If you’re in the Bay Area, don’t forget: I’m reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow, at 3 p.m.! (On Independent Bookstore Day, no less.) And I will have some very special news to announce . . .
I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about writing the Memoirs of Lady Trent is the way it gave me a reason to shore up some of the gaps in my knowledge.
Take African history for example. If all you had to go on was my high school education, you’d think that it consisted of human evolution, Egypt, and the slave trade, with nothing in between. (Nothing after, either, but that wasn’t a regional bias; my history classes bogged down on the Civil War and Reconstruction, so that the twentieth century is as the void to me.) I had the vague osmotic sense that there had been a place called Songhay, and that was it.
I could have fixed that at any time. But I’m much more likely to pursue reading about a topic when I have an immediate use for it — something beyond “man, I really ought to know more about X.” It’s pretty well-documented that we learn things better in context, rather than in isolation, and a writing project gives me context. A globe-trotting protagonist was therefore ideal, because she dragged my thoughts in all kinds of new directions, laying the foundation for future exploration. (Solaike in the upcoming Lightning in the Blood draws a lot of its social structure from Dahomey; that probably wouldn’t have happened without The Tropic of Serpents first.)
Islam is another good example. In college I took classes on early Christianity (which also means you wind up learning a decent bit about Judaism) and Hinduism, and some of my Japanese history classes touched on Buddhism and to a lesser extent Shinto, but Islam? Terra incognita for me. Sending my characters to Akhia was the kick in the pants that I needed to read up on it, to make myself conversant with at least the basics. I could have read a Wikipedia article to learn the difference between Sunni and Shiite, but it was easier to retain details when I had a reason to devote dedicated work time to the question. I wouldn’t call myself deeply well-informed on Islam now, but at least I’m not flat ignorant anymore.
Thanks to this series, I know more about Polynesia and how you can locate a flyspeck of land in a thousand miles of empty sea. I know some of the dynamics behind and resulting from Tibetan polyandry. And as I said on the Tor/Forge blog, I’ve learned piles about different kinds of climates and how people live in them.
This is one of my favorite aspects of my job. It’s constantly giving me reasons to learn new things, and I feel richer as a result.