A few days ago, I solicited some questions from my Facebook friends — those blog fodder types of questions. For the most part, they had to do with the rigors of research, with publishing, and with the psychology behind why I write what I write. Good questions, all.
The first comes from fellow author Martin Page, who asks: “What comes first, research or story?” Depends on the book, actually. Early on, I always began with a character in my mind. Sometimes his or her time and place are fixed by history — as was the case with Memnon — but other times, I needed to find a corner of history for the character. If you recall some of my past posts on Men of Bronze, the first thing I had a solid grasp of was the character of Barca; he remained unchanged through various incarnations — he was known as Conan, initially, but then became a Phoenician mercenary in search of a time period in which to hang his hat. Once I had his setting, Late Period Egypt, then research informed the story. The who and the where gave way to the what, why, and how.
The Lion of Cairo was a different beast. With that book, I started with a place — 11th century Cairo — and a high concept idea: what if REH had written about the medieval Assassins. That high concept carried with it the baggage of a character molded in the manner of Howard’s finest, a strong and unapologetic killer who felt no remorse for his deeds. Here, research served the needs of story, and all had to be filtered through a pulp-inspired lens, which is where the fantasy portions crept in.
And with A Gathering of Ravens, I again start with a character — this one sprung full-grown from my imagination like Zeus’ wise daughter, Athena. An Orc, but who is never called an Orc, who steps fully realized from the pages of Norse myth. Grimnir required a good bit of reverse engineering as the story progressed, as I had to find mythological parallels to the traits ascribed to Orcs by Tolkien, both physical and mental. But, he also needed a certain level of redeemability alien to the good Professor’s creation, which meant giving him the agency to change rather than remaining forever locked into the “foot-soldier of evil” trope. The rest was story followed by research to fill in the gaps.
Hope that makes sense, Martin! And, if you’re in the mood, do check out Martin’s website for some good reading material! Next time, I’ll tackle questions from Wanda Vaughn, Keith Rose, and the legendary Vincent Darlage, author of the fan favorite Conan: The Road of Kings for the Mongoose Conan RPG!