Thanks go to Tielan, on the BPAL forums, for this phrase: "Writing the Unfamiliar."( More context beneath the cut.Collapse )
Why is this useful to me? Because I'm writing.
I'm back at work on the 1881 project. Since it's set in a fictional place, Oleanna Territory (just west of Minnesota and just east of Dakota; I took the name from a bunch of Danish immigrant songs), I get to make a bunch of stuff up, but since it's surrounded by real places, there are a lot of connections to make. And there are a LOT of unfamiliar things to me. Just to begin with, I have been spending the last mumble-mumble years trying to get a sense of what some of the various experiences were for people who had either lived through the Civil War or who had grown up hearing about it, and trying to figure out what my characters had done and how they felt about that, and what their world looked like to them now. I've come to the conclusion that it's not possible for me to write a deep story that has some cowboys (not all of them male) and town boomers and financiers and railroad people and so forth and is set in 1881 without at least getting a sense of where a bunch of the lines were.
Mike started me off on a bunch of this with Paula Marks Mitchell's AND DIE IN THE WEST, and a number of discussions about it. That led to the accumulation of a great many books on various related topics (and the amusement of reading Billy Breakenridge's account of things as he saw them) as well as books on Minnesota and Dakota (I'm in the habit of calling it that, when talking about writing and research now, because of the timing of Dakota Territory becoming North and South Dakota) and people living there then.
There are, of course, great holes in my knowledge and my research. But I have a few things to go on.
And I'm still trying to figure out whether I can play with what I learned from AFRICAN MUSLIMS IN ANTEBELLUM AMERICA and certain place-names in northern Dakota territory. And I'm also still pondering a bunch of stuff that Vernon Bellecourt said once, in a discussion at my church. We shall see. I'm going to try, because these characters won't leave me alone, and I need to write them -- because if I don't write them, they MIGHT leave me alone, and I would miss them very much. Especially Animus Eelbunting Foote.
(Also, I have family history connecting to Minnesota and Dakota. Which reminds me that I still mean to go ask permission to climb Bear Butte, because my mother did and my grandmother did, and I still haven't yet. Dunno if I want to do it with the hip I have at the moment, though; I guess that's something to ask Dr. Cheng when we have the consultation about orthopedic surgery and various options and timing.)
Anyhow, I'm writing again. Yay, writing.Today's research item: COW-BOYS AND COLONELS, NARRATIVE OF A JOURNEY ACROSS THE PRAIRIE AND OVER THE BLACK HILLS OF DAKOTA, by Edmond Baron de Mandat-Grancey, Bison Books, ISBN 0-8032-6562-X, unabridged reprint of the 1887 English translation. (I might actually want to go find the original French one, published in 1884, just to compare at some point. My rudimentary French plus a dictionary might be sufficient to that task, and it may actually come in handy for a particular character... but research is endless, as they say, and I must vow to end it, or at least pause, and write more first draft.)