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The Journey Part Two: Finding Sources

Last time I talked about how I came to write a historical fiction novel and how I chose a time period. Next, I’ll talk a bit about how I found sources.

I’ll break this down by the types of sources I used:

1) Books

Since I live in the US and not India, finding sources was a little tough. I started out just doing the not-recommended-by-librarians thing: working backwards. I started by looking at wikipedia articles and looked to see what their sources were. I found a few highly useful books that way (and found that most of the wikipedia articles I read were actually just slightly more readable summaries of these books), but the trick was getting them from the library! Thank you interlibrary loan system! A few of the books were available for in library use only, so I also got to take a field trip to the Boston Public Library central branch, which is always fun. Once I had a few books, I looked at their bibliography to find more.

I also tried emailing a librarian for help finding sources, but unfortunately, they basically told me to do what I was already doing: search google, and the library catalog. Lame. I was hoping they would help me with some search terms or something, but not so much. Perhaps if my topic had been a little more mainstream, they would have been much more helpful.

The problem with ILL of course is that you can only keep books for a limited amount of time–I actually ended up buying a few of the books I needed for longer than a few weeks from

2) Magazine/Journal articles

Check out your library’s website. There are all sorts of search engines to try in order to find the information you want. Google works too. I found a few scholarly articles about my time period, but most of them were a bit too in depth about highly specific topics to be useful for my purposes.

3) Websites

As everyone knows, you have to be careful using websites for research (especially sites like wikipedia) but sometimes you can get lucky. I found a great website about life in Medieval India called Kamat’s Potpourri showcasing the work of some Indian historians. There are tons of great pictures and references on that website that helped me find even more great sources of information.

I also just used some of the more spurious looking website while brainstorming ideas and not for actual concrete information (unless I really couldn’t find what I was looking for elsewhere).

4) Primary Sources

I am not  historian, so I would much prefer reading the conclusions of historians than coming up with my own based on primary evidence. That being said, I found that seeing actual items from 11th century India helped with the creative aspects of my work.

The more accessible way to find things for me was to look in museum. There are lots of indian artifacts in US museums. I happened to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and saw many sculptures from the time period I was researching.

Also (because my family was going anyway) I traveled to India to visit a few of the towns mentioned in my novel. I had mostly finished my novel at htis point was was surprised to find that I through my research (including looking at google maps, photos from people’s websites, and books with numerous photographs) I was able to construct a fairly decent idea of what it was like in the towns I mentioned. Though, it probably helped that I had been to India before, so I knew what to expect, though I hadn’t been to these specific towns before (see my trip to India posts for some of my pictures).

So these are just a few ideas of how to get started with research. Despite the fact that I didn’t find it useful, I would recommend talking to a librarian if you’re not sure how to get started. I had done a lot of medical/scientific research in the past, so research wasn’t  a completely new thing for me, though I wasn’t used to reading hand-wavy social science-type research. :)

Next time: Using your research in your writing

P.S. I have one caution–when you are taking notes, make sure you take notes about where you got some of your ideas, even if they were just loosely inspired by one of your sources. Trust me, this is helpful later when you’re revising. I really wish I had done this.

Image of Bates Hall reading room at BPL by pobrecito33 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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