When Research Derails Your Plot

Before I sit down to write one of my novels, I like to plot them out. These days my plots are fairly detailed with a sentence or two about every scene I plan to write. This helps to guide my research so I learn what I need to know before I start writing the novel. Despite that, details sometimes slip through the cracks.

For example, I’m currently working on my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders. The historical Wyatt Earp is an important side character. In one scene, a character wants to buy Wyatt a drink. Now, I’ve watched many western movies featuring Wyatt Earp and he’s often shown in a saloon, playing faro or poker. In my research, I found this to be reasonably accurate, so it seemed fair to assume that Wyatt was a drinking man.

I thought it would be fun to add a little authenticity to the story and have the character buy Wyatt not just any drink, but his favorite drink. Wyatt Earp’s life is so well documented, I thought it might be possible to find out what he liked to drink. As it turns out, I did indeed find out. Wyatt Earp didn’t drink alcohol at all!

At this point, I faced two choices. The first, and perhaps most controversial would be to declare that in this alternate history Wyatt does drink. I’d argue this is actually a fair choice, but if you do go this route, you should do even more research to understand why Wyatt Earp didn’t drink and decide what circumstances in your alternate world would make him a drinking man. While you might not dwell on that choice in the story, you probably should say a few words about it. I would only recommend considering this route if major plot points down the road required that Wyatt Earp be a drinker for some reason and pulling that element out of the story would make it fall down like the proverbial house of cards.

In addition to being a writer, I’m a professional scientist. All my training is built around the idea that if I do research and find something that doesn’t fit my preconceived notions, I have to accept that finding. Between that inclination and the fact that Wyatt Earp having a shot of whiskey, scotch or anything else was simply not critical to the story in its own right, I did a little more research. I discovered that Wyatt Earp was a big fan of ice cream and ice cream parlors were just starting to spring up in the old west of the 1880s.

Returning to my novel, I used this bit of trivia to create a minor plot complication for my character who had to scramble to find Wyatt’s favorite ice cream parlor to continue his plans. It adds an interesting moment to the story, as well as a little bit of fun, historical trivia.

For me, this is one of the most fun parts of writing the Clockwork Legion novels. I get to learn about history and figure out how that history is changed by the world-altering events I’ve proposed. Conversely, I figure out what things would be constants in this new world and how that affects the story I want to tell.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join me on this thrilling ride through history. The links below will take you to my pages about the books where you can find out how to purchase, read sample chapters, see book trailers and more. Also, note the first two books are available as audio books as well as print and ebooks.

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Haunted Observatories

Although I am by nature a skeptic, I think stories and legends tell us a lot about ourselves. I’m curious whether any of my readers have heard about any haunted observatories or ghost stories connected with observatories. If so, please drop me a comment either here or in the original post. Thanks!

The Scarlet Order

This past week, my editor sent me her notes for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. She declares it scary stuff, but has several good ideas for improving the pacing, strengthening the characters, and tightening the plot. I’ll be working diligently on that over coming weeks and will look for some insights about the process to share.

One of the hallmarks of The Astronomer’s Crypt is that it features a haunted astronomical observatory. Haunted observatories are not an area heavily explored by fiction or even ghost lore. So it’s fair to ask where I got the idea. Part of the idea comes from two prominent men who are interred in or just outside the observatories they founded. One is Percival Lowell, whose mausoleum is right outside the 24-inch telescope on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona. Another is James Lick who funded the University of California’s Lick Observatory and is interred…

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Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 3

In part thee of my series on “Walks Through the Cemetery,” I find the marker for Billy the Kid’s defense attorney and uncover a mystery.

The Scarlet Order

Last week, I discussed the man who shot Billy the Kid, who is buried in the cemetery behind my house. It turns out there’s a gravestone for the man who defended Billy the Kid at his trial as well. Fountain This one’s an interesting gravestone in that no one is actually buried under it. Albert Fountain and his son disappeared in 1896 and to this day, no one knows what happened to them.

Albert Fountain’s career started during the Civil War, when he was a sergeant in the Union Army’s California Column, which took New Mexico back from the confederacy in 1862. After the war, he moved to El Paso, Texas and became a Republican politician at a time when it was not popular to be a Republican in Texas. He served in the Texas State Senate and served as Lieutenant Governor for a time. His views angered many Texas Democrats…

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Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 2

Continuing my series on how walking through the local cemetery has inspired some of my writing.

The Scarlet Order

Last week, I discussed how walks through the cemetery provide historical inspiration. In addition, walking helps me clear my head and focus better on my writing. Walking through the cemetery is really just an easy and practical choice because it’s one of the nicest spaces in my neighborhood to go for a stroll without worrying about traffic. Of course, it’s also interesting to discover someone in the cemetery who is in the history books and has been immortalized in many books and films.

Pat_Garrett

The photo shows the grave site of Pat Garrett and his wife Apolinaria. Pat Garrett is most famous as the man who shot Billy the Kid in 1881. He also investigated the disappearance of attorney and newspaperman Albert Jennings Fountain, who I’ll discuss in a later post of this series. Toward the end of his life, Garrett was appointed a customs collector in El Paso, Texas by…

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Walks Through the Cemetery – Part 1

This post over at the Scarlet Order blog directly relates to my post about visiting the high school. I mentioned visiting the cemetery for inspiration, which definitely got attention.

