Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Going down the rabbit hole

One of the fun parts about writing is learning new things.

One of the hazardous parts about writing is chasing those new things down rabbit holes or, to use another analogy, chasing squirrels.

Sometimes, in the interest of adding authenticity to a story, it's necessary to do a lot of research. Sometimes, that research drops in your lap. Which brings me to where I am right now.

I've been writing the second book in the Hillendale series, and in December, I went to a winter solstice party. Essentially, it's a celebration of the changing season, and what better ritual to incorporate into a book about two "maybe" witches? Since my new book also takes place in the summer, I switched the calendar to observe a summer solstice, but with summer comes different rituals.

And down the rabbit hole I go.

Google is a wonderful thing. You can find out dozens of things about dozens of cultures and rituals. I even found a street sign I was looking for on Google images when my friends who live in the area I was looking for "forgot" to get back to me. Seriously, people don't understand why I ask certain questions, I mean what could be so exciting about a street sign? Nothing, but I was looking for authenticity. Which takes me back down the rabbit hole.

As an author, I'm entitled to engage in artistic license. As fellow author Mary Doria Russell said when I saw her recently, "fiction means I get to make sh!t up." So yes, I can make up everything about how indigenous people might celebrate the summer solstice, and I can make up everything about how witches might celebrate the solstice, and I can make up everything about how paganism intersects with Native American customs, but I'm looking for some measure of authenticity.

The funny thing is that once I get the information I'm searching out, a lot of it doesn't actually make it into the book. Nobody wants to read an author recounting her research in the middle of a story. As they say, the devil's in the details. It's in the nuances that the authenticity comes through, but you don't get those nuances without understanding your subject matter.

That artistic license often becomes a conglomeration of everything I learn. Take, for instance, COOKIE THERAPY. I interviewed three different firemen for that story, and each of them told me something different. From the "expert" who counsels writers, to a friend who said "It's fiction. Make up whatever you want," to the third guy who said, when I ran a scene by him based on information provided by the first two, "If you do that, the fire's going to kill him." This is where the author throws her hands in the air and cries uncle. Enter artistic license, and a disclaimer that any mistakes are the fault of the writer. In the end, I think I got it right, and attending the Writers Police Academy (which also had firefighters) confirmed it.

Tapping my sources, but soliciting others. Do you know anyone who celebrates the summer solstice? What rituals do they practice?


  1. My daughter might still celebrate the solstices. You should get in touch with her.
    And yes, I'm totally with you on how much research belongs on the page, and also that no matter how "accurate" you strive to be, someone will see things differently, have different experiences, and call you out for being "wrong."

  2. That always seems to be the case.