No more Mother of Souls teasers! So while I'm plugging away at Floodtide I'll have to come up with some new writing-related things to talk about.
I received a lovely bit of fan e-mail from a reader last week, and she had some questions that she has graciously allowed me to use as a jumping off point for a blog. The first question was whether I put my Alpennian research and development notes somewhere (presumably, somewhere that an interested reader could look at them!) and the second was whether I had a map of Alpennia.
To tackle the first: hoo boy do I have research notes! Do I have them in a form that would make sense to a casual reader? Not so much. I think I've previously mentioned that I have a database for characters, locations, and key vocabulary. The character records include a reference image (if I have one) and any key bits of description that I need to keep consistent. It might include notes on where the person lives, what their background is, relevant events in their history, and other characters they have important relationships to. Here's an example of my quick-reference page for Maistir Chatovil, the tutor to Aukustin Atilliet.
But that's more for keeping track of story elements, rather than background research. For the latter, I keep things in three types of places. One is a folder of webarchive files, downloads, and images that I've collected either for immediate use or future reference. Some topics are organized in folders (alchemy, clothing, European flooding, food and dining, gemstones, universities), others are individual items that I haven't classified (pdf of "A handbook for travellers in Switzerland", notes on early 19th century Heidelberg, list of Jewish salonnieres in Berlin in the 19th century, article "revolutions and nostalgia", article: The first Muslims in England").
I also have a massive list of web bookmarks (though I'm more likely to save off pages if it's something I really think I'll use). Along with the more usual topics, I have bookmark folders named things like "historic calendars", "music and opera", and "money wages and finance".
Once I started using Scrivener for writing, I've also made use of its scrapbooking function. So I have pages of links, clips of images, extracts of texts, and so forth. I tend to use that method for details that are relevant only to a specific story because I have a different Scrivener file for each book. (One reason I don't use the Scrivener character sheets is because I don't want to deal with copying over continuing characters for each new file. Also, I need the flexibility of a database format.) An example of how I use those pages is a detailed timeline of European political events in the 1820s and 1830s, with notes about what's going on in the novels and how the two interact. Another example is a page of notes on the structure and genres of early 19th century opera, and then an outline of the two versions of Tanfrit with notes about the named songs that get mentioned in the story.
All this, of course, is in addition to the actual physical books I use for research. I love an excuse to buy history books! But the diffuse nature of my research notes means that there isn't a good way to let readers "look over my shoulder".
Now... maps. Maps are a harder question. Alpennia is like one of those hypothetical geometric shapes that can't be represented in three dimensions. From the outside, I can point to a real-world map and say, "Here's the area where the borders of Alpennia touch the real world." And from the inside, I can say, "Here's what Alpennia looks like when you're traveling in it." But it's impossible to do both at once. I can't show a map of Europe that shows Alpennia as an actual country occupying space within it. So let's split it up into the two separate questions. Here is a political map (courtesy of wikimedia) of Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (which is going to be approximately correct for the start of the novels) with a red circle identifying the approximate place that Alpennia intersects it.
So what about an internal map of Alpennia? I confess that I've sketched up initial stabs at it several times, but have never sat down and worked out exactly what the distances are. And I'm definitely at a point where I need to do that. I have a fairly solid notion of the layout of the city of Rotenek. And I know the general compass direction and general spatial relationships of key locations. For example, here's my database entry for the town of Iser:
"Town on the Rotein, about 4 hours by coach from Rotenek, but more by river as it's around a long bend. It's a key staging place for river commerce as some barges unload there and cut across land; also the stretch above it is tricky and extra hands are needed to navigate it. It's on the road back from Fallorek and is where Chustin falls ill in Mystic Marriage."
Or similarly, I know that Margerit's home town of Chalanz is at a distance to the east of Rotenek that could be traveled in a single day in high summer by a hard rider who could afford to change horses regularly, but ordinarily is more like three day's travel by coach. The enormously varied travel times based on method and resources can cover up a lot of plotting needs! Need more travel time? Make the road bad.
One reason I'm hesitant about creating a public map of Alpennia is that one never knows when one need to put a town or river somwhere. Right now, significant parts of the territory are hidden by mist. In Daughter of Mystery I knew that Jeanne's family came originally from the region of Helviz, but it wasn't until Mother of Souls that I placed it in the northeastern part of the country, just on the border and crossed by the road Jeanne and Antuniet are traveling as they return from their summer trip to Prague. There are a lot of other places that haven't been pinned down sufficiently that I'd want to write their names on a map yet. Sometimes it's good to have the details shrouded in mist. But perhaps sometime in the near future I'll draw up some vague, sketchy, incomplete representations that I can share.