|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
1. I am a believer in the never ending process of learning. In that cause I would like to put out an invitation to poets living in the Ventura, California area. Wednesday nights, for the next five weeks, at 7 PM in Ventura at the Vita Art Center, 432 North Ventura Avenue, there will be an ongoing poetry workshop. This is a great opportunity to sharpen your craft and gather with other writers in the pursuit of excellence.
I Honestly Don't Think He Was Bullshitting Just Then.
You know what I mean. That spot in a story where, as you're reading it, you just know that the writer has more than an Internet reference to some set of facts. It might be a location, or language, or the description of a particular emotional reaction. There's something there that tells you, this author has had experience.
Is this always true? No, after all, how many writers of historical fiction have ever really been in a sword fight? Or stood forty yards apart, reloading a flintlock, in the face of the whithering fire being delivered by a Redcoat regiment? Or exited a C-130 above thirty thousand feet for a covert insertion behind hostile lines.
How many have written slice of life vignettes involving a blues musician who, themselves, can actually pick up a guitar and lay down a competent B flat riff? Or describe the intricate taste of a pasta puttanesca (Or what it translates as?)? Or accurately describe how to prepare sawmill gravy and homemade baking powder biscuits? Or what it's like to sleep rough in a boxcar?
How many times do you read a description of a gunfight between cowboys, mob soldiers, or gangsters on modern streets, and say to yourself, "I don't think so?" So, what makes the ones that come off so good, actually work? Sometimes it's life experience, but more often than not, it's research.
Some of this can be conducted on the Internet, or in a library, or through any number of museums and organizations. (You would be amazed at some of the obscure subjects that have clubs or societies devoted to their reenactment, preservation, or resuscitation.) Not only are there people all over the world actively preserving the records of almost any given historical period, and the incredible minutiae of each, there are also any number of groups actively keeping the pomp, ceremony, and gritty everyday life of any period you can think of, alive. It might take a bit to find them, but once you do, you have an incredible, in depth resource at your fingertips.
How about the hands-on aspect of it? Well, what does it take just to properly load, prime, aim, and accurately fire a flintlock of the Revolutionary war period? Again, there are historic sites, enthusiasts, and reenactors who can really improve your knowledge and believability there. As can any number of Fur Period groups, or Western Frontier Cavalry groups, and on, and on.
How about the foodie questions? The best way I can tell you to get some authenticity in those descriptions (the kind that allows you to mention one small detail and be in indisputable command), is to find the recipe and ingredients and step into the kitchen. Come on, you cannot live on a diet of fast food and prepackaged mystery meat and expect to tell me what a good Jaeger Schnitzel mit Salzkartoffeln should be made from or taste like. When was the last time YOU cooked Boeuf Borguingon? Have you ever made bubble and squeak or champ? For that matter, how many times have you made bread or beans in a dutch oven?
While I was in the military, there were two occasions when I was either interviewed by, or assigned as escort to, a fiction writer who was doing research on a piece he was writing. You'd be surprised how cooperative the military can be in some circumstances. No, they don't always agree, but they have been known to allow access even when there was a good possibility they weren't about to be portrayed in the most flattering light. You don't know until you ask. But once you ask and follow through with honest, insightful questions and inquiries, you mark yourself as someone who has better reference than the others writing a hundred similar stories. Let's face it. if you find a way to stand out, then take it.
Why are there so many fantasy and vampire writers out there? Because it doesn't require the same level of work as someone trying to put something in a context that requires more than making it up as you go. Sorry to all the elves, trolls, and neck biters out there (Ooooh, Margot, you naughty little thing. That'll leave a mark!), but if I have my druthers, I'd druther the person I'm reading pull me in by showing me they actually had to work to put their story together.
Meanwhile...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis