Tag Archives: research

I came up short

I knew writing time was going to be at a premium this weekend. My ultimate goal was to break 30K words on Lanternfish, but I didn’t make it.

I’ve been stealing an hour here and there in an alternate room, and it just isn’t the same. I’m a firm believer that all progress is progress, so I have some of that to keep me positive.

A big part of my slower pace comes down to logistics. I’m dealing with a fantasy world in Lanternfish, but ships don’t just sail from point to point. Even with James’s sextant, there are weeks and months involved in moving the ship.

I have them with an easy appointment to make with the Prelonian Navy, but too much time on their hands. They decided to go chasing information about a new enemy in the war, but still need to make their rendezvous.

I like the extra tension this brings, but I’m writing myself into a corner to a degree. They need to visit two or three places, but still make the appointment. There are going to be delays with piracy, exploring, and more.

It’s easy enough to “magic” my way out of this issue, but that isn’t fair to readers. Even with James’s sextant there have to be rules. It has a limited range, even though it’s much greater than other ships can sail in a day.

They’re going to be doing some exploring in what is similar to the South Pacific. Since this is a fantasy world, I don’t have to place all the islands exactly like they might appear on Earth.

Now a bright author might just back up and change the time of the appointment to allow for all this exploring. I could do it, but I want to challenge myself. I’m even toying with the idea of being at the rendezvous point late. This could add some extra tension to the series. What sort of disaster could this lead to? (It is book two of a trilogy, so a bit of tragedy is allowed.)

There are other forces at work here, too. I have a tropical storm hinted at that will cause some delays and diversions. So I have partial information they need on two different islands, plus a tropical storm, and a tight deadline they have to make. Let’s face it, there needs to be some piracy going on here too.

One fun bit today. I included a mermaid in my story. I swore to avoid traditional monsters and legends in this tale, but there she was. She isn’t like anything you’ve likely seen before. She’s about 90 feet long and towers above the ship when she visits. She could easily pull them down to the depths, but is a benevolent creature/person. (For a change.)

In my mind it’s a good time to go back to the paycheck job. Some of this stuff tends to work itself out during the commute. I may have to adjust my outline a bit to make it all come out the way it should.

Lanternfish spent the entire first book without having everything they need. It involved crew, guns, munitions, etc. I’m also thinking about what it might do to the crew to have too much. How motivated might they be to assist in the war when their hull is overflowing with treasure? People with nothing to lose see the world differently than those who have more than they’ll ever need. It’s an interesting concept if James has to hold the crew together in face of this new challenge.

Again, putting it aside for a week often brings more clarity to issues like this. I may even have a solution in mind, but need some time to work it all out.

That was my writer’s weekend. As a couple, we managed date night at Old Chicago and I sampled the seasonal beers. We also rented Godzilla King of the Monsters, and I really liked it. I like the way they worked in the fever theory of global warming. The theory is that living creatures get a fever when they’re sick to kill off the bug that’s causing the problem. In the fever theory, Earth is the creature, global warming is the fever, and we are the virus that’s making her sick. This theory has been around for a long time, but it was cool that the film went with it.

For those of you who get a holiday, I hope you’re enjoying your Labor Day. For everyone else, I wish you a happy Monday whatever you’re doing.

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Kinda quiet around here lately

Must be summer. Everywhere I pass through on the internet has been pretty quiet. This includes blogs and social media too. Summer is usually like this, but it’s pretty noticeable this week.

It’s the work week right now, so I don’t have a ton to say. I did a bit of interesting research. It may not make its way into the current story I’m writing, but it might. If it does, I may change it up do one degree or another. It’s fiction, I’m allowed to do that.

The topic was black magic in Sri Lanka. I’ve dug into voodoo, hoodoo, and witchcraft over the years, but nothing from the Pacificish area.

Most of their practice seems to center around curses. These are more public than I expected them to be. Basically, you go to a temple, tell the priest what you want, and he sets you up.

Research indicated blessings and curses run about 50/50. There is no stigma against someone who would cast a curse. In Sri Lanka you should expect to be cursed fairly frequently.

It involves saying words upon a coconut, that’s been affixed with a burning thingie, similar to a candle. (More research is required.) Then the curser has to go outside and throw the coconut, with the flame, on the ground and smash it.

