In honor of the June 1st publication of Silk and Song in trade paperback, a post from the Silk and Song blog tour in January.
Dana Stabenow, New York Times bestselling author and writer of the popular Kate Shugak series, has recently launched her latest novel Silk and Song. She’s here today talking about research and inspiration.
The great thing about writing historical fiction is what you stumble across during research. Snake bombs? Really? Really, thus aiding in the success of the Mongol assault on Talikan during Johanna’s inadvertent stay within those, it turns out, highly breachable walls. Personally, given the Mongol record for wiping out any city or state who opposed them, man, woman, and child, I’d have yielded at the first sight of their banners on my horizon. Farhad and his father are not so wise.
Foot binding in China, to ensure the swaying gait which was considered to be erotic. It’s hard to create empathy for the villain who has it in for your hero but what if someone broke every one of her toes and folded her feet back on themselves and wrapped them tightly and left them that way for years, so that her feet would never be more than four inches long? So that ever after she would never be able to walk normally? Only teeter, or sway, which was held to be feminine and attractive to potential mates? It’s easier to understand the widow’s motivation in taking over Wu Li’s business when the option to run away from home to find a better life was brutally removed from her at the age of four. No wonder she hated Johanna so much.
The peripatetic nature of European life during the Middle Ages, contrary to the alleged immobility of those lives as we were taught in high school (“No one traveled more than a mile from their villages in those days,” my world history teacher said with immense authority in my junior year). Then I read the autobiography of Margery Kempe, a Christian mystic from England who not only traveled to Santiago de Compostela in Spain but visited multiple Christian shrines all over Italy. And that was on her way back from Jerusalem.
Also, please note, a woman, which opens up another entire can of worms about the status and privileges of women during that time. Evidently, they weren’t quite all barefoot and pregnant down on the farm for their entire lives. One of the most delightful discoveries during my research was The Medieval Woman: An Illuminated Book of Days, a daily diary which features illustrations from illuminated manuscripts current to the time in which I wrote featuring women…working. Yes, they are sweeping and spinning and weaving and cooking. They are also selling and painting and and laying brick for city walls and defending their castles crossbow in hand.
And, speaking of bricks, not just with crossbows. I hiked part of the Robert Louis Stevenson trail in France in 2015 and in Pradelles saw this bas-relief carved into part of the remaining medieval wall of the town.
It commemorates the story of La Verdette, who beaned the leader of an invading force with a brick. After which the rest of the invaders…ran away.
I tried like hell to write La Verdette into Silk and Song but couldn’t work a believable diversion to Pradelles into the plot. Alas. The not so great thing about research is that you can’t use it all.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.