Also, I’m featured over at Lachesis Publishing’s Blog all this week. Be sure to follow the posts at: http://lachesispublishing.com/?page_id=169

The Scarlet Order

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a local high school class here in Las Cruces about the steampunk genre and my writing process. One of the things I mentioned is that I like to take walks through the cemetery. Now this may seem a little morbid, but I find one effect is that it puts me in touch with local history. I see gravestones and I ask who these people were and what they did. One tombstone that regularly catches my eye belongs to Mr. Charlie Miller.

Charlie Miller Tombstone

In this case, I haven’t researched Mr. Miller, but the tombstone goes to show how iconic Pancho Villa is in the Southwestern United States. His raid on Columbus, New Mexico led to America’s first incursion on another country in which we used air power.

When Robert E. Vardeman asked if I would be interested in contributing to his “Empires of…

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Happy Naw-Ruz

If you’ve read my novel Owl Dance, you’ll know that one of the protagonists, Fatemeh Karimi, is Bahá’í. This past week was Naw-Rúz, the Bahá’í new year, which is celebrated on March 21. I had the opportunity to celebrate Naw-Rúz with my Bahá’í friends in Las Cruces. We had a good dinner followed by a piñata for the kids.

I have to admit, as spring begins and the grass and trees are turning green again, it feels a bit more like the dawn of a new year than it did celebrating New Year’s at the beginning of winter. It was just about a year ago that my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. At this point, it appears that she’s won the war and we are now moving forward with life. As befits a new year, I have lots of news to share.

Gaslight Gathering

I am pleased to announce that I will be one of the guests at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego, California from May 11-13.

The guest of honor is Kaja Foglio, co-creator of the brilliant webcomic Girl Genius. You can learn more about the convention and register at: http://www.gaslightgathering.org/index.html

The Pirates of Sufiro skyrockets at Amazon

As mentioned a few days ago, my publisher has made the Kindle and Nook editions of the first book of my Old Star/New Earth trilogy free.

Since the announcement, The Pirates of Sufiro has climbed all the way up to number 2 in the Science Fiction Adventure category at Amazon’s Kindle Store. Thank you everyone who has downloaded the book. It’s not too late to download your own copy.

If you like that first book, don’t forget to check out the other two books in the Old Star/New Earth Trilogy. They’re Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. You can learn about them and find links to the ebook and paperback editions by visiting the books page at my website: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html

New review of Owl Dance and Sequel Progress

Trent Zelazny, the author of To Sleep Gently and Destination Unknown posted the following review of Owl Dance at Amazon.com: “Owl Dance is a great western-style steampunk science fiction tale. Summers knows science, and it shows in really fun ways in this one, keeping this wondrous. I really enjoy the writer’s style and you can tell he is having great fun writing–I hope as much fun as I had reading it. It reads fast, and I mean this is the very good way. If you like steampunk or westerns or just a having a really great time, give Owl Dance a read. I think you’ll really enjoy it.”

This week I’ve been forging ahead on the sequel to Owl Dance tentatively entitled Wolf Posse. The novel picks up where Owl Dance leaves off. As the novel opens, Professor Maravilla and Larissa Crimson stumble on a mystery, the Russians are advancing on California and Billy McCarty returns to Lincoln County, New Mexico only to find it nearly deserted. I’m having fun working on this one.

You can pick up a copy of Owl Dance at Amazon.com or BN.com.

Interview at Manic Readers

Manic Readers conducted a very comprehensive interview with me a few days ago. You can read the interview at: http://manicreaders.com/blog/index.php/2012/03/david-lee-summers-steampunk-scifi-paranormal-author-and-astronomer/

Vampires in Springtime

Just because the nights are growing shorter doesn’t mean you’re safe from vampires! I have a new vampire story called “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” coming soon in Cemetery Dance Magazine.

You can order a copy right now at: http://www.cemeterydance.com/page/CDP/PROD/_cd066

What’s more, my second scarlet order novel, Dragon’s Fall, is due to be released soon. Keep up on all the news about my vampire books and stories at my vampire blog: http://dlsummers.wordpress.com and be sure to “like” the Scarlet Order Vampires at Facebook.

Zombie Writing!

I’m just back from Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in Long Beach, California plus a book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, California. Both were amazing events and I’ve promised to write about the events for Dark Cargo. During the Queen’s Couture at the Steampunk Symposium, I read a short story called “The Zombie Shortage” that was well received. That story appears in the anthology Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie.

Appropriately enough, when I returned from my trip to California, I learned that a brand new non-fiction book about writing zombie fiction is now available. The book includes my essay “Expect the Unexpected: Embracing the Cliché to Add Surprises to Your Zombie Fiction.” Also in the book are essays by Keith Gouveia, Lee Pletzers, Lou Antonelli, Eric S. Brown, Armand Rosamilia and many more. There are forty-four essays in all. If you want to breathe new life into your zombie fiction, this is the book for you!

What’s more, the ebook edition is absolutely free through Saturday, January 21. You can pick up the free edition for your Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Writing-ebook/dp/B006YZDIE0/. If you prefer the paper edition, that’s available for the low price of $9.99 at: https://www.createspace.com/3774170.

Hope you’ll check out this new book and try your own hand at reanimating some corpses!