Writers are big fans of research; I realize this surprises
no one. In fact, I suspect some writers have chosen their profession because it
allows them a functional excuse for their musty book fetish. The problem with
research, though, is that if you do it well, no one notices; it's only when you
get it wrong that audiences howl. For me, one of the great joys of having
readers explore The
Mongoliad Trilogy is when they do a bit of research of their own and
discover how much we've tried to line our story up with actual historical
We started with the
basic story that is well known about the Mongol invasion of the West: Mongols
show up, make threatening noises, something happens, and the Mongols leave.
There are, of course, a number of contributing factors to this withdrawal, but
what we really keyed on when we started research is that many references to the
death of the Ögedei Khan had the words "hunting accident” in them.
Really? A “hunting accident”? From a
culture that used to send a thousand men out to flush prey into a closed circle
of riders. Hard to believe, don’t you think? And if it wasn't an
"accident," then what was it? This kind of intrigue, within historical
source materials, allowed us to get to creative while writing about the Khan’s
court while still keeping the story grounded in fact.
Concurrently, there was strife in Rome – another pivotal
historical event taken on in The
Mongoliad: Book 3. Gregory IX had unexpectedly died, leaving the Church
without a Pope, and the only way the Senator of Rome could ensure that
Frederick, the Holy Roman Emperor who was keen on having the next Pope be more
of a pal than Gregory IX had been, didn't unduly influence the election was to
lock the cardinals away until they picked a new pope. They were sequestered in
a building called the Septizodium: a sweltering ruin that was so filthy and
disgusting that one of the cardinals died.
Or so history tells us. After months of research, we had
corroborated the location of the Septizodium and found enough details to know
which cardinal expired. But details were sketchy, and shortly thereafter, we
discovered that the Septizodium (which translates roughly to "House of
Seven Gods") may have only been a blank facade in the 13th century. Instead
of throwing us into a tailspin, this piece of data only magnified the question:
Where were the cardinals kept? Places where historical fact allowed for a
reasonable yet undeniably fictional amount of artistic license.
Writers like research because it makes our lies less overt.
Verisimilitude adds a veneer of plausibility that aids in the audiences'
suspension of disbelief. We make no claim to being honest historians, but the
strange "truths" we discover while doing research always allow us the
freedom to create a much richer world than one we ever thought possible.