Why 1876? And why zombies?!
I said my method for selecting a setting in Something Strange and Deadly was unscientific, remember?
Well, just look at how I wound up choosing Victorian times.
- I thought it was cool.
- I thought it would add conflict, what with the claustrophobic etiquette and patriarchy.
Yeah. Very inspired, huh?
So then I scoured Victorian timelines, trying to find a good backdrop. Since I wanted my story to have an inventor, I thought a World’s Fair might work well (all those new-fangled creations and wares!). Then I narrowed that down to the first American World’s Fair–the Centennial Exhibition which (as you can guess) took place in Philadelphia in 1876.
From there, I added characters that could both help and hinder my heroine–a controlling Mama, an infuriating former thief, a debonair suitor, etc.
Finally, because I love being creeped out, I tried to think about what books scared me the most. I realized it was ghost/zombie stories. Nothing like a walking corpse to get your skin crawling!
Now mix it all together, stir it around, and what do you have?
There’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…
Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—
The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.
And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.
Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.
Researching the Novel
In terms of specific research, I focused heavily on the Centennial Exhibition: what was displayed there, who visited, what it looked like, how it was laid out, etc.
The same held true for Laurel Hill Cemetery, which is where most of the walking corpse action happens. I also had to know what technology did/didn’t exist, what life was like for a young lady back then, what etiquette demanded from the well-to-do, what idioms/phrases existed, and then how my own made-up world of necromancy operated.
I started with preliminary research that gave me enough info to write a first draft with, and then as I wrote, if I had a sticking point, I’d research that specific aspect. For example, I frequently had to look up various modes of transportation (a hackney versus a phaeton versus a standard carriage) or currency/costs. Like, would you believe an upper class lady’s gown would have cost over $300 of 1876 money!?!? That equates to thousands of dollars today. I guess all those layers and flounces and corsets just weren’t cheap to make…
I relied almost entirely on archive.org–and I’m relying on it just as much for researching book 2 (which is set in Paris)!
Had I known how much WORK it would take to tell this story–of which research was only a minor portion–I’m not sure if I’d have had the guts to do it. I wrote the first draft in a month, but then I spent 8 months revising it. When I finally started querying, I had rewritten it once, then revised it at least 5 times, and finally line-edited it twice. The first draft was clearly the work of a novice, so I needed all that hard work!
But you know what? It paid off. And, now I actually kinda know what I’m doing. My first drafts are much cleaner and require far less revising.
What about you? How did you pick or create the setting for your novel? And what kind of settings do you like to read about the most? Did you spend a long time learning and rewriting with your first novel?
August 17, 2011 @ 2:51 pm
This is SO COOL! Definitely a haphazard way of coming up with everything, but it totally paid off. 😉 Did you actually go to Philadelphia to research or did you rely on the Internet? It’s kind of a really neat age we live in as far as researching goes. Whereas once you had to actually, physically go somewhere, now everything is accessible in your living room. Or office. Or wherever else you have a computer.
I picked the setting for Four Stones by setting the story around an important historical event—the Black Plague, which I knew nothing about. Nor did I know a damned thing about medieval Europe except a vague notion of fiefdom. So square one. I spent A LOT of time researching it, and then even more time writing and revising and rewriting and re-revising and on and on. But yes, it was a great learning experience!
August 17, 2011 @ 6:58 pm
I relied on guidebooks from 1876 Philly almost ENTIRELY, but I did visit…though…it was months after the book had already sold! But only 1 of the buildings in the book actually still exists, so I visited that and then Laurel Hill cemetery (though it’s drastically more crowded these days than back then!).
Oh, I know you researched a LOT. Why did you pick that time period? Was it part of your in-class high school epiphany?
August 17, 2011 @ 11:02 pm
Not really. It was more of a “Well, I have to start this story somewhere, so how about the Middle Ages??” Very scientific. 😉
August 17, 2011 @ 3:15 pm
My process is much like SSaD’s – I do quite a bit of research (a month or two), write the draft in a ridiculously short time, and then revise. Revise. Revise.
