Before I can put the first word to the page of a new book, I need research. The characters may be hopping up and down in my mind, shouting their ire, but they’re still too unformed for me to “see” them—and I don’t mean their appearance.
As a for instance—the heroine of the Magic book I’m currently plotting has already appeared in other volumes, so I know what she looks like, and I know something of her personality and background. I know what she wants. But I have utterly no clue how she can go after it because this is 1830, after all, and they don’t have the internet or Craigslist. I don’t want to give her away just yet, until I’m ready to write (yeah, I’m one of those authors who can’t talk about plot until after a book is written).
But this time, I’m not writing one of my Ives heroes (pause for silent weeping). He’s scientific, yes, but I needed a titled nobleman and the Ives family has more bastards than titles. I had some odd idea that he might be a physician, or possibly someone who works with microscopes. Until I can “see” what he does, I can’t do anything. So I started by researching microscopes.
Yes, they had microscopes in 1830, but they were pretty crude. Even in the 2nd century BC the Greeks knew that water bends light. By 100 AD, the Romans could create glass that was thick in the middle and thin on the edge and learned this lens could magnify an image. Although, since they called them burning glasses, I suspect they spent more time trying to create fire with them.
The microscope above is an old German monocular, probably from the early 1700s. The one below left is a solar microscope by Peter Dolland of London from about 1790, considered one of the finest makers of microscopes at the time. But think–solar…London. Does not compute, right?
It wasn’t until the 17th century that Leeuwenhoek invented anything close to a microscope, and that was only a single lens. Low quality glass and lack of light created distortions that prevented microscopes from real usefulness until nearly 1870, unfortunate for my hero. Although several glass problems were resolved by 1830, lighting wasn’t, and that limits usage. So in my time period, the best use of microscopes was determining the existence of cells and their structures—interesting but not exactly hero material. My guy might be able to discover a bacterium if he uses glass manufactured by my fictional Ives experts, but how do I work that into the story in my head?
To tell the truth, I don’t know yet. I’m now researching arsenic and medicine and tuberculosis and my characters are about to pitch fits. Anyone want to make a story of all this? Or I could just make my hero a gambling lout who changes his spots… But then I’d have to research gambling! Anyone know any good books on any of these topics?