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Cannibalizing History-Part One:
Cookbooks and Floor Plans and Herbs (Oh, My!)

I was a history major in college and I’ve never lost my love of research. At Lunacon 2008, I moderated a panel with such participants as Jacqueline Carey and Chris Cevasco, and we got to share our love of history and the resources we’ve discovered to help bring a story to life.

For the Trickster's Game trilogy, I naturally turned to nonfiction books about life in the Bronze Age, both in northern Europe and the more technologically advanced cultures of the Mediterranean. I researched ancient boat building, weaponry, tools, etc. But some of the best details came from less traditional sources.

Ancient cookbooks provided me with details about food preparation. Books on traditional medicines and herb lore helped me create charms and talismans, and familiarize myself with the kind of healing plants Griane would use. (This also meant researching the plants to ensure they would all grow in the same region.) These resources also gave me ideas about alternate names for plants. (How could I use the name pennyroyal in a culture that had neither coins nor royalty? Instead, I chose ground-runner.)

In developing the Zherosi culture, I drew from that of the Middle Minoan period. Books with floor plans of early houses and palaces helped me visualize the kind of setting I wanted, but only when I began drawing my own floor plans did the palace at Pilozhat really come to life. I sketched the layout of each level and identified the locations of the key places: the throne room, the adder pit, the council meeting room. And I created detailed floor plans for important rooms (like the queen’s apartments) to help me picture the action.

Okay, maybe I won’t win “Top Design” (“The spiral waves on the columns were fabulous, but those scarlet cushions…what were you thinking?”) but once I got it down on paper, I could describe it much better for readers. (Ditto drawing key topographic features like the bald hill in Foxfire.)

For me, nothing beats seeing something firsthand. (See The Traveling Writer.) “Living museums” are invaluable resources, offering a glimpse of life in the “olden days” rather than display cases filled with artifacts. I’ve crawled into a box bed. Hefted a claymore. Sheared a sheep. (Well, part of one.) Whether you’re a writer or a re-enactor or just someone who loves the past, it’s a great way to experience other worlds.


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