Research is a strange beast, and one that every writer has to tangle with. The extent of it, and the type, obviously, varies by genre, but even the most otherworldly fantasy story usually requires any author who wants to do their tale justice to hit the books to avoid making fools of themselves. Historical Fiction—for obvious reasons—requires more than average, and so all of my fellow Foreworld creatives and I have done our share of digging through everything from weird encyclopedias, cryptic old history books, and late-night crawls through Wikipedia pages to try and find that one annoying little detail that just doesn’t seem to come up on any of the usual sources. It’s amazing how what period historians thought to be important and what modern day authors need for their fiction sometimes don’t overlap. Bastards.
Much of the history that we have from the Middle Ages and Renaissance is propaganda written down by either the detractors or the advocates of the subject. Between the lines of “This man was a vile, child-devouring bastard” or “Blessed be the exalted one from whose every orifice light did shimmer,” it’s easy to see how some common details about the lives of important people could be missed, omitted, forgotten, or swept under the rug. But every once in a while, a bizarre detail will survive. Whether this detail is a legacy of personal narratives of the people on the ground level or the record of an uncommonly observant historian, they tend to stick in the brains of tired authors doing research late at night.
The The Assassination of Orange is the story of Prince William of Orange, called William The Silent. By all accounts he was a taciturn, shrewd politician who walked a delicate line between calculated brashness and caution where it was appropriate. A decent leader who happened to be in the right place at the right time when such a man was needed by his cause. Like most revolutionary leaders, he tended to attract fanatic devotion from his people and those around him, and inspired paroxysms of vitriolic hatred in his enemies.
However, the best part is that he loved pugs.
I learned this at about two in the morning on a feverish research session, trying to very the exact number of times people had tried to kill the man (it’s a distinguished number). As it turns out, there’s a legend that, one night, as assassins approached the tent of the sleeping Prince, his Pug, Pompey, started barking. The dog woke him up, alerted the guards, and drove off the assassins. Thereafter, apparently, he wouldn’t go anywhere without one of those little mouth-breathing, bug-eyed lap-punters in his company.
Don’t take this as an active dislike of pugs or other small dogs, I don’t hate them, but my extended family has had them for years. I have many memories of being followed around by a fat, brachycephalic, bug-eyed creature that was alternately making disturbing, goblin-like breathing noises or trying to pee on my shoes.
Needless to say, when I learned this fact about William, all those memories came rushing back, and I suddenly had a very personal inroad of bizarrely common experience. “I wonder if his dogs were mouth-breathers, too?” “Did he awaken at night to the sound of a little troll-creature trying to gargle in his ear?” “I wonder if it ever peed on HIS shoes?”
It sounds silly, but these sorts of insights are part of what makes writing this type of fiction both enjoyable, and what allows for the verisimilitude that makes it all feel real. It gave me a slice of insight into the life of William the Silent, and a concrete view of what one aspect of his court must have been like. As an author, that sort of thing is invaluable.
[The The Assassination of Orange is out April 16th, 2013.]