Dennis Adkins
    Connor’s Gambit by Z Gottlieb
    Avalon by Rusty Coats
    Science Fiction & Fantasy Collection by Den Warren
    Haven: The Legacy of Madonast by Jonathan D. Lindley
    Today’s Stars for Dinosaurus by Dominic Green
    Bad Fate: A Science Fantasy by M.A. Leibfritz
    The Path of Duty by Eric Thomson
    Fractured Mind The Complete Series by Odette C. Bell
    Dark Voyage: Prossia Book 4 by Raphyel M. Jordan
    The Portal by Rodd Dana
    Future of the Earth: The Derelict by J.G. Contor
    Iceland: An International Technothriller (Book 2 of THE FLENSE) by Saul Tanpepper
    The Maskless Trilogy by K. Weikel
    Scorpius by John Wegener
    The Sabre-Toothed Cat Trilogy by James Paddock
    Time-Travel Duo by James Paddock
    Gandrine Book 1 by Agneta Nord
    Jadde – The Fragile Sanctuary by Clive Ousley
    Breaking Interstellar: Cosmic Lives Matter by Michael Tobin
    Harbingers of the Dawn: Book 2 of the Dawn Saga by Zachariah Wahrer
    We’re All Working Together by Curtis Leon Fee
    Science-Faction by TS Caladan
    The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Part One: Eagle Ascendant by Lorinda J Taylor
    Sea’s Turn by J. E. Andrews
    The Trapped Trilogy by K. Weikel
    The Last Reptilian War: Part 4 – The League in Peril by Joseph Gabrieli
    No Honor in Death by Eric Thomson
    Super Powers of Mass Destruction by Jaron Lee Knuth

    Fantasy

    Beastslayer : Rise of the Rgnadon by Chris Turner
    Shapeling Trilogy Collection by Verna Clay
    Kryolia – The Quest for the Medallion by Zara Valli
    Devastation by Daniel D. Longdon
    The Dwelling of Ekhidna by Lauren Jankowski
    Storms in Amethir Books 1-3 Omnibus by Stephanie A. Cain
    Chronicles of the Last Days by Amelia Smith
    Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 101,630. Language: English. Published: January 31, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
    Halendor: Bad Divinity by Lloydd Marshall
    The Zombie Knight Saga – Volume Four – Encounter with Supremity by George M. Frost
    Awakener by J.C. Staudt
    Curse of the Jenri by Stephanie Barr
    rcadia’s Children by Andrew R. Williams
    La Leyenda de Okster: El viaje de Akuain (Parte 1) by jordi, Sr
    Price: Free! Words: 117,540. Language: Spanish. Published: January 28, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General
    Dragon Legends 2: Dragon Queen by Paul Green
    Lélekcsapda by Soma Csátvák
    The Year of the Dragon, 5-8 by James Calbraith
    The Shadow of the High King by Frank Dorrian
    She Dies at the End by A.M. Manay
    Steel Wolves of Craedia (Realm of Arkon, Book 3) by G. Akella
    The Cursed Princedom (Realm of Arkon, Book 2) by G. Akella
    Cheating Death by April White
    Delver Magic Book XI: Emptiness Filled by Jeff Inlo
    She Lights Up the Dark by A.M. Manay
    The Ruling Mask by Daniel Ravipinto
    The Crimson Claymore by Craig A. Price, Jr
    Trials by Jesse McMinn
    Science Fiction & Fantasy Collection by Den Warren
    The Memory Spell by Jennifer Flath
    People of Dirt by CC Hogan
    Bad Fate: A Science Fantasy by M.A. Leibfritz
    Our Young Guardians: Seven & Two by Rodi Szoke
    Sadgi by Shaun Jooste
    DragonRider by Shaun Jooste
    Windfarer by Shaun Jooste
    Harbingers (The World of Lasniniar Book 6) by Jacquelyn Smith
    Patch 17 (Realm of Arkon, Book 1) by G. Akella
    The Odette C. Bell Fantasy Bundle by Odette C. Bell
    The Immortal Lover by A. White
    Deanna Oscar Box Set Books 1-3 by CC Dragon
    The Thread Frays – Book 2 of the Path to Chaos by Howard Gurney
    Dragons of the Ice by C. L. Kraemer
    Belvedor and the King’s Curse (Belvedor Saga, Book 2) by Ashleigh Bello
    Frostborn: Excalibur by Jonathan Moeller
    Dragons of Dirt by CC Hogan
    Rising Empire Trilogy by C. S. Woolley
    The River Throne by Gregory Ashe
    The Brittened Crown by Gregory Ashe
    The Drowning Mask by Gregory Ashe
    Calhei No More – Wycaan Master Book 6 by Alon Shalev
    From Ashes They Rose – Wycaan Master Book 5 by Alon Shalev
    Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4 by Alon Shalev
    Belvedor and the Four Corners (Belvedor Saga, Book 1) by Ashleigh Bello
    Lucid Nightmares by Sam Knight
    The Gauntlet of Feona by Kel Writer
    The Apprentice and the Vortex by Alister Laurence
    Nightsong (Volume I of the Dragonsouled Chronicles) by D.C. Trevett
    S. T. (Since tempore) Авантюрный роман. Сборник Собачья жизнь. Рассказы. Заметки на полях бытия. by Sergey Marchuk
    Price: $5.00 USD. Words: 205,400. Language: Russian. Published: January 5, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary, Fiction » Humor & comedy » Parody
    Авантюрный роман “S.t. (Since tempore)” приведёт вас в современную Москву, где вы встретитесь с таинственным посланником потусторонних миров человеком в смокинге с говорящим котом Маней. бродячим монахом-философом блаженным Филей, врачом Иваном и остальными участниками тех необыкновенных событий.
    Innkeeper’s Husband by Gordon A. Long
    On a Crooked Track by Karen Myers
    Fatespinner by S. K. Aetherphoxx
    Lost in Time by J.D. Rogers
    Wizardlings by Lea Sheldan
    Sebastian Quest and the Telling of Omen’s End by David Bone
    Angel on My Shoulder (Angels and Seers: Book Two) by Stephanie Woods
    Halcyon’s Dream (Tales of Ashkar Book Two) by Kayl Karadjian
    Nurion Starbringer – Jornada a Elluria by R.L. Gomide
    Ruins of Winter – Book 2 The War of the Power by Michael Arneson
    The Howling God by Paul Batteiger
    Song of Princes by Janell Rhiannon
    Symphony Of War by Ros Jackson
    Mesonia by Gerildean Pennycook
    Naya by Ashley Abbiss

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