Today’s guest is Golden Heart finalist, Romance Bandit and (hurray!) debut author, the fabulous NANCY NORTHCOTT.
I’ve never killed anyone, engaged in political intrigue, or worked magic, but characters in my debut novel, Renegade, do all these things. This would seem to fly in the face of the once-popular advice to aspiring authors, “Write what you know.” Taken literally, that would be very limiting. J.R.R Tolkien, never having visited Middle Earth or seen an orc, a hobbit, or an elf, could not have written The Lord of the Rings, and yet he did and it became one of the most popular series in print.
Tolkien biographer Humphrey Carpenter notes the author’s fondness for walking through rural landscapes like the Shire, and John Garth in Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth discusses his subject’s experiences on the Western Front. Tolkien knew war and the camaraderie of soldiers. He also knew and loved the rural vistas being lost to industrialization and the Anglo Saxon stories and customs that helped form his imaginary world.
Tolkien drew on things he knew and believed and spun them into a world no one had ever seen before. He made the world and the characters seem so real that their appeal is just as strong decades after they first appeared.
The creation of my mage series The Protectors, also involved combining what I knew with what I didn’t, as noted above. I drew on the themes and traditions I’ve enjoyed since childhood. I loved fantasy and the Arthurian ideal of “might for right” that also pervaded the superhero comic books I read. The concept of superheroes moving anonymously among us ordinary people also intrigued me. I majored in history and especially enjoyed English history. These things I already knew were early building blocks for this series.
But there were important things I didn’t know, like how to perform a spell, how mages get their power, what its limits are, and what supernatural villains I could use and still have room to adapt them. Research helps with those things. I found books on Wicca and folklore, made friends with the people in the local New Age shop, did research on the internet, and consulted friends who’d also looked into these subjects.
This might be a good time to mention that internet research can be a mixed blessing. Anyone can put up a website and say anything she wants. Whether the information is reliable is another matter.
I think it’s a useful rule of thumb to look for corroborating sources on any concept or to seek out websites where the people involved have some sort of credentials. My hero fights with a quarterstaff, so I consulted the website and the YouTube videos of the English Quarterstaff Society. I also found one book about the history of the quarterstaff as a weapon and another showing it in use.
My mages use Latin imperatives when they need to amplify their power. I took Latin in high school, but that was a long time ago. With help from a university contact, I consulted a Latin professor, who helped me with the correct word forms. Many people are happy to talk about their work if approached in a professional manner that shows respect for their subject and appreciation for the time they are taking to help.
I also read many, many books about earth magic and elemental magic and drew on what seemed most useful to me. In creating the ghouls, I took the name, which evokes something unpleasant but is less clearly defined than, say, “zombie” and put my own spin on it. The vampire tradition of sucking blood became the ability to steal life energy or magic. Instead of fangs, my ghouls have retractable talons that also inject potentially lethal venom or rend the flesh of their prey.
With a bedrock of the familiar, whether it’s themes or materials, and the addition of research, a writer can come to know almost anything well enough to build a world around it.
Here’s the blurb for Nancy’s new release, RENEGADE:
SHE ENFORCES THE RULES
As the mage council’s sheriff for the southeastern United States, Valeria Banning doesn’t just take her job seriously, she takes it personally. So when a notorious fugitive and supposed traitor risks his life to save hers, she has to wonder why. To find the answer, she’ll have to put everything on the line, starting with her heart.
HE BREAKS EVERY ONE OF THEM
As a mage, Griffin Dare is sworn to protect innocents from dark magic, which is how he finds himself fighting side by side with the beautiful Valeria Banning. But when the council finds out the two have been working together, the pair must run for their lives–from the law, the threat of a ghoul takeover, and a possible council mole.
NOW THEY ARE EACH OTHER’S ONLY HOPE
Have any of you run into problems researching information for your books? Do you have any helpful sites to recommend?
Check back on Friday, when Romance University co-founder ADRIENNE GIORDANO presents “A Case for Story Structure.”
Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy and YA romance. A sucker for fast action and wrenching emotion, she combines the romance and high stakes she loves in her new contemporary mage series. Check out Nancy’s website here. She blogs with the Romance Bandits and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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- Donna MacMeans: The Value of Research
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- Long Journey to a Small Press with Debut Author Susan Boyer