Most temples have a special rock in place for smashing coconuts. Throwing them into sand likely doesn’t produce the required result.

I’m assuming they remove the husk for this process, or it would never smash.

I had to stop to sleep, like I said, it’s still the work week. The last bit I found said there is no counter cursing. Apparently the coconuts won’t rebound upon the caster. You have to go to the temple and have it blessed away.

Honestly, it sounds like a good racket for the temple. Sell both curses and blessings, and keep that line moving.

I designed some characters once who worked upon this principle as a kind of con game, but I’ve never found a home for them. She sells curses, he sells cures… I’ll figure out something for them one day.

It’s possible to weave in some tiki masks, a flaming coconut smash and cast some kind of spell. Like I said, it’s fiction, so I can massage it a bit.

Or I could break out my old blender and some rum and invent something called a flaming coconut smash and curse myself.

Looking forward to Friday where I might find a bit more writing time.

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Daydreaming and research

Today is the last day of my vacation. I’m pretty sure to be behind at the office, and that’s gnawing at me. I have a fantastic staff, and I’m sure they covered for me, but there are some things I have to handle myself.

I’ve reached a point in my current project where I need to daydream about the next section. This seems to work better for me than freewriting my way through. Because of this, today is a day for distractions and research. I may even take a nap this afternoon.

Part of my research involved digging up the 1972 pilot episode of Kung Fu and watching it. Anything I gleaned here would be for a potential future project, but it could have some minor impact on my current story. If nothing else, it’s a good distraction. I may have to check out a few more episodes. They’re absolutely dated, and don’t have the settings of modern martial arts films, but that can be remedied in whatever I write.

I also did some more research on cannons; siege cannons in specific. These things were not portable, and most of them gained permanent placement as harbor defense weapons.

The most common way of naming these things is based upon the weight of a solid shot. This means a cast iron ball. I found several resources, and different eras and countries did things differently.

My better resource involved the standardization of British cannon sizes. Prior to this, the guns were all unique, and it made for a supply disaster. They came up with weights from four to forty-two pounds.

My story is a fantasy of sorts, so I don’t have to follow the exact rules. I like the pattern involved though, so kept to the references of a gun as being an eight pounder, or an eighteen pounder.

I also researched black powder mortars. These were used in the 1800s in both field and siege models. They fired shells as opposed to shot, meaning they were explosive. Cannon of that era were also capable of firing shells. Obviously a shell will not weigh as much as a solid shot, but I kept the naming convention anyway. Research is important for bringing bits into the story, but not if it overwhelms the story.

I’ve given you the general idea of how big these things were, now let’s talk about siege guns. Imagine a muzzle loading cannon that fires a 1080 pound shot. It took 200 pounds of black powder to fire it. (Who got to lift the ball into the gun?)

Siege mortars also existed. The biggest ones fired a 137 pound shell nearly two and a half miles. Remember the shell weight is lighter than the shot weight. This might be classed as a 200 pound gun.

This is where writing a fantasy helps. Most of this data is from the 1800s. The era I’m writing about is earlier than that. It most likely would have fallen back when all the guns were unique. I took the liberty of massaging a bit. This way they can capture guns and munitions with a reasonable hope of being able to use them.

There were rockets back then too. Those are even referenced in our National Anthem. (USA) These were usually inaccurate fizzling devices that proved pretty worthless. Their best hope was to start a fire somewhere. I wove a couple of those into my story, and made them just as worthless as they sound.

I had the privilege of visiting Fort McHenry when I was in Baltimore years ago. That’s where the song lyrics came into being. It was bombarded with ship born mortars, and I got to see some shell fragments. The advantage to mortars is they fly over a wall and blow up inside the fort. Cannons don’t do well against earthen forts.

Don’t know why I decided to share all this with you today, but maybe some of you will find it interesting.

If you managed to read this far, I have one more piece of data. There are two Lisa Burton Radio shows scheduled for July, and one who asked for a special date in August. That’s it…

Lisa needs more guests, and I would love to get a few in the works. I’m not going to run out her sign shaker image this time, because last time I got too many responses. Authors started to get mad and dropped out after I did 100% of my part. There are still half a dozen shticks out there somewhere that the author never responded to.

If you have a new release, or are planning a push, drop me a line and maybe we can get you on the schedule. It’s been a pretty popular spot and I’d like to keep it available for everyone.

