One of the things that makes a book interesting (for me, at least), is when there are story elements or characters that are interesting. To me, the more interesting, the better. I mean, who can forget the fabulous World according to Garp or Something Wicked This Way Comes, or Geek Love? Even Water for Elephants took us someplace new and introduced us to fascinating people we had never met before. This is what makes a book memorable. Where do these ideas come from?
Obviously, from within the mind of the writer, their personal views on life, and their own interests; but I think that research and history also have a lot to do with bringing forth situations and the roots of characters. I know it’s a cliché, but truth really is stranger than fiction.
For example, while doing research, I came across the term, Obsidian Butterfly, in the one of the myths I was investigating. Here I’d thought that Laurell Hamilton had dreamed up this fabulous title for one of the novels in her Anita Blake series (my favorite, by the way), but as I came across the term in the literature, I just smiled and smacked my forehead in appreciation. Clever girl, that Laurell. The myth itself wasn’t nearly as interesting as the tale it sparked in Ms. Hamilton’s hands; as a plot element, it was unforgettable.
As a kid, I collected what I liked to call “amazing facts’. Basically it was cool stuff that rocked my 5th grade world when I discovered it. Stupid kid stuff, I suppose, but I never forgot the thrill of discovering that vodka was really made from potatoes, or that under UV light, some rocks glowed weird colors. We had a Ripley’s Believe it or Not comic book that I still remember vividly; especially the guy who had horns growing out of his head. Oh yeah, I loved Ripley.
And then two weeks ago, I discovered a kindred spirit who rocked my world anew. Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932), a contemporary of Robert Ripley, who published several novels on the subject of anomalous phenomena. He reviewed scientific journals and other reference materials and compiled a huge volume of notes on incidences and occurrences that lay outside the accepted theories and beliefs of the time. It’s pretty amazing (to me) that his stuff is still in print, still fascinating to readers. He wrote about (amazing facts) such as ball lightning, UFOs, spontaneous combustion, and rains of frogs and fishes. In his day, his writings were considered pseudo-science by some, magical thinking by others; his followers called themselves Forteans. Their annual conference will be held May 14-15 in Baltimore, MD (http://www.forteans.com/ ). I kid you not. You can’t make this stuff up. I wish I was going…