there’s always more you don’t know

These two threads on Making Light?

Are why I have my “help me o internets” posts.

Because some of the bad books can be spotted a mile off — but not all. Some of them you’ve got to look at to identify. Some of them have to be read through. And some of them you can read through and still not know they’re untrustworthy resources, because you don’t know that field well enough to spot where the facts are wrong or there’s evidence being overlooked or whatever.

And at that point, you have two choices. You can either read a lot about the topic, so you become well-informed enough to spot the bad stuff on your own; or you can ask around and get the benefit of other people’s wisdom.

Since I have this terrible habit of being interested in lots of different things, rather than sticking with one and making it my stomping ground, I’m dependent on the assistance of others. So thank you all for your suggestions, and stay tuned for more cries for help. For this next book, I’m going to need to research topics ranging from the history of the London Underground to Chinese folklore, and many other things besides.

0 Responses to “there’s always more you don’t know”

  1. la_marquise_de_

    You are so right about this and I wish more writers were like you.

    • Marie Brennan

      Your encouragement could not have been better-timed if you tried, since I’m contemplating a Sekrit Projekt which is going to be so heavily dependent on the help of others, it isn’t even funny.

      (Like, to the level of “hire an assistant, paying them real money, to read and take notes on sources in another language.” Srsly. The insecurity this is producing in me is monumental — I’m so convinced I’m going to fuck this project up that I keep thinking it would be easier not to do it at all.)

      • la_marquise_de_

        I know the feeling. But you, if anyone, have the skills to do this: we have faith.

      • green_knight

        Of course it would be easier, but it won’t serve the story if you shirk it. And you cannot mess it up until it’s been published and put out there for all to see – as long as you’re working on it, nobody will know – you can always delete it from your harddrive if you don’t like it. (And please make a backup in case you change your mind). You have nothing to lose but your time. And if you don’t at least attempt it, you probably stand to lose your sanity, so choose well…

        Which language, by the way?

        • Marie Brennan

          Nonono — “not do it at all” in the sense of “not write this book.” I would never just decide to skip the research.

          Language: 日本語. Japanese.

      • tooth_and_claw

        This is partially the reason I decided to stop writing at all– for all my aspirations, I was never an academic, and knew I could never do good enough research to bother starting.

  2. unforth

    I was writing a paper on Japanese pirates my senior year of college. There aren’t many resources on this topic, and I’d pulled out every book they had that even mentioned it from the Binghamton library. I started with the one that looked most comprehensive first, and read it through. In the last chapter, there was a bit where it discussed another book, and said it was ragingly inaccurate and shouldn’t be trusted. Turns out the book not to be trusted…was the next one in my pile. Did enough checking to confirm that the first book WAS trustworthy, skimmed the second enough to demonstrate to myself why it WASN’T, and moved on….

    Without expertise, it can often be impossible to confirm this kinda stuff. I know that these days when I go to read non-fiction (ie, pretty much all the time) I do a little online research (mostly wiki and amazon) just to get a sense of how other people feel about the work. I’ll probably still read it, but it helps to know the pros and cons others have cited, I find…


    • Marie Brennan

      Last night, attempting to turn up resources on a particular topic, I went first to Wikipedia, and looked at what books they cited. Found one that looked actually relevant, pulled it up on Amazon. Read the reviews. Glanced at “people who bought this also bought” suggestions. Looked at their reviews.

      As I said to one of ‘s classes, when she had me come in to talk about researching a topic you know nothing about — it’s all about getting traction, as if your car were stuck in mud. If you can get even the littlest bit of grip on your subject — one book, one useful search term — that’s often enough to help you start moving in the right direction. And Wikipedia’s a great place to find traction.

  3. ckd

    the history of the London Underground

    One giveaway of shoddy research on LU history: uncritically reporting the story that Winston Churchill was seen coming out of the unfinished “North End” (aka “Bull and Bush”) station on the Northern Line during WWII. While several otherwise unused stations (such as Down Street) were used for governmental purposes along with the deep level shelters built under other existing stations, there was no surface access to North End until the 1950s. It doesn’t take too much research to find that out….

    • Marie Brennan

      I should have said “early history of the London Underground,” as in its first decade or two — but since I might eventually write a Blitz-era Onyx Court book, that’s a useful shibboleth to look out for.

      • ckd

        It may still let you knock out a book that covers both the early and later Tube, though. (I can’t remember which one I saw it in, so I can’t warn you away….)

        I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Christian Wolmar’s The Subterranean Railway, though; IIRC (been a while since I read it) that one had a good amount of detail on both the engineering and financial elements of the early lines, so it might be a good starting point.

  4. akashiver

    Thanks for posting this. I spent far too much time reading it.

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