I am thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski, which is a YA fantasy that debuted this April from Tu Books! My review of Hammer of Witches will be up some time this week as well, so make sure to check that out!
Shana Mlawski lives in New York and has previously lived in Connecticut and Puerto Rico. You may have read one of her many articles or seen one of her popular infographics on the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com. In her other life she writes educational materials and teaches teenagers to read and write. HAMMER OF WITCHES is her first novel.
Researching for Writers: 5 Tips
HAMMER OF WITCHES is the story about magic and monsters in 1492 Spain (and beyond!). It’s a fun book, if I say so myself, and it was a ton of fun to write. But it required research. Lots and lots of research. Lucky for you, my pain is your gain, because I can now present five tips to help you get the most bang for your researching buck.
- 1. Get obsessed.
If you plan to write a book that requires research, you’d best get obsessed with whatever topic you plan on researching. HAMMER OF WITCHES is a work of historical fantasy, so I read somewhere between 50 and 100 books on medieval Spain, Columbus’s voyages, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, and various folktales and mythologies. Just thinking about reading that many books might give you the vapors, but I’m a nerd, so most of the time I loved it. HAMMER OF WITCHES is finished; it’s been published; it can’t be rewritten. Yet I still find myself reading books about that era. I got obsessed, and you should, too. Get yourself into a mental space where the idea of spending eight hours locked in the rare books section of the library gives you a thrill, not a panic attack.
2. There are lots of ways to research.
When researching, reading books is probably your best bet. Here are some other ways I researched: I read magazines and scholarly articles, visited museums, talked to experts, listened to music, analyzed paintings, went to Spain and lived in the Caribbean. Technically those last two don’t count, because I went to those places not to do research but because I wanted to. Nevertheless, those experiences gave me knowledge I used to build the world of my story.
If you’re writing YA, there’s also something to be said for doing research into the young adult crowd. My research involved being a teacher for the last seven years, plus I’ve taken courses on child and adolescent psychology. (Not to mention, I was a teenager not too long ago.) But there are easier ways to get inside the adolescent mind. Might I suggest trawling through Tumblr? You should also read Rookie Magazine (rookiemag.com). Not necessarily for research. Rookie is wonderful.
3. Wikipedia is not your friend.
Trust me on this one. Wikipedia is not your friend. The articles change frequently, often in major ways. They are written by non-experts who may have obvious agendas, and (minor side-note) they are often wrong. Only use Wikipedia to find new sources. Scroll to the bottom of the page and see what books the editors claim they used. Then read those.
4. Disregard word counts.
If you’re writing a book that requires substantial amounts of research, there will be days where you have to do substantial amounts of research. Remember this. You might have a personal rule that you always write at least 1500 words a day, come heck or high water, cross your heart and hope to die. Research will demolish this rule. Some days you will need to look up, say, torture devices of the Spanish Inquisition, and by the time you’ve found the answer you were searching for, the day is over and you’ve added zero words to your word count. At this point, you might flip out and beat yourself up over the failure. You might grow concerned that you are an inveterate procrastinator who will never, ever finish writing a book. That might be true. But it also is true that this research might be vital. You might have saved yourself significant amounts of time by doing the research first. My recommendation is, on days you’re researching, try not to angst too much about word counts.
5. Don’t go overboard.
In my mind there’s no such thing as going overboard when it comes to doing research. However, there is such thing as going overboard when it comes to using research. Just because you learned an interesting fact during your studies, it does not mean that fact belongs in your book. Only use what’s necessary. Don’t go overboard with the description, or many readers will tune out.
This is especially true when you’re writing YA. YA readers don’t want that biz. They want some local flavor, but then you’d best get to the swordfights, murder mysteries, and smooching ASAP. And if you need to alter the history slightly to make the swordfights, murder mysteries, and smooching more exciting, do yourself a favor and alter the history. Just don’t go overboard with the alterations, and note them in your endnotes and on your website.
Now get to researchin’!
Baltasar Infante can weasel out of any problem with a good story.
But when he encounters a monster straight out of stories one night, Baltasar faces trouble even he can’t talk his way out of. Captured by the Malleus Maleficarum, a mysterious witch-hunting arm of the Spanish Inquisition, Baltasar is put to the question. The Inquisitor demands he reveal the whereabouts of Amir al-Katib, a legendary Moorish sorcerer who can bring myths and the creatures within them to life.
Now Baltasar must escape, find al-Katib, and defeat a dreadful power that may destroy the world.
As Baltasar’s journey takes him into uncharted lands on Columbus’s voyage westward, he learns that stories are more powerful than he once believed them to be—and much more dangerous.
Shana Mlawski’s magical debut novel takes a fresh look at one of the pivotal moments in human history.