The Pleasures of Research

While everyone’s been off chatting on, I have been hard at work on book 1 my airship trilogy. There are 7,500 words in the bag, thank you.

Now unlike all my previous books, this one is not set in the future or the present, but in 1914. In other words, it’s in the past, that crazy country where they talk different, think different, dress different, and eat different. Well, okay, the future of Uglies is like that too.

But here’s the thing: You can’t make up the past!

You have to do research. Argh.

Of course, a book like Peeps had some pretty cool research in it. I had to understand all manner of parasites and rats and other ickies. However, I could do something simple like get two characters to sit down in a restaurant together without heading to the library.

But let’s say I wanted to go to a restaurant in my 1914 novel . . .

What were restaurants like in 1914? Did they have waitresses back then or just male waiters? How rich did you have to be to eat in one? How much would you have to dress up? How many things would be on a menu? And would it be handwritten, printed, or spoken? Would you pay with cash? Cheque? Or would they simply send the bill around to your house later, like other tradesmen did back then?


One of the writers of House has been meditating on this lately, and points out:

You cannot write one paragraph of a novel without knowing a shocking amount: what the inside of your character’s head is like; how dusty the street they’re walking on is; what sounds they would hear; what direction they’re walking in (refer back to your several maps of Elizabethan London); what their clothes feel like as well as look like; what shops or houses they would pass; and any number of other details that will put the reader there with you.

Read this post by her too, about how you’re never right, no matter how many experts you’ve got helping.

But don’t think that research is all bad, because it’s also a) fun, and b) a font of new ideas and storylines. For example, I’ve been compiling a list of all the Things That Can Go Wrong with a Zeppelin, and boy are there a lot!

Excellent . . . After all, Things Going Wrong is conflict, and conflict is good.

So here are a few of my current favorite research books:

Hindenburg has text and glorious paintings by John Marschall. It has lots of cool fold-out diagrams like this one, which shows the front end of an airship control car:

The full-sized version shows much more.

I’m also loving the War Department’s Airship Aerodynamics Technical Manual, which tell you all kinds of fun stuff, like how to steer a blimp around an obstacle.

Plus it has cool pictures like this one:

I also like the historical reminder that it was called the “War Department” back then, and not the “Defense Department” (like we’d never invade anybody).

Another cool book is Sky Sailors, about the men of the Royal Naval Air Service, the guys who actually crewed the first British blimps and dirigibles. It’s finally answered my questions about what the ranks would be in the airship service. You know: Captain? Commodore? Admiral? Turns out they have this wacky mix of air force and navy: Flight lieutenants and coxswains, air marshalls and riggers (yes, riggers were guys who tied knots! And fixed airbags instead of sails), and even this rank called “engine room artificer.”

Artificer! How olde worlde is that?

Anyway, I’m having a blast. And I have a feeling that this book will be illustrated . . .

Talk amongst yourselves.

29 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Research

  1. Sweet. Ever since I read Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, I’ve loved the idea of zeppelins. And I saw a documentary once on blimps which showed all these fancy levels they used to have, almost like cruise ships. Of course, they died out very quickly after the Hindenburg caught on fire. I can’t wait to read Leviathan.

  2. Awww, you’re doing so much work for us! Well a sincere thank you Scott. Furthurmore, you should know that your Peeps research was greatly appriciated, I still quote it in conversation. Plus, it made me briefly consider a career in parasites. So keep your chin up.

  3. Someday over the rainbow when I am finished college and better at drawing I shall be determined to illustrate a book of yours. If you’re still churning them out by then, at least. Which you should be. If you aren’t then I would be very sad and my spirit would be battered like fried shrimp.

  4. you probably hera of me- CC- I emailed you and you emailed back- I’m still in shock!!!! but i bought the books and they’re amazing!!!Wow, if you hadn’t emailed back, you wouldn’t have recieved royalties from my purchase. Nice blog by the way and your research for Peeps is GREATLY appritiated!!!(You have no idea!)

