Every book requires research. You get this brilliant idea. You think it will work. You’re pretty sure you remember correctly, so you plan your plot around it. But, just in case you’re wrong, you start doing your research. You pull out the trusty encyclopedia, you go online to Wikipedia and other websites. You take notes. You talk to people.
And lo and behold. Your brilliant idea works.
And sometimes you get lucky and find something that works better.
One of the things we really wanted to do in The Isis Collar was create a disease that would be of magical origin. But what sort of illness? Cathy called on a doctor friend of hers who is also a writer, and asked, “What sort of virus could be turned magical so that bad things would happen?”
He responded, “None of them.” Well, poo. That wasn’t very helpful. Then he said, “But what about a magical bacterium?” Oooh! We had talked about a number of things when the doctor commented that one of the bacteria scientists don’t really understand well is Mycobacterium leprae, which causes leprosy. It’s apparently very complex and a lot about how it functions and spreads still isn’t known. He said, “If ever there was a bacterium that could be considered magical, that’s the one.” It’s very slow moving as it infects the system, and symptoms may not occur for years after first exposure, so it’s really hard to track down where it came from or where it’s going next.
Hmm . . . mysterious, devastating, infectious. Add magic and speed it up, and how much better a threat could you get? And so a new plague was added to Celia’s world, one that was targeted at children.
But there was more research ahead of us. When we originally discussed the idea of having a magical artifact in this book, we were actually thinking of it as the Collar of Horus. Horus being a god of knowledge, after all, would likely have magical artifacts named for him. So the research started. We read about Horus, and he really was a pretty good fit. But then we read about Isis.
Isis, according to our research, was “originally the personification of the royal throne” and the goddess of magic. Since our collar was used to drain magic from mages, we decided this artifact had been created to ensure that the Pharaoh was always the most powerful magical person in the room. Plus, Isis was the goddess who protected children and the downtrodden. Thus, logically, she would be very unhappy with someone who used her tool to hurt children.
It didn’t take long for us to realize Isis was a much better fit for our collar than Horus.
The funny thing about research is that most of the time, readers will never know how much the writer has done . . . but they’ll absolutely know it if the writer doesn’t do the work. It shows. So we always do our homework. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we’re not doing research for its own sake—learning something new is such fun—and sometimes, the things we find take our stories and characters in directions that surprise even us.
From the Tor/Forge March newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from our March newsletter:
- Cat-Waxing 101 by Elizabeth Bear
- The Future’s Hot, It’s Getting Hotter by Tobias S. Buckell
- “Why did you choose to return to high fantasy?” by Melanie Rawn
- Optional Fantasies by Pamela Sargent