On Researching Your Writing

All of my books were researched, even my children’s books. For example, you need to know something about the habits and environments of the flying squirrel and of red foxes, if you’re going to write about them. However, you don’t necessarily have to be slavish about making your characters meet all the criteria of the of the true worlds of these animals. Bernie, the Flying Squirrel is a book in full color. We know that flying squirrels are nocturnal. If I had Bernie colored in his true context, I’d have either black pages or using night-vision goggles, all the colors would be in starlight green. Same with Lucky Foxes. Foxes are solitary, My foxes, Tommy and Tina, cohabit.

The fifteen stories in Steampunk Mashup take place all over the world back in the 19th century, and each story had a different backdrop that had to be researched. One of the stories—Pacific Low—takes place on a Hawaiian sugar cane plantation. Hey haole, what do you know about cutting cane? No much. So, that sent me into the archives to find out about cane planting and all the agricultural data about cane, machinery for processing, the people who cut the cane back then, where they came from, who those people were, which races, who brought them and who was discriminated against and why. With just an inkling of who I was dealing with, I could then spin my tale.

For the research on my current novel, The Confederate Canuck, my wife Maria and I spent three weeks in Louisiana and Mississippi following in the footsteps of my protagonist. We visited plantations, historic buildings, museums, visited chancery court to look up the records, took rides on steamboats, sampled the food, looked at old photographs and anything else we could to suss out the period and the lives my characters led. And, not to mention, lots of reading about the Civil War, who was involved in our area of concern, and the aura of the times, such as the mortality rates, from what, state of pharmacopeia, travel modes, distances, businesses, what goods came down the Mississippi River, on what kinds of boats, etcetera and ad nauseum. I love it, but at some point, you have to start scribbling.