Or: How much research material is enough?
Last count I had 5 seven foot tall bookcases filled... and most of it was non-fiction. I was cleaning and straightening yesterday (to avoid cleaning and straightening other areas of the house) and discovered books I don't even remember obtaining. At one point I must have decided I needed to study up on the Jesuits, Mysticism of the Eastern Churches, and Buddhism, but I have no idea what story I intended to write. Since religion figures in all my stories, it hasn't been a waste. I have several books on physics, astronomy, fuzzy logic, and time. As soon as I got out of school, I discovered I loved physics, and quantum mechanics - what I understand of them so far.
The Roman Empire, Byzantium, Greece, Egypt, and Persia. Mythology, both Eastern and Western. Enough art books to open my own classroom. Psychology and education, but I have an excuse for those, they were part of my abortive attempt to finish my PhD. More philosophy books than I ever needed when I was in school, but hey, teaching it, you never know what you'll need. Dungeons and Dragons, Battletech, Star Wars, Star Trek and Gurps handbooks. Knitting, weaving, sewing, felting and leatherworking. (SCA related, I swear)
Books on how to write. Books on writing techniques. Books on techniques about how to write. Style books and source books, dictionaries and how to's. Books on writing poetry. Books by poets, many of which are distressingly thin, but I guess that's so they leave you wanting more, kind of like those dinner plates at snobby restaurants, artfully arranged and skimpy.
Books with pictures. No, not Dr. Seuss, but National Geographic tomes, and a day in the life of whatever country, and William Wegman, photo books of national parks and photo books of places I wish I could go to. Cookbooks, military history, and computer programming. Anthropology, sociology and ancient architecture.
Engineering, including my manuals from the military. How can such an interesting subject be rendered dry as toast? Oh, yeah, the military, where toast has its own manual.
Fiction is scattered throughout the house, in case I am in need of a quick read while cooking or herding cats. My signed books are enshrined alongside my poetry collections, except for Kris', which is now making the rounds of the local junior high school. (Six kids have read it so far, and more want it. I'd say it's a hit, Kris) I have a Rubbermaid tub full of romance books someone gave me and lots of science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. Not much in the way of commercial fiction, although when younger I had a thing for James Mitchner doorstops. A few Steven King – something I share with my oldest. Fiction on Vietnam and WWII.
Even when I go to the library I check a lot of non-fiction books out. Is it fear of influence while I'm writing my own stuff? Or is something else going on here? I've decided it's larger than that. I confess, I suffer from incurable NTK. Need To Know. There's so much out there that I find interesting, there's no way I could specialize and narrow my scope. Probably why I'm not still in school collecting another degree. You know what they say:
"Every man gets a narrower and narrower field of knowledge in which he must be an expert in order to compete with other people. The specialist knows more and more about less and less and finally knows everything about nothing." -- Konrad Lorenz
I don't want to be a specialist. Specialization is for insects, and academics. So that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. What's yours?
Next time – I talk about my weird and eclectic collection of DVD's...