I shared the stage with a mix of academics and writers, Mark Painter (m), Daniel José Older he/him, JR Dawson, and Roxanne Reddington-Wilde. This was my third panel of the convention. In some ways my most challenging. There is a lot to be said about the how and why of researching history. What does the author get out of the process? What's the correct relationship between the research and the needs of the story?
There were some lovely points made that are worth remembering. Daniel José Older compared the writing of history into a story to writing music: the historic details are the chorus. Both he and JR Dawson talked about the people history forgot, except perhaps in the footnotes, and the joy behind giving them a voice, and making them real again at least on the page. In some ways, you are immortalizing them. There is fluidity and flexibility in the process of choosing just right details to use, regardless of the likely massive amounts of research you might have done to prepare and build your world. There are many access points that you have to the story.
One thing I didn't bring up is a practical concern. If you are writing for yourself or self-publishing, the barriers between you and your audience are minimal, but that also means there are fewer trained people to help you refine your writer's voice and tell you what is and isn't working. So be careful. If the point of your story is to bring to life as accurately as possible to a beloved moment in time, then you run the risk of it creating a fascinating heuristic, which, while having great instructional value, may end up being less entertaining to a larger audience, because it misses the fundamental point of why we tell stories.
If you are writing to be seen by an agent and then editor, the more you can do to clarify the point of your story, the often discussed "third rail," the easier you will make it on yourself and on them. It's this emotional core that drives your story from scene to scene, moment to moment, from beginning to end. Knowing this will make it much easier in the revision and rewriting phase, which (IMO) is where the real writing truly begins. Instead of rewriting 100k words, you will only have to rewrite 30k.
One more thing about research. There are plenty of people whom you can reach out to who know more about a subject than you do. Academics love to talk about their work, and the ones who can do it well are often easy to find. Approach them with respect, don't be thirsty, and you will save yourself a ton of frustration, get insights from somebody who has had years to process the information and distill it down to really interesting insights. You may even make a new friend!
PS: Because I said I'd do it, here is a resource for writers wanting to accurately represent language, real or made-up (but mostly made-up). It's a great book and infinitely helpful: The Art of Language Invention by David J Peterson.
Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale is another great resource, but for completely different reason. It's ostensibly a grammar book, but in showing you the correct function of part of speech, Constance actually teaches you how to choose the just right detail. It approaches the problem sideways and I'm here for it.
Another great panel! It's been awhile since I've been on a legitimately terrible panel. Props to all the people at Arisia, Boskone, Readercon, and others for working so hard (for free) to create communities and keep us coming back for more.
David Friedman, he/him, moderated the panel and if you missed it, I think you can reach out to him for notes. I joined JR Dawson, Morgan Crooks, and Zareh Artinian he/him. Panels like this are meant for authors who want to write about education in the future, but when you get a bunch of educators in one room without the administration, even speculative writers, we are going to talk about the present, the challenges of teaching here and now. And so it was.
JR Dawson, very early on, brought up the topic of educational technology disparities of rich and poor in the Mid-West during the Pandemic, and this became something of a theme of the conversation. David near quoted Gibson, "the future is distribute unevenly."
What we find is that the technology of the now actually has a ton of beneficial attributes; the A.I. revolution of angry robots hasn't quite hit us. But outcomes dictate policy, policy dictates allocation, and allocation is dictated by history. So for the writer of the future, I recommend focusing on this hierarchy. We want a revolution in priorities. But revolutions are not nearly as spontaneous as they seem and can have a long burn, unrecognizable in the moment. We are in the middle of multiple chaotic shifts in education.
It is the opinion of this writer that there is huge opportunity for stories discussing near future outcomes and that they need not all be sci-fi. Harry Potter and magic schools are very popular. You can get around some of the tech hurdles and just play with the policies. Has there every been a magic school book that focused on the teachers and the people who create the school? The closest that I know of is the Magicians, but it was still student focused.
Something to think about.
If you're reading this, thank you! Please consider buying my book, Daydreamer. People are saying very cool things about it. Like this:
Some of you may have noticed a big change to my header. That is the cover for my debut novel Daydreamer, drawn by Dion MBD. The art is so good it honestly took my mind a good week to really see everything that was going on here. The more I stare at it, the deeper I fall into a Miyazaki film. It's two arms elbow deep, one in the material world, the other in dream. Just look at it! Clickity, click, look at it up close! It's. A. Freaking. Feast.
So now that I have your attention, it's a good time to tell you that Daydreamer is available for pre-order now!
I'll be on the internets more and more to talk about how proud I am of this story, what I think it means to me, and what I hope it means to others, but for now, I'm going to leave you with the wonderful words of Carlos Hernandez, Pura Belpré Award winning author of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe:
“Cameron’s sentences are laden with magic, stuffed to spilling with the stuff of dreams. Through them, he takes us on a journey that’s personal, poignant, phantasmagoric, and profound.”
I'm back at Arisia! My panels are:
I'm moderating the panel on Mythology. If you are there live, I will give the audience a link to access the document I'll be creating for the conversation in progress. You'll be able to comment and ask questions. Normal rules of etiquette apply, and they come down to, "Don't be a disrespectful jerk."
See you there.
Not my real name, but it does roll right off the tongue, doesn't it?