June 28, 2011

Writer Rites: A Bit of Reference

When I was in grad school, we had an author in residence who wrote mystery novels, and collected books of lists. He liked to know the name of the little silvery balls on Christmas cookies (dragées), the plastic bit at the end of the shoelace (aglet), and the name of the indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle (the kick, or the punt). He could tell us the parts of a stoplight (the tunnel visor is the metal bit out of which the light shines), and informed us that the rowel is the part of a cowboy's spur that rotates. He found his lists from David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace's Book of Lists series.

Another great pair of references many writers use is the The Way Things Work series, and the How Stuff Works website and books. I discovered these when I was teaching, and the detailed illustrations include a naming of the parts, all the way down to the gears. Visual learners groove on that sort of thing, and it sends the author's imagination into the stratosphere... and generally made me forget that SSR was only supposed to go for fifteen minutes. Thank goodness for digital timers.

I have always loved knowing bits of minutiae, and learning something new. As writers, we can often spend tons of time exploring historical, social, and literary references to inform our own writing. It's easy to get ...lost in research.

I found another great place for you to get lost.

E2BN is the Learning Grid for the East of England and regional provider of the National Education Network. They've put out a website called Cookit! which is all about food and its history through time. There are recipes for 1970's cocktail sandwiches and Tudor frumenty, divided by class, time period, country, and level of healthiness. (Sandwiches, oddly, are less healthy than frumenty, to my mind). It's up to you if you just look on with horror or try and find the ingredients and make the stuff. Sure, you want hare terrine. G'wan!

It's another helpful site for writers of historical fiction (and history teachers), and it includes cooking podcasts, too. Fun, fun stuff.

Need a few words from flapper era slang? You've got it.

Howzabout some naughty Victorian words? Disturbingly, it's right here.

Want to hang with the workers in a medieval city? Head this way.

Now, writers, I'm supplying you with helpful shortcuts to make your work life easier. I am not providing you with an excuse to zone out on the internet. Put these in a folder on your home page, and get back to work. Right? Right.

P.S. - Psst, writers: If you have any other cool spots where you find unique and strange information useful to your fiction writing -- perhaps the names of the henna symbols drawn on bride's hands at Hindu weddings? Or the parts of a soft-serve ice cream machine? -- please drop it in the comments, and I'll add it to the post.

P.S. S. - For more writing notes guaranteed NOT to get you all lost and messed up in your research, check out yesterday's Shrinking Violets post.


jama said...

Squee! Love this post. I'm a sucker for lists and trivia. COOKIT is especially swoon-worthy. Thank you thank you thank you!!

tanita✿davis said...

So glad you like it! Now, these are SERIOUS work sites, Miss James Margaret, so don't you go lollygagging around and playing there. Back to work with you!

LinWash said...

Thank you! This is so helpful! I'm writing medieval fantasy so, yay!

tanita✿davis said...

The medieval city stuff I've held onto for AGES -- it really, really is well researched and detailed. Glad to help!

Sarah Stevenson said...

I LOVE How Stuff Works. I've already been to their site several times for my new project. They really are awesome.

Cookit is great! (And you know me...I probably WOULD try the hare terrine...)