Right now I’m doing TONS of research for my current novel, set in medieval Punjab. Turns out it’s a bit difficult to find info for then, and the area is so melting-pot-ish it’s quite fascinating. What’s true for one mini-kingdom isn’t true for the neighbor. And the religious complexities are dizzying! Sometimes I worry if I can pull this novel off…but I always worry that, so I’m used to it 🙂
August 17, 2011 @ 6:58 pm
I can’t even imagine how tricky that kind of research must be, Amity. Where are you finding sources for that?
I’m impressed…and EXCITED for that story. It just sounds cooler and cooler every time you talk about it!
August 18, 2011 @ 12:48 am
I have access to the university library thru hubby, and it’s a pretty extensive. I found a couple of books (one with tons of illustrations and photos!) and then browsed the area around them. I’m also lucky that a few Brits really fell in love with the region while they occupied India, and so some tried to preserve the folklore.
Still, it’s been rough. When I google, most things are about Punjab today, which is divided between India and Pakistan. I have tons of questions still unanswered. One thing I’m considering is keeping the story with a Punjabi flavor but altering the world so its unique. Haven’t decided yet how historical I want to make it.
August 20, 2011 @ 9:05 pm
I totally forgot about the hubby connection–niiiiiiiice. And I think that making it an “alternate Punjab” sounds pretty cool while also giving you the freedom to meet the story’s needs, you know? GOOD LUCK. I can’t wait to one day read it. 😉
August 17, 2011 @ 3:55 pm
Ha, I think it’s awesome that you were able to just pick a place and point in time and run with your story. That’s a pretty amazing feat. 😉
As for me, well HNA kinda came with its own setting via the concept. Plus, it’s fantasy, so I got to run with my imagination a lot.
August 17, 2011 @ 6:59 pm
Yeah, HNA definitely has a built-in setting that’s part of the plot (and a COOL setting at that!). I have to say that in the future, I will probably AVOID historical books…though, now that I’m pretty familiar with the 1870s, maybe I could always write more books set back then. 😉
August 17, 2011 @ 5:07 pm
So reading about all your research definitely reaffirmed my love of fantasy novels… that much research is rather daunting. Of course, there’s still research to be done, but it’s not nearly so extensive. I get to rely on imagination a lot more, which is nice.
Hearing about your research has made me even more excited about SS&D. I love American history, so it’ll be awesome to learn about the Centennial Exhibition while also reading a fantastic story. And I definitely agree that zombies are super creepy. 🙂
August 17, 2011 @ 7:00 pm
You make SUCH a good point, Katelyn! When it’s 100% fantasy, you can make the world whatever you WANT. For SCREECHERS, it was such a relief to just write whatever I wanted (within reason). I only had to research things to do with desert life…and that was about it! 😀
August 17, 2011 @ 6:50 pm
Very cool! You should check out my friend, Lia Habel’s website and new book, which comes out in October. It’s Victorian Era Zombies. Liahabel.com. What is there about the undead that makes for such a great story?
August 17, 2011 @ 7:07 pm
Oooh, DEARLY DEPARTED–I saw that cover recently and started drooling. It. Looks. Amazing. The book I mean (well, and the cover). Thanks for passing the link along!!
And I think it’s just that no matter what, CORPSES ARE CREEPY. Instant story tension. 😉
August 17, 2011 @ 6:51 pm
This is exactly what I wanted to read, I’ve always wanted to know how you researched your story!
Oh and sorry I’ve been MIA on this and the LTWF blogs. Busy summer. 🙂
Love you, Sooz!
August 17, 2011 @ 7:07 pm
Aww, Ashley. <3 I hope you're busy summer wasn't TOO busy and that you enjoyed it. 😀
August 17, 2011 @ 10:48 pm
I am the *worst* rewriter/reviser. Absolutely terrible. But I definitely appreciate it when others go through all that trouble! 😉
I love the idea of the World’s Fair being involved. That time was so full of potential! I’d love to experience it just for a day… and maybe as a male.
Even better than the World’s Fair? Paris! My dream city! I’m so thrilled you decided to set book two there!
August 20, 2011 @ 9:02 pm
I have to say, Madeleine, working with Paris for the second book has been wonderful! I get to go visit (for research!) and it’s just SO ROMANTIC. Oh gosh, I’m glad I decided to set the book there… The World’s Fair was very cool, but Paris during the Belle Epoque is just EPