It kind of goes without saying that historical fiction takes tons of research.
Tons. Literally heaps and gobs of it. Great stacks and piles.
I thought my doctoral dissertation took a lot of research. That was nothing in comparison to the thousands of pages I have read and saved on my hard drive.
OK. Moving on.
What has surprised the daylights out of me is how much time I spend researching things that do not even exist.
Hours and days on things that absolutely do not exist outside of my own imagination.
Wait, hang in there with me a minute. I promise I haven’t finally OD’d on caffeine and chocolate. Hear me out. It really does make sense.
Crossing from straight historical to what my husband calls my ‘Regency Urban Fantasy’ series, sounds like it would be less material to look up because I can just make it up right?
Yeah, sure, I could do that. I’d like to do that. Life would be easier if I did that. But I shouldn’t do that.
Why would I spend hours and days in deep dives down research rabbit holes over things that don’t exist?
Mostly because I like to torture readers and make writing takes as long as possible. I’m mean that way—I am the meanest mom on the block, after all.
Alright. Maybe not.
Seriously though, while the meanest mom thing is entirely true, the actual reason is a bit more complicated.
In short, truth is far stranger than fiction and fiction based on fact is must more interesting, believable, and detailed than anything I could simply make up myself.
And I’m so glad for it, because it has made Jane Austen’s dragons far more fascinating that I could have.
For example, consider the tatzelwurm. I wish I could take complete credit for those delightful creatures, but I can’t. It all started when I came across the Alpine myth of the tatzelwurm, a half-cat, half-serpent creature that moved by springing along on its tail. I never thought of a cat dragon, but what would be better?
About the time I came across that myth, we took in our son’s cat, a young polydactyl with a very distinct personality. Putting the two ideas together, my Regency era tatzelwurm sprang to life. With thumb-toes to set it apart from true cats, and an insatiable desire for food he should not have, the entire species came to life. And when I need to know what a tatzelwurm might do in any given situation, I just turn to my resident cat-dragon for answers.
In my dragon world, there are a host of bird-type dragons, similarly inspired by a combination of mythical beasts and real creatures. I love hummingbirds, so they were the natural go-to for the fairy dragons, who are near and dear to my heart. Falcons and similar birds of prey jumped up and insisted on being the model for the male cockatrice—a proud heraldic creature.
The female of the species, the cockatrix though, she needed a very special inspiration. So I went poking about the avian world and discovered … (wait for it) … show chickens!
No, I do not mean the kind that end up as drumsticks on your plate. These are birds of entirely a different feather.
(Groan, yeah I know, sorry. Terrible joke, but I had to.)
Show chickens are truly spectacular creatures. Just look at these guys!The feathers! The ruffs!
That look! Is that not the very image of a creature who would live with Lady Catherine de Bourgh?
Even better, birds including chickens are susceptible to all sorts of maladies that make amazing fodder for delicious plot details. They pull their own feathers out when they get stressed. Scaly leg mites and feather lice can plague them to distraction and can be treated with cures available during the regency era. What better way to design the travails of a dragon keeper?
But what about dragons that aren’t bird-types, like baby Pemberley, who is a more traditional dragon, with teeth instead of a beak. Then the research net has to be cast a little wider, looking for real-world parallels. Baby dragons probably share a great deal in common with baby people, right? Baby people have a hard time with teething, so baby dragons just might as well. Makes sense me.
While I would have liked to turn to a vintage edition of Better Dragon Keeping Monthly to find out more about it, alas, that was not possible. So I started digging around more standard period references and wow—I was totally floored! Never would I have imagined what teething meant to Regency era parents. The issues there were far better than any I could have imagined myself and absolutely fit everything I needed for the story.
So what were these wonderful details? I’m going to make you wait for those delicious details until next week. I’m the meanest mom on the block, remember? But here are a few hints…