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The vacation day

We’re at a point in life where we like a recovery day after traveling, camping, or other events. We both used some vacation time for that today.

I had a bunch of emails, and some blog responsibilities to deal with. With this in mind, I slept in a bit, and worked on those projects until I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Then I read back through my MS, made some minor edits, and started forging ahead.

This story does the ebb and flow, like proper stories are supposed to, but because it’s a pirate tale, it seems kind of poetic. High adventure, then recovery, then back to high adventure. It’s almost like tides or waves in a way. I doubt readers will pick up on that, but it makes me happy to see it that way.

I am trying to include the comedic moments and character building sequences in the quiet times. It takes weeks to go anywhere at sea, and this is magnified in the age of sail. I don’t want to lose sight of that, but think I’ve done a fair job of speeding those moments along.

Today, the crew recovered from hangovers, did some training, and spotted a distant ship. They identified the ship as belonging to the big enemy and intend to show no mercy.

I’m trying to project the idea that even spotting a ship doesn’t mean battle engages immediately. There is time to plan and maneuver prior to the fight.

This led to some research into signal flags. This is a fantasy world, and I can make up whatever I want, but I have feelings about this. If it’s possible to ground readers in reality at any point along the way, it’s easier for them to absorb the fantastic elements of the story. Besides, I still have one huge fantastic element to introduce, so I don’t want to use all my ju ju up yet.

The flags being displayed between the captains are based in reality.

I also took the time to dig into the brass cannon issue. Apparently, they weren’t really brass, they were bronze. In that era brass and bronze were nearly interchangeable slang among the common folk.

Bronze cannon were every bit as large as steel. Many of them were made using bell casting methods, but others were cast solid then drilled. The problem with bell casting was voids in the barrel wall. These were difficult to fill, and drilling a solid gun eliminated that problem. Those voids would decrease accuracy, and were unacceptable.

The interesting tidbit was a preference for bronze over steel by many commanders. When a cannon fails, bronze tends to blow out. While dangerous, it pales in comparison to steel. Steel tends to explode and kill everyone around it. Don’t know whether I’ll use that info in the story or not. I need some time to dwell on it.

Of lesser importance was accuracy of rifled cannon. Brass will not hold up to rifling the barrel. A few shots and the cannon is ruined. Steel will hold up, and is therefore more accurate under those circumstances. Rifled cannon didn’t appear until just before the American Civil War at least in measurable numbers. The age of piracy was long since over.

Like I said, this is kind of a flintlock fantasy, so I can do anything I want here. Having the knowledge about the metallurgy and the rifled barrels allows me to create another grounding point. If you follow my other blog, Story Empire, you just read about the Plate of Peas. This is one of those points where I get to scrape some peas off my plate.

This coming battle will reveal some secrets about the crews’ enemies, and provide them with some opportunity. It will also allow me to unleash my newest character Serang, and I’m looking forward to that.

I’m not off again until Friday, and this is likely a good thing. I have time to dwell about all the goings on before I take to the keyboard again. This helps with plants and payoffs, and the lesser character arc of Serang. In fact, it’s almost a reverse character arc if there is such a thing. Readers will see her in all of her glory, then learn a few tidbits of her past later on.

I also need the time to work on the big land-based con they’re going to pull off based on info from this upcoming battle. It’s always good to think five or six chapters ahead.

Back to work tomorrow, and I’m sure I’m behind once again. I’ll try to get back to even before having Friday off.

Hope everyone had a great weekend, and has a great week going on.

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Odd day to update

I had to change my work week around. This led to me getting Tuesday as my flex day. I kind of expected to get a lot done, but it never felt quite right. Sometimes you just have a feeling.

Otto tried to get me started early, but I got him to go back to sleep. I didn’t get up until 7:00.

This is still okay, but the dogs were well rested and crazy for a few hours. Think of a moving battle that rolls from room to room and across the floor. They’re just playing, but bulldog style has to be witnessed to be appreciated. Imagine two hippos with mouths wide open. They growl and rush at each other before a lengthy pushing match ensues.

I wound up reading through the last two chapters of Lanternfish and making some edits. I discovered an odd bit about paying off the crew when they got to the pirate stronghold. It’s all fixed now, but it took some thought and experimentation.

