Reading to fuel the Creative Crucible
by Rowena Cory Daniells
If you are like me you probably have bookshelves to the ceiling.
The Mad Hatter’s post on reading outside the spec fic genre made me think about the books I read outside the genre I write in. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, science fiction and horror and I was reading these books before I knew what genre was.
But unless we want to regurgitate what has gone before, writers need to expand their horizons. So I thought I’d look at some books that have helped fuel my Creative Crucible.
The History and Lore of Freaks – Thompson.
Don’t we all feel sometimes like we are living on the outside looking in? These people were born with physical differences. After reading this book, I came inspired by their strength and humanity.
The Pirate Wars – Earle.
Back before the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I was researching what real pirates were like and the sociological forces that created a niche for them. Did you know some pirate ships were quite democratic?
The Archaeology of Weaponry – Oakeshott.
West Point Military History Series, Ancient and Medieval Warfare – Griess.
Okay, if you are going to write fantasy you are going to have fighting between individuals and full scale battles. You might as well get your facts right. (I studied Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Iaido for 5 years each). The West Point Military book was particularly interesting because I wanted to understand tactics and how leaders triumphed against the great odds. I also wanted to know why men would follow a particular leader and die for him.
The Great Transformation – Armstrong
Wisdom of the Elders – Suzuki and Knudston.
The Great Transformation traced philosophical thought from earliest times through Buddha, Socrates and Confucius. The Wisdom of the Elders is full of quotes from Indigenous peoples around the world, giving an insight into their philosophy and world view. If you are going to write about other places and times, you need to be able to create a society and then immerse yourself in a mind-set that is definitely not 21st century.
Blood Rites – Ehrenreich.
How do different societies cope with violence? How do people integrate warriors back into society after they have sent them out to kill in defence of their home? I liked Ehrenriech’s premise that violence is like a contagious disease. If a non-violent people are attacked one of two things happens. They are wiped out and their women and children are enslaved and integrated into the violent group. If they fight back they
become violent in self defence. So either way, violence is contagious.
A History of Private Life (Medieval and Renaissance) – Aries and Duby editors
The Embarrassment of Riches – Schama
Historical TV shows and movies are sanitised. If you want to know how people really lived through the plague, how they dealt with death in childbirth, how they coped with life in general you need to go to the source. These books have quotes from private letters and journals. They bring the people of the past to life. If you want to write you have to be able to bring characters to life and it is the detail that makes the difference.
Guns, Germs and Steel - Diamond
One book traces the development of various civilisations and uncovers the factors that are needed for a class of people to arise who can devote time to thought and discovery. The other book traces the collapse of various civilisations and uncovers the factors that contribute towards the tipping point where a civilisation nonviable. As a writer of fantasy and SF you need to be able to understand societies, how they evolve and how they react under pressure. And then you explore this through the individuals
because we are interested in people and their individual struggles.
Over the Edge of the World – Bergreen
Who Murdered Chaucer –Jones.
A book about Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world and a book on Chaucer’s life might not seem to be related. But both gave me insights as a writer. For instance, while the common men were dying of scurvy on Magellan’s ship the officers were healthy because they had quince jam and they didn’t understand that it was the vitamin C in the jam that saved them. It never occurred to them that giving the sailors some jam would save their lives.
The Art Deco House – Tinniswood
Art Nouveau – Fitzgerald
Why read books on art movements and architecture, I hear you ask. I love beautiful things. If I spend an hour in an art gallery I come out feeling like I’m walking on air. I need to be able to visualise my characters in their settings. When I’m writing I gather a Resonance File for the world. It is filled with landscapes, buildings, interiors and costumes as well as snippets of factual interest that have been springboards for ideas. A lot of my friends play music while they write. I know what kind of music my characters would hear in their world. I am constantly feeding the visual side of my brain so reading about art movements and architecture is all part of this.
These books may not seem to have much in common but they all give me insight into the world and people. They feed my creative crucible.
What feeds yours?
Rowena Cory Daniells is devoted to her husband and six children, and the craft of writing. The first book in her new fantasy trilogy The King's Bastard was released in July with The Uncrowned King set for August and the final The Usurper, in September.
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