Thursday, April 27, 2017

GUEST POST! Darlene Reilley Stops By To Talk Research


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Writing

Hi! I’m Darlene. I write science fiction and romance. A funny thing happened on my path to becoming a writer. I took a detour through religion, private investigation, and anthropology. I’d like to talk with you today about the last because it can help you with your research.

I’m a dragon at research. My love of deep history is one of the reasons I detoured into anthropology. You see, way back in 2011, I took an anthropology class called Introduction to Anthropology. I blame Indiana Jones and Stargate for piquing my interest and reminding me that in my childhood one of my favorite things to do was to research Ancient Egypt.
That class was taught by an awesome anthropology teacher, Dr. Kathryn Keith, who wore the coolest outfits – one day she would come in wearing high heels and a blue wig, and other days she’d be wearing outfits from various time periods and always had fun hats. It was one of the toughest classes I took because although it was a 101 class, she taught it like it was a 300 level class, but it ignited the kindle in my heart for research. It also set me down a strange and winding path.

How can this help you, the writer, staring at your keyboard and wondering what the Yanomamo or !Kung have to do with current writers? You know why – we are inspired by the events we experience and the books we read.

I read “Doing Fieldwork among the Yanomamo” by Napoleon A. Chagon and was inspired to look past my cultures. This same paper would trigger a cascade of cultures that inhabit the universe of my work in progress, The Divantinum Project.
In that same class, I read “Too Many Bananas, Not Enough Pineapples, and No Watermelons at all. Three Object Lessons in Living with Reciprocity” by David Coutis. Long story short, it tells the tale of reciprocity and how sharing is encouraged in some societies. This article triggered a look at what would happen if humanity lived on the moon and not everyone shared in my short story “Barista on the Moon.”

One of the most interesting cultures I came across in my anthropology studies was the !Kung bushmen who live in the Kalahari. Not the tv-version you see in some movies from the 70s or 80s, but the real bushmen and how they live. When Richard Borshay Lee and his wife traveled there to study the bushmen, they brought Christmas with them, and thus began an exchange of culture. He learned about the culture based on the exchange.

In that class, we learned of several cultures, and the reasons why anthropologists want to study them. We learned valuable lessons like how anthropologists see the world, how they think, and their code of ethics. I learned that anthropology is the study of humanity in all our forms – from childrearing to taboos and all concepts of culture.

Anthropologists look at things from a holistic perspective and a comparative perspective. And it was here where I met Steven Lansing who had an experience with the Green Revolution and Bali. [I would later write an awesome paper and give a presentation on Lansing’s research and the Green Revolution.]

But there were things that Anthropologists saw that I didn’t see until I took that class. It opened my eyes to different perspectives. Anthropology classes are like chips: you can’t just take one.

In 2012, I took Ancient Civilizations with Dr. K. I dove into research. Here I learned about the difference between pseudoarchaeology and scientific archaeology. I learned about Eric Von Daniken and Chariot of the Gods. He was one of the first to claim a link between ancient humans and aliens. Now, scientific Darlene knows the difference between the two, but it also had a really interesting effect on my sci-fi writer brain. I was thrown back to my childhood when I did everything I could to learn about Atlantis. Bouncing back and forth just before November, I turned this fun mix of information into a first-draft novel for NaNoWriMo. It’s sitting in my computer, waiting for edits.

Bouncing back and forth between anthropology brain and writer brain had some interesting effects. I got my B.A. in anthropology and minored in creative writing…then I went to Goddard where I wrote my thesis. But this mixing of science and writing came up with a fantastic world full of unique creatures and places for my character, Gaia, to explore. But I couldn’t do it in a normal way. She had to look through the lens of an anthropologist.

You could say everything from the first moments I stepped into college to the last, I was preparing to write the thesis I did with the aliens, gods and goddesses, and historical notes.

What insight can I give you for research?
Follow your gut. I couldn’t have known back in 2011 that I was preparing to write my Thesis. I couldn’t know that I would get so sucked into this world, I would create worlds, spaceships, and cultures. When I read Bonvillain’s Cultural Anthropology, 2nd edition, I was reading it for myself, but a small part of me was creating the character who would become Gaia.
I have been told by many people that you don’t need to go deep into research (you may or may not agree), but it is my experience that the only way I can write deep, meaningful characters in a world all their own, is through research.

So dive into Buddhism. Read about Baseball Magic. Learn the Secrets of Haiti’s Living Dead. Explore how Witchcraft Explains Unfortunate Events. Learn about Totemism and the A.E.F. Then go learn about the Mystique of the Masai. [These are all titles of articles I read during my 101 class]

I would request that as you research, keep a notebook (or twelve) with the information of your research –the notebooks I have from 2011 made my current research easier and I return to them often for inspiration and cultural facts I couldn’t get anywhere else.

I hope this has encouraged you to think about cultures and the connection between science and fiction. I like to write at the place where science, anthropology, romance, and literature meet.
If you liked this and I’ve piqued your interest, I have a suggestion. I’m giving a workshop on Anthropology, Archaeology, and Romance at FF&P. It lasts the whole month of May and will explore all four fields of anthropology. Come join me on an exploration of humanity.  

Write on,
Darlene Reilley 

My workshops and latest links:

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