It is our pleasure to welcome today’s guest blogger Jenilyn Collings. Jenilyn writes humorous middle-grade and YA novels. She has three above-average children, a PhD husband who sews detailed costumes (ask her about their steampunk Alice in Wonderland family costumes last Halloween), a black-belt in karate, and is currently preparing to move her family across the country.
I few years ago I was working on a science fiction novel that had characters from a couple different cultures. One of the cultures was loosely based on one that I’d had some experience with—I’d lived there, studied the language, and had roommates from there. That one was fairly easy to write. The other culture? Not so much.
Even though it was a science fiction novel and I was imagining and making up how this culture would work, I still wanted it to have the right feel to it. And it didn’t. I’d checked out books from the library and I researched what I could on the internet, but all those facts weren’t adding up to dynamic and believable characters. I was becoming more and more frustrated with the story.
I related these problems to a writer friend, one who had lived in that area of the world, and she gave me a list of a few things that were important in that culture and helped shape the people and their interactions. One of those things was food. It seemed obvious once she pointed it out. I mean, we only eat multiple times every day and just think about how many of our important holidays and traditions revolve around food. Food is a Big Deal.
So I did more research on what types of food they ate and things like that. Unfortunately, reading that they use lots of this spice or that didn’t help me. I’m not a good enough cook to imagine how spices will taste together, especially when the combination seems odd to me.
At that point, I decided I had to do something different. I bought a cookbook, followed the instructions, and made an amazing meal. It was very different from anything I’d made before and full of unusual (to me) spice combinations. But I loved it.
Even better, the cookbook had a couple pages at the beginning of each chapter talking about different customs for dining, from casual meals with a family to how they treated honored guests. It was exactly what I’d been looking for, but unable to find.
I’m working on another novel now, a fantasy this time. Once again, the world-building is giving me a hard time, so once again, I went back to the cookbook section. Right now, my house smells divinely and I’ll soon be dining on chicken and prunes. If it tastes anything like it smells, it will be delicious.
I can’t wait to write about it.
What things do you do to inspire you when you write? What is the best thing you’ve ever done for research?
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