  5. Yeah, me again- CC LaBluff, I just want to say (without trying to sound like some crazy fan) that I love your books. And I wanted to ask ya something (not expecting you to write back by the way) that a while back, I enteredthis contests on and today I got a letter from them that I’m in the contest and that my poem is scheduled to be ublished. I mean come on, MY poem…published…in a book?? Get real! You don’t have to like pay or anything at all, but it sounds too good to be true and I was thinking if maybe this is all a scam? They published my poem in their website, but serously…ME?? You probably don’t have the time for this nonsence, so whatever. By the way. I LOVE YOUR BOOKS!!! Never, ever stop writinf, or I’ll shoot myself.YOUR BOOKS ROCK! ROCK ON DUDE! -lol ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Dude, I’m going all lighter-than-air for book 3 again and am in research phase. Might have to gank some of the resources you put up here ๐Ÿ™‚ I love the illustrated book.

  7. I almost fell for the thing…They *technically* published two of my poems. But once they asked for that much money, I sort of realized “Oh, that’s a scam.” I know somebody who went all into it, paying literally thousands of dollars to attend some convention. Which starts with the letters “con.” (hehe, just noticed that.)

  8. Ah, yes. Research, research, research. Been there. I do quite a bit of that. Fun. That was sorta half-sarcastic. In a good light, you learn a lot and get a better feel about what you’re writing about. The darker part is that you have to do quite a bit of it, haha.

  9. Yay, Scott! So can’t wait for the new book… even though it’ll take ages to get to Aus…
    I love the Elizabethen times – this book should be AWESOME then!

  10. Haha, research1 well, at least billions of people will learn alot from the book, which is good
    and, are you suggesting that ur a democrat? with the “we’d never invade anyone” sarcasm?
    yay for demorcats and down with Bush!!! if you are at least against the “war” (invasion, the iraquis never had a chance) you are even more of my favorite author, and omg! all those pictures!!! and diagrams1! i bet you will b able to build one after you finish writing this book!

  11. A new trilogy, how exciting! As for the research end of it…rock on! Isn’t it great to love what you’re doing enough to want to get it right? I’m definately going to use some of your ideas when I start teaching again in the fall (anything to get those kids to write and write well!) ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Can we have guys who tie knots? Riggers sound as though they might make interesting characters, even if they’re just cameos. I love the historical sci-fi vibe I get from all this Zeppelin stuff. Things that can go wrong with a Zeppelin… *evil laugh*

  13. W00t, the new trilogy sounds so interesting! Can’t wait.

    I got a letter from Didn’t fall for it, though.

  14. hey cant you give us a general idea what it’s about? or is it a seceret?

    i was wondering, scott, if you like to write sci-fi or fantasy or whatever genre the most. what do you enjoy writing?

  15. Restaurant research is a mind-blowing area; it says so much about the culture of the era–and corrects so many misconceptions. I recently saw a reproduction of Delmonico’s menu from (if memory serves) 1910, I’m still trying to get my head around the idea that the most expensive item on the menu was roast chicken (10 cents) (almost twice as expensive as steak). Food production has changed a lot in a century. My great-aunt (born in the 1890s) was used to buying fowl still alive, waiting while they were killed and gutted, and then plucking them herself when she got them home. Prep time goes up a little . . . The new book sounds fascinating.

  16. Hey Scott,

    I was wondering if you knew anything concerning who can attend the TLA conference in San Antonio that you’re going to next April. I have searched through their website but can’t find anything definitive on whether the general public (i.e. me) can buy tickets to go. Do you have any idea? Sorry, I know you’re busy.


  17. yes!! and even if you can’t give us a perview, can u tell us the character’s names of something? mebbe just the first few paragraphs.. pleeeeeeeeeease???

  18. to know the future, you must first know the past. To bad once something in history goes, it doesn’t come back. XP

  19. I miss the 60+ comments. This site was my life. Just kidding ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m so excited about your new books.

  20. it *is* weird to see so few comments on here. but it’s been fun posting on and hopefully we’re bugging scott a bit less so he can write write write!!! ๐Ÿ˜€

    by the way, scott..the airship pics are tres cool!

  21. sounds good! i really appreciate all that research that you do! its what helps me get so caught up in your books… taking me to another time and place!

    p.s.- what genre would this book be?

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