RESEARCH RABBIT HOLES
Phyllis Irene Radford
Research can be a wonderful tool for bringing a sense of veritas to fiction writing. I had to research why glass would be the most precious commodity in the epic fantasy world of The Glass Dragon, when silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the known universe.
Research can also be an end in itself.
We all know people who have researched a book for ten years or more but can’t write the book because they haven’t done enough research. They could write a doctoral dissertation, but there is more to research to do for the fiction book.
I have a feeling that research addicts have fallen into more than one rabbit hole.
Only one author of my acquaintance was able to pull herself out of the fascinating thrall of yet more research and finish the book.
ElizaBeth (Lace) Gilligan, may she rest in peace, had been researching the Romany for an alternate history fantasy series for ten years, but always had more to research. She tuned in to an afternoon talk show that featured guest Romany chieftains from two rival clans. About the time they resorted to chair throwing, they had left English behind and yelled curses at each other in their native language. Some of these elaborate curses are cultural and not translatable. Lace understood every word they said, and why.
It was time to write the book.
A quick Google search provided me with a long list of names of every bishop of Paris since Rome appointed the first one back in the post Roman dark ages. Except there was an eight-year gap surrounding 1558. Blank. No name. Nothing.
Huh? The Catholics are noted for their record keeping. They keep everything. They may hide a piece of information they don’t like, or feel threatened by, so that no one can find it for a thousand years, but they keep it.
I did note that the names prior to the gap all came from the same du Bellay family. The position of Bishop of Paris seemed to be an inheritable legacy. Later research confirmed that this was common throughout Europe in the period.
Onto the Catholic Encyclopedia. Still a huge gap during my crucial period.
I needed to move on and finish writing the book. Deadlines will do that to you. So I left the name blank and continued writing, but I did place a call to the University of Portland (Oregon) research librarian. https://www.up.edu/?gclid=CjwKCAjwxILdBRBqEiwAHL2R82PnzMtX5Oov2DK3bjmlLyNxPEnCFP4kGRxQ6S5qWWTE3zdN8F49oxoCfHYQAvD_BwE
I figured a Catholic college should be able to come up with something, even if it was a dispute in Rome that left the episcopal (meaning “of the bishop” not the modern Protestant church) throne empty. The wonderful ladies learned to giggle every time I called because they knew I’d send them off into research rabbit holes they’d not think of following otherwise. Research Librarians are the ultimate research addicts. I’d almost forgotten my quest for a name of a prominent historical character when they called back. It seems that Eustachius du Bellay resigned as Bishop of Paris in 1564. No explanation available unless I went to the Vatican Archives.
Cool! That worked nicely with the way the plot developed and why a new dynasty took over from him in the chain of succession.
I wrote the book, a 200,000 word monster, but the research didn’t stop there.
That family monopoly of high positions haunted me. Further reading took me into the “Nephew” culture. Every high ranking official in any corporation or government or agency needs an administrative assistant, one who is in training to take over for the boss when the time comes. In the Roman Catholic church of the time, this assistant was often referred to as the nephew of the reigning prince. From the chain of names, this looks logical. Except that further digging led to the conclusion that instead of a nephew, the assistant could be the son of an ordained and consecrated bishop who is therefore supposed to be celibate, or someone unrelated who took the family name so he could be called “nephew” when he was actually the lover of the prince.
One essay, which was badly researched if researched at all, claimed that these homosexual liaisons resulted from overpopulation and the anthropological need to reduce the population and conserve resources. Take what you want from that premise.
But the overpopulation in cities led me to the emergence of cities out of agrarian societies, and how settled farming came out of hunter-gatherer tribes.
This took me to Gobleki Tepe in Turkey, the oldest known human constructed temple. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe
These massive, artistically carved, and decorated standing stones are the subject of an ongoing archaeological study that reveals new things every season. Scientists have found hints of ancestor worship, evidence of feasting, and many 20 gallon, stone troughs with beer residue.
The picture painted by the evidence suggests that hundreds of hunter-gatherers came from up to one thousand miles away, with their livestock, for an annual ritual around the temple they’d come together to build, followed by festivities.
Now if you are going to throw a party for that many people you have to have an on-flowing supply of beer, much more than what each family could gather along the way and ferment once they arrived. No, this kind of annual party required fields and fields of carefully managed grain. The beginning of civilization.
This proves once again that beer saved the world.
Now where did this rabbit hole begin?