Saturday, January 15, 2011

Icy Research

There is a lot of snow outside here. A LOT of snow!!!

All the snow makes me think of the time that I spent listening to the whisper and crackle of the crumbling frozen sea and plotting the journey of the sun as it circles the horizon at the top of the world.

I wasn't in the Arctic in person. I've never been there. But for months at a time, I lived there in my head.

One of the things that I love about being a writer is that you have a legitimate excuse to immerse yourself in another world. While I wrote my novel Ice, I listened to Arctic-themed music. I watched documentaries about the Arctic. I plastered my desk area with photos of the Arctic and covered the floor with maps. And I read and read and read.

I devoured everything that I could get my hands on that had to do with my new world -- dozens of nature guides, survival guides, polar bear books, and explorer memoirs. I'm the only person I know who owns a North Slope Barrow dialect Inupiaq-English dictionary.

My favorite research books were:

- A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic by E. C. Pielou
- Walking on Thin Ice by David Hempleman-Adams
- The SAS Survival Guide

And the most inspirational book was:

- East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, illustrated by P. J. Lynch

There is a common misconception that research isn't necessary for fantasy novels. After all, it's made up. But you're asking readers to believe in the impossible. If you build that impossible dream in the middle of a sea of real details... well, then your ice castle won't be standing on air. You'll be able to walk inside.

I'm often asked about the research that I did for Ice. So for those of you who are interested, below is a bibliography of the books that inspired and influenced the world of Ice:

- Abridged Inupiaq and English Dictionary by Edna Ahgeak MacLean
- Arctic Daughter by Jean Aspen
- Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
- The Boy Who Found the Light: Eskimo Folktales by DeArmond
- Camping and Wildernness Survival by Paul Tawrell
- The Dancing Fox, Arctic Folktales ed. by John Bierhorst
- Dictionary of Native American Mythology by Sam D. Gill and Irene F. Sullivan
- East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon by P. J. Lynch
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Laszlo Gal
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Nancy Willard
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Kathleen and Michael Hague
- The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions by Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin
- The Eskimo Storyvteller, Folktales from Noatak, Alaska by Edwin S. Hall, Jr.
- The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese, and Other Tales of the Far North by Howard Norman
- Handbook of North American Indians, v.5 Arctic edited by Sturtevant
- How to Speak Alaskan edited by Mike Doogan
- How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier
- How to Survive on Land and Sea, 4th edition, by Frank C. Craighead, Jr. and John J. Craighead
- Julie of the Wolves, Julie, and Julie's Wolf Pack by Jean Craighead George
- Icebound Summer by Sally Carrighar
- The Iñupiat and Arctic Alaska by Norman A. Chance
- Kingdom of the Ice Bear by Hugh Miles and Mike Salisbury
- The Last Wind Edge by Susan Zwinger
- Mountaineering Medicine by Fred T. Daville, Jr. MD
- Native American Myth and Legend, An A-Z of People and Places by Mike Dixon-Kennedy
- A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic by E.C. Pielou
- The Nature of North America by David Rockwell
- Northern Tales edited by Howard Norman
- Names, Numbers and Northern Policy: Inuit, Project Surname, and the Politics of Identity by Valerie Alia
- Over the Edge: Flying with the Arctic Heroes by K.C. Tessendorf
- Over the Top of the World by Will Steger and Jon Bowermaster
- Polar Attack by Richard Weber and Mikhail Malakhov
- Polar Bears by Ian Stirling
- Polar Bears by Nikita Ovsyanikov
- Polar Bears: Living with the White Bear by Nikita Ovsyanika
- Running North by Ann Mariah Cook
- SAS Survival Guide
- A Snow Walker’s Companion by Garrett and Alexandra Conover
- The Survival Handbook by Peter Darman
- To the Arctic by Steven B Young
- Up North by Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner
- Walking on Thin Ice by David Hempleman-Adams
- White Bear by Charles T. Feazel
- Wilderness First Aid by William Forgey, MD
- The World of the Polar Bear by Norbert Rosing

To the authors of all the above books: Thank you for sharing your world!

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At 7:22 AM, Blogger Laura said...

Wow! How long did it take you to read all of those books?

I love how your so open with your reasearch that you did, like, that you did'nt forget now you have a new book out and your working on another. (possably.) Your my role modal Sarah. I really look upto you. x

At 9:51 AM, Blogger TerryLynnJohnson said...

wow! what a fantastic list! I've read a few of these. Thanks for putting these out there. I think I'll look for them! I may need more inspiration to finish my third book!
(and judging by the brilliance of ICE, this list might help me too!)

PS I loaned my copy of Enchanted Ivy to a friend who agrees with me it's one of the best reads in 2010.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Laura: Thanks! I think I spent about two solid months on research at the start of the writing process, and then I did spot-research as needed throughout. I must have read A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic at least a dozen times. I knew exactly what kind of lichen was on the rocks that Cassie passed, even if I never mentioned it in the novel.

Terry Lynn: Thanks for the lovely words about Ice and Enchanted Ivy! And I'm glad to hear that the list is useful! I love doing research. One can justify reading a LOT of books in the name of research. :)


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