In Which I Am Yet Again Amazed at How the Internet has Changed How I Do Research

Rome 2012 by Matthew Perry from FlickrWriting urban fantasy books requires, as I have mentioned numerous times, bouts of extreme research. Earlier this year I was plowing through books about Romania. They were boring. They were at the same time fascinating. Research is like that. You think you’re looking for one thing, and the source you’re digging into keeps cramming other information in your face, and you’re so focused on what you think you’re looking for that you attempt to ignore all the other stuff.

And then some tidbit from the other stuff catches your eye and makes you think and you realize that everything you’re reading is actually pretty interesting. It’s strange and annoying because then you want to be able to use all the things that you’ve discovered in a book of some sort. But you can’t because it doesn’t really fit into what you’re writing. But, hey, you’ve learned something about the world that you didn’t know before. And that’s good.

My point is that, like so many things in life, research seems to move at its own pace. It doesn’t like it very much when you try to tell it what to do.

Writing urban fantasy usually doesn’t require too much historical research. Technically the term urban fantasy means that the story takes place in a modern day setting, or a fictionalized setting created in a modern style.

This third book, however, keeps dipping into my characters’ pasts., and they are starting to intertwine in ways that continue to fascinate me.

And, since many of my characters are near immortal beings from all over the timeline, I’ve been wading through history as much as anything else during my research.

I mentioned above reading about Romania, but I’ve also been brushing up on ancient Rome. And today I stumbled across the Vindolanda Tablets.

The Vindolanda Tablets are a series of tablets that were discovered in the ancient Roman fort of Vindolanda, which existed in northern Britain around 100 AD. And, at the site linked above, you can read through them.

Let that sink in for a second.

These tablets, written almost two-thousand years ago, are available to read online. And, since they’re fragments of tablets written in a dead language, the site also has tons of data interpreting them and placing them in historical context and otherwise helping you to make use of them.

I literally have zero idea how I might have gotten this information prior to the internet. That…makes me sort of stupid I guess. Truth is I probably wouldn’t even have known these things existed if it weren’t for the internet. And if I had known they existed I’d have had to go and visit them in their current museum setting or…I dunno…made a phone call to that museum and asked someone there some questions?

But because of the ridiculously interconnected system of data that I have access to through my computer, they not only came up on my radar, but they are presented to me with more context and information than I could possibly use.

And they are sooooooooooo freaking helpful. They aren’t grand historical treatises or biographies. Those are great and all but there’s a certain grit that is lacking in the large scale things. These tablets are mundane. They are day to day. They are shopping lists, requests for vacation time, letters between “old messmates.”

That sort of first hand information? When you want write in a casual and everyday tone in an historical setting?

Utterly priceless.

Thank you, Internet.