Authors: We’re just gettin’ our “Learn On”

nsa_hq_headerWe author’s joke a lot about the NSA checking our browser histories and all of us ending up on a watch list. Why? When a villain in our novel is going commit an evil act, we need to understand the dynamics, pitfalls and effectiveness of that act. We also need to understand how to hide that act (in some circumstances). We’re looking to immerse our reader and suspend their belief just long enough for our clever plot point to thrill and impress them. We need them along for the ride.

For the sake of accuracy, we do searches like ”How to kill somebody and not leave a trace”, “What is the layout of a Nuclear Power Plant control room?” or “What was the longest sniper shot ever taken”. That might make the average government agency nervous. Hell, sometimes I get a little nervous due to the quickness of a reply, and the thoroughness of the answer, from fellow authors.

It doesn’t end there. Not with some clinically clean answer and appropriate footnotes. Nope. After a question gets posed, we have running debates in Facebook groups and forums about the effectiveness of weapons, how to break into a bank, how to steal a car, what could a terrorist really do in a nuke plant and how to hack a government computer system. All in the name of accuracy. To quote Chris Rock. “We’re just getting our Learn on”.

It’s not all body parts and mass destruction. Sometimes it’s for historical accuracy. Proper descriptions of samurai swordplay, operation of a steam locomotive or the pre-modern era methods to make leather. Our search for accuracy aids in the immersion into the story. Hopefully, it can inspire a reader to delve deeper or just inform them about a process, function or system they hadn’t ever considered for its complexity, simplicity, or innovation.

Vintage Steam Locomotive

Vintage Steam Locomotive

website imageFor me, recently, it’s been my “ManaTech” series and the first book “Mages”. Setting the books in the time of the First World War was a natural decision, since the main characters are Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. As I worked my alternate history, introduced magic and fantasy, along with technology and societal norms of the day, I had to explore the era and the personalities I was weaving into the story. It’s fiction, so I have creative license, but I still want an air of authenticity. Science Fiction Fantasy. I call it FantaSci.

So, the world, events, characters and technology will seem familiar, but the story will be fresh and the introduction of fantasy realm characters something that lets me take the series wherever I want. People like Henry Ford, George Washington Caver, Mata Hari and George Luger are some of the personalities that become imbued with “magic” abilities. They’re the “Mages”, or Draoidhae as they become known in the story. What would these people do with that sort of power?

Luger19062iqFor Luger I placed him in Germany. I wanted to use a tragedy to motivate him to support the Kaisers war effort with his newfound powers. I didn’t have to add any alternative history to find that tragedy, as he actually lost his son in one of the first battles of WWI and was bitter about it. I got my “Learn on” and read the Luger family history, including his rise as an industrial icon, a weapons designer, and what became of his family. I mapped out the places he lived, where his factories were and were his son died. I researched magnificent and bloody battles of WWI, as well as the technology of the day. Airplanes to machine guns. Staff cars to clothes. Music to common phrases. And I’m doing this 12 times over, since each “Mage” has a lot of public documentation about their lives from that era. This is the work that goes into the backside of a novel, or in this case, a series of them. My Browser is filled with all of that research. from Images to Wiki Pages. A little benign compared to the usual suspects, but now part of my lexicon.

So, if you ever peruse an author’s search history, and see something REALLY disturbing, just chalk it up to research and walk away. Especially if it involves looking for the correct lotion to put on “it’s skin”…before they get the hose again.

Yep, walk away. Quickly. Just in case.

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