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Monday, March 25, 2013

A long time coming...

If you can wade through the rambling in this 3 minute (one take) video, it'll be worth your while. Or worth my while. One or the other. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Historical Research, for the less-than-inclined

Today, I am especially excited to interview Chloe Massarello of Imagines Historiarum. For one thing, Imagines Historiarum is a very valuable research company for writers who might need some assistance with heavy duty research. (Even lighter research.)

And how, exactly, did I discover Imagines Historiarum? I am so proud to be related to its brilliant founder! Ms. Massarello is my cousin, so, her work comes with my personal quality guarantee. Check out her website. Her credentials are impressive. So, I decided to ask her some questions in case some of you fine readers and writers wish you had your own personal researcher. 

Welcome to The Restless Writer, Chloe! 

The Restless Writer (RW): What sparked your decision to start Imagines Historiarum?

Chloe Massarello (CM): I have always expressed my interest in history through a variety of creative outlets, from painting and writing to reenacting. The more I thought about what I would like to do with my degree, the more I realized that I would enjoy working with others who engage with the past creatively. For most people, finding a professional historian can be quite difficult. Academic historians affiliated with institutions are often too busy to assist with research and answer questions posed to them by community members, and most historians who operate historical research consulting firms work with governments, institutions, and businesses as opposed to private individuals. I want to reach out to authors and others who need historical knowledge for their work and projects and serve as a resource for them.

RW: What are you favorite historical fiction books?

CM: Three books spring to mind that I feel achieved great success as works of historical fiction: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley, and Doc by Mary Doria Russell. The first is not strictly historical fiction because it deals with time travel, but Willis’s account of the plague’s effects on a small village and the ways in which her time-traveling main character confronts difficulties, including a significant language barrier, is empathetic to an unusual degree. Willis has a knack for placing the reader in the comfort zone of her characters, revealing details that differ from our own time yet orient the reader within the time that she is visiting. I think the most powerfully evocative devices that Willis uses in the book are church bells, ringing the canonical hours. In the isolated village of Doomsday Book, the bells punctuate the passage of the day and serve to connect the village with surrounding habitations, because the ringing can be heard far away. As the plague advances across the landscape, the bells of other habitations begin to fall silent until the bell in the village church is the single voice for miles. The effect within the story is both eerie and tragic and all the more significant because Willis successfully communicates the importance of the bells to the reader. When they fall silent, it is disorienting and ominous and believably authentic.
From Jane Smiley’s work I took away an appreciation for the hard-bitten reality of life in medieval Greenland. Smiley’s prose is terse and unemotional, reflective of the toughness of her characters surviving in a time and place where nothing can be taken for granted. Her writing brings to mind the spare style of the sagas.
Lastly, Russell’s book doesn’t spare the reader from discomfort either; she throws Latin, French and German onto the page. Her story follows Doc Holliday from childhood through young adulthood as he learns to cope with tuberculosis, and the dialogue in the book often reflects the nineteenth-century upper-class education appropriate to the main character.
In summation, I found all of these books convincing as historical fiction because they required me to look at the past being related on the page as separate and uncomfortable, in a good way. Part of being a historian is learning to think in a manner that is empathetic to the time being researched, to understand that a historical actor’s thoughts and actions were formed in a very different context than our own and that our rules often don’t apply. Successful historical fiction borrows from this dynamic; it should challenge you as it presents you with something timeless.

RW: What time period would you most like to visit and why?

CM: The future, when the warp drive has been invented and I can travel to wherever and whenever I please! Honestly, the answer depends on what I am studying. The more I research the more questions I have. Since I have been sitting with the early Plantagenets and their contemporaries for so long, I suppose it would be remiss of me not to visit them first.

RW: What kind of historical research projects have you already done?

CM: The largest sustained project I have undertaken is my own thesis, which represents two years of research, writing, and translation work based on primary sources. Most of the research I have done as a student, volunteer, and professional has been geared towards addressing specific questions, whether the questions are about a time period, a person, or a particular object (a document, a Roman oil lamp, items uncovered at Fort Vancouver, etc.). On my own time I have engaged in everything from genealogical investigations to baking hard tack.

RW: What kind of projects do you hope to get?

CM: I am open to and enjoy a wide variety of projects and research topics, and I encourage anyone who has any questions or ideas to send me an email. Whether you want research assistance or editorial support for a work of fiction or nonfiction, from books to articles, or an entirely different project, I can lend you a hand.

RW: Do you like to write historical fiction?

CM: I loved writing historical fiction when I was younger and plan to start working on it seriously in the near future. Right now I have two ideas gelling in my mind. One is based on my thesis research and the other will probably end up closer to the fantasy genre but is heavily influenced by historical themes that interest me.

RW: What can clients expect to receive from you? (a line edit of their work? a report on relevant info. for their chosen time period?)

CM: The answer to this question really depends on the needs of the client. I can track down answers to specific queries and provide a narrative with sources for future reference; locate sources for the client’s own research, providing a bibliography with or without annotation; provide guidance on the challenges of source-reliability, interpretation, and conflicting information; copyedit and line edit the client’s work (either in hardcopy or as a Word document, although hardcopy is preferred); fact-check a client’s work and produce a list of suggested corrections; and more.

Oxford, England. Because I love it. 
RW: What did you write your Master's thesis on?

CM: My thesis is centered on the commissioning of a thirteenth-century work known as the History of William Marshal. I am particularly interested in the political use of historical texts in the Middle Ages. The History recounts the (mostly political) life story of William Marshal (c.1147-1219), the first earl of Pembroke and regent of England following King John’s demise in 1216. Marshal’s son, also named, unhelpfully for purposes of clarity, William Marshal, commissioned the History after his father’s death. After reading the History, I wanted to know why the younger Marshal commissioned it. My curiosity was sparked by the defensive tone of the History and the lack of substantial work by historians on the subject of the Marshal son and his connection to the document. It’s quite difficult to use a source when you don’t know why it was created. I’ll just say that my thesis involves war, political machinations and maneuvering, and an unprecedented marriage. Pretty good stuff, no? I plan to upload my thesis to my website soon.

RW: Many people hate research. What do you find most compelling about it?

CM: The moment of discovery when a piece of information causes everything to fall into place is addictive! There’s nothing quite like the evil-genius (or benevolent-genius) feeling that you get when something you’ve uncovered creates sudden insight. I love that conducting research constantly demands that I think in new ways and try new angles of approach. It’s exhilarating! 

Thank you so much, Chloe! Best of luck with Imagines Historiarum. (PS. We absolutely need to talk more because you're a genius!!)