Interview: Ian McDonald's research secrets revealed

Jason from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography sez, "I just got done with a new text-based interview, in fact, with British science-fiction author Ian McDonald, in which we talk in depth about his new novel 'The Dervish House' which Cory raved about last week, including a detailed look at the kind of research McDonald does in order to write books like these."
IM: What, give away all my secrets? Well, I have this avatar body I can occupy...It takes years. I read a lot. I travel a lot -- and as much as I can afford. I talk to people, I read the papers. I cook the food. I buy the music, I follow the sports teams. I try to second-guess what the government will do in international politics. I learn a bit of the language. I study the religion. I study the etiquette. I try and work out what the day-to-day details are like. I watch people. I have a very strong visual memory and I can recreate an entire scene in my head and observe details. I cultivate an eye for detail. I take thousands of photographs of boring everyday things. I look at what's on sale in gas stations and what that tells you about a culture. I study the ads. I talk to more people. I get hammered on the local booze. I try to take the country's political position in the world news. I watch television. I read books for those tiny details. Is this like Method Acting? WTF are you doing with those lights?!? This takes time and intellectual and emotional commitment. I love it. Of course I get it wrong. Then again, I can write about what's going on at the bottom of my street and get it wrong...particularly my street. Oh, one other research tool. I tie bundles of memories to scents and smells. When I smell that scent again or something like it, everything in the bundle springs back into the forebrain.
An interview with Ian McDonald (Thanks, Jason!)

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  1. “I talk to people, I read the papers. I cook the food. I buy the music, I follow the sports teams. I try to second-guess what the government will do in international politics. I learn a bit of the language. I study the religion. I study the etiquette. I try and work out what the day-to-day details are like. ”

    This must have been quite a trick when he was researching his novels that are set on Mars. I kid, I kid!

  2. Oh, one other research tool. I tie bundles of memories to scents and smells. When I smell that scent again or something like it, everything in the bundle springs back into the forebrain.
    That’s how the Beast got his memories back in an issue of The Astonishing X-Men.

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