I’m back in research mode for another project. I do a lot of research for just about everything I write because I think it’s important to ground fantasy in a good dose of reality — if everything but the magic part feels authentic, then readers are more likely to buy the magic stuff.
With the Enchanted, Inc. series, it’s mostly location research. I made several trips to New York to research the locations, and with each book, I spend a lot of time with maps, Google Images and Street View, etc., to make sure things are as close to real as I can get them. That’s because the conceit of the story is that all this stuff is really happening behind the scenes. I love it when I get e-mail from readers about being in New York and finding themselves looking for things from the books, almost hoping to catch a gargoyle moving.
With the Rebels books, it gets a little more complicated. I’m trying to create an authentic-seeming Gilded Age New York, even though it’s a very different one from what happened in our timeline. That takes a lot of research, a historical atlas and timeline, a calendar for that year, lots of historic photos, etc. I’m also trying to create a revolution that works and makes sense, which means researching the real American Revolution, as well as other uprisings, both successful and unsuccessful. At least with this series, when something doesn’t quite match reality, I can say, “But, magic!” It’s a totally different timeline where magic exists and technology developed differently, so if I need a bridge to be in a place where there wasn’t actually a bridge until ten years later, I can put a bridge there.
What’s fun is finding out after the fact that something I made up is actually true. I put the governor’s mansion about where the Cloisters museum is because I figured that if I were a wealthy nobleman who ran America back in the time when land was still just being developed, that would be exactly where I’d put my home. It’s a spectacular spot with amazing views. Then with the book I just finished, I needed to be a little more certain of what was going on in that area in that timeframe, not just the governor’s mansion, but what would be nearby. And it turns out, there were mansions there! There were a number of castle-like mansions on estates. The reason they aren’t there now is that Rockefeller bought them up, tore down the buildings, and donated the whole thing to the city for the park that sits there now. There are still remnants of those estates in the park — some terraces, retaining walls, and outbuildings. It is possible that I saw a photo of these at some point that buried itself in my subconscious, because my mental image of the governor’s mansion was almost exactly the image of the mansion that once stood in that spot.
Yesterday, I was doing some reading to dig a little deeper into the main character of the proposal I’ve been working on. She’s a princess who’s been trained and educated in preparation for becoming a queen. I thought it might be a good idea to look at what that really might be like, so I got books on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, and it turns out that what I had in mind was very close to what they actually did. I’m sure I’ve heard enough about it over the years from non-fiction books, novels, and PBS that facts stuck, but it’s always fun to have reality prove me right. I did pick up a few little details that might make things more concrete.