I also dreamed up a few more scenes to bring into the story somehow. Then I drifted off into research.

This time it’s about jellyfish. How they work, which parts do what; that kind of thing. It’s probably going to lead to a jellyfish that’s several miles wide, and big enough to get a ship stuck for days. It’s also big enough to ensnare an entire pod of whales. It’s a work in progress, so we’ll see how that comes out after a bit of improvement.

I’m also working on bits about the root monsters vs seagulls, and vs the ship’s cook. May, or may not, include them.

My daughter was home today, so we spent most of the day talking. For some reason I can daydream and say, “Uh huh,” at the same time. (I think it’s a Dad thing.) Her last day at the Boise job is tomorrow, she starts in Sun Valley again Sunday.

The cat will be moving with her. He was pretty funny today too. He attacked the dogs and ran upstairs. He’s quite the little antagonist. He likes to hide between the throw pillows while Frankie tries to draw him like a badger.

I can’t complain about today’s outcome. It will be the last big visit with my daughter for a while, and it was nice. My story is between acts, and at a transition phase. It’ll keep.

Things might be quiet on my front for the next few days, but Lisa Burton Radio is all scheduled and ready to go. I will respond to comments and such as time allows, but will be with colleagues in McCall and my time is not my own.

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A bit of research

Lisa walked into the paranormal office while buckling on her gun belt. She had a look of grim determination. She’d put on her jodhpurs, boots and top from the time we went on the outlining safari. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”Lisa Burton
“It’ll be fine. If I’m going to write these stories, a bit of research is necessary. I don’t know some of the details and I want to make the stories plausible.”

“You’re stories are all speculative fiction.”

“That’s not what I mean. Sure they have fantastic elements, but the real-world stuff has to be that much more accurate.”

“Those girls are hell-bent on destroying your writing career by sending you down a wormhole of research. They aren’t called the Research Sirens for nothing.”

“That’s why you’re coming, to protect me. I enjoy research, and a certain amount of it is necessary.”

“Yeah, and a certain amount of it isn’t. Remember when they talked you into flying to China? If Lorelei hadn’t showed up you’d still be there today.”

“They’re the best researchers ever, and I want their help.”

“I’ll pull the Land Rover around. It goes with my outfit.” She headed up the stone steps, then turned back. “Lorelei will be pissed if she finds out.”

“Then we can’t let her find out.”

***

Lisa parked behind the Olympus Lounge in the tiny mountain town. She set the meeting up, and this is where the Sirens chose.

She made me wait in the car while she looked around the parking lot, one hand on her big assed gun at all times. She held up her hand and made a come here motion with two fingers. She shouldered her canvas map-bag and we went inside.

The lounge was decorated with marble columns running up into a darkened ceiling. We crossed a marble floor while glancing at busts of famous authors.

The ladies waited on various pieces of plush furniture. Wiki sat cross-legged on a huge beanbag with her nose buried in the iPad mini she never seemed to be without. Her red A-line haircut looked like it was multiple shades from various dyes, and had been cut to look like it was chewed into shape. She wore a tee-shirt with the Apple logo, a denim skirt, black leggings, and sneakers.

Wiki had always been the most helpful, and she wrinkled her nose in the most adorable way when she spotted us. She jumped up and skipped to a table booth had been reserved for our meeting.

Conversia rose from the sofa and straightened her black sequined dress. Her caramel skin and huge spiral perm drew instant attention. The scoop neck on her dress wasn’t something that could be ignored. She walked gracefully to the table, heels clacking on the stone floor as she walked.

Libraria came out of the back somewhere. Her blonde hair was in a tight ponytail, and she hadn’t given up on the sexy librarian look. She carried a tray with a carafe of red wine and five glasses. She glanced at me over the top of her glasses before placing the tray on the table.

Conversia gestured at my chair and I took a seat.

Libraria poured the wine and offered me a glass first.

Lisa scooped it up and took a tiny sip. Her eyes fluttered as she did a complete chemical analysis. “He won’t be having any today. He brought his own.” She reached in her canvas bag and produced a small thermos and tin cup. “He prefers coffee anyway.”

Wiki leaned forward and gushed. “What are we doing today?”

“I, um, I’m working on two novellas and I’m nearly ready to start. They’re quite different, and I need to get some details right.”

Libraria said, “Thank the Gods you came to us first. Starting now could be a disaster. You need to do your research until everything is perfect. Why don’t you tell us what you have in mind.”

“Well, one of them is about these people locked in an underground bunker. They’re stuck there for three months, because of a regular thing that happens in their solar system. As a part of the story, I need to know about the human circulatory system.”

“What you need is a good book on anatomy. Entry into medical school would be even better, but you may not have time. I have a complete library here and can help you find anything you need.”

Wiki turned her iPad toward me and opened her mouth in a silent “ta-daaa” gesture. The whites of her eyes were framed by the heavy mascara she always wore. Her black fingernails and collection of friendship bracelets framed a YouTube video of the human circulatory system.

“Is that a new nose-stud?”

“It is! Thanks for noticing. It’s a real diamond too–”

Conversia placed a perfectly manicured, red fingernail under my chin. She turned my head her direction. She batted her eyes and leaned forward, the scoop-neck of her dress guaranteeing I wouldn’t turn away. “Pay attention. Sometimes all you need is a consultant. Someone else has already done this research. All you need to do is find them and ask them some logical questions.”

“Uh-huh, um, what kind of questions?”

“What do you intend to have happen in your story? Ask if that’s plausible.”

“Okay, so I have another story where the character is going to learn to play the upright bass. I don’t know anything about bass clef.”

Squee! Look at these cute bass clef earrings I found.” Wiki wrinkled her nose and turned her iPad back towards me.

Lisa moved towards her. “Those are really cute.”

Wiki slid over in the booth so Lisa could sit down.

Libraria said, “I also have books about music theory, simple chords, and can even find you one about how to build your own bass.”

“Girls!” Conversia said. “The man needs another consultant. There are any number of music teachers, instrumentalists, and whatnot that could answer his questions. I suggest a month or two in Vienna or someplace where he can really learn.”

“It isn’t going to be symphonic in nature. It’s more like rock-a-billy, bluesy stuff.”

“I see,” Conversia said. “Perhaps I can set up a mentorship with Brian Setzer or someone similar.”

“That would be awe–”

Lisa slapped me across the forehead. She opened her mouth and played back an audio recording of my own voice. “I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be plausible.”

I leaned back in my chair and sipped my coffee. The girls leaned back in the booth, and Libraria crossed her arms.

“I think we’re done here,” Lisa said.

Wiki turned her iPad around once more. In a half-hearted voice she said, “Look, a cute cat… playing an upright bass.”

Lisa grabbed me by the collar and stood me up. She pointed me toward the door and gave me a shove.

“Bye, ladies. Always a pleasure,” I said over my shoulder.

***

Lisa pulled onto the highway out of town. “You’re such a dope. A few horn-rimmed glasses, a scoop-neck collar, and a wrinkled nose and you’re ready to move to Vienna. I told you they were dangerous. Lorelei told you they were dangerous.”

“I think Conversia was onto something though. I need a consultant for each story.”

“I have all your friends in my database, and there are a couple who will do a wonderful job. I’ll send out some email and see if they’re interested.”

“At least you didn’t fall under their spell.”

“Don’t be so sure. Wiki and I ordered those earrings, and a bass clef pendant to go along with them. We’ll be like sisters, she said.”

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Researching The Enhanced League

Hi, gang. I’m over at Sue Coletta’s place today and the topic is the research I put into The Enhanced League. It’s kind of broad and you can apply it to any type of speculative fiction. Sue is a wonderful crime author, and embarrases me with the amount of research she does for her books. She’s also a great supporter and friend, so make sure you look around while you’re visiting her site. There is a wealth of information there.

***

My guest today has taken his research and used it in a unique and compelling way, a way unlike anything I expected. Craig is a master at short storytelling; I always enjoy his super creative tales. If you’re not following Entertaining Stories, you may want to take a peek. Not only does he feature Lisa Burton Radio, where one character interviews another in radio station format but he also has The Idea Mill, where he shares real-life science as well as strange and unusual tidbits to use in fiction. Shawnee Daniels appeared on Lisa Burton Radio, and we had a blast. Welcome to Murder Blog, Craig!

Thanks for having me over again, Sue. Looks like we both have new books to promote, so don’t be shy about borrowing my space any time you like. Keep Reading here

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