By Kasie Whitener
Recently, when speaking with a writer who claimed to have penned a modern military novel, I asked, “How did you research the military aspect of the novel?”
Her response: reddit, documentaries, and Call of Duty (a military-style video game).
I’m a little judgey and I think these resources are insufficient. In graduate school, I learned the different levels of research credibility. From original source data to seminal theorists, I think I can spot the right kind of research.
Then again, I’ve also been known to spend a lot of time on Wikipedia because it’s easier to navigate than the tome Byron: Life and Works I got from the library.
So knowing all of the resources available, how does one determine which research is appropriate?
Ask yourself: What do I need to know?
I needed to know if people smoked cigarettes in 1816 and if so, how did they ignite them? When were matches invented?
Tobacco was regional and my vampire smokers are Yanks (a concurrent term) so they can smoke. But I don’t want my work to be discredited over a small error like the existence of matches. So a quick Google search brought up sufficient information on how, when, and why matches were invented. My smokers must use taper candles.
Lord Byron limped due to a club foot and the years of bad medicine associated with attempting to cure that malady humiliated and embittered him. In my novel, he pronounces the limp whenever he’s embarrassed or annoyed. Other times, he hides it ably, indicating years of suppression.
A bigger portion of my research has been about the conventions of the two genres I’m combining. I’m writing about time-traveling vampires. Both time travel and vampires are fantasy genres with their own conventions. I’ve been reading as much genre-pertinent fiction as I can.
Unfortunately, the scholarship on pop-culture genres can be rather thin. Few literary scholars apply themselves to genre identification. Yet, it’s very interesting to me that most vampire novels spend at least some time on the origin story – how one became a vampire – and the rules – how they feed, how they die.
I consider anything with Byron in it to be an attempt at literary fiction, even if that same work includes vampires. So I’ve spent time researching the criticism on Byron (turns out he made frequent reference to vampires in his poetry) and on Dracula.
I may not have thought of the Byron connection to my vampires if it hadn’t been for the embedded link to The Vampyre in the bit of Byron’s Wikipedia entry that dealt with John Polidori. Polidori’s original story, mistakenly attributed to Byron, is known as the first Western appearance of vampires in fiction. It also happened to be written during the very week my vampires hung out with Byron and Polidori in Switzerland.