While everyone’s been off chatting on Westerboard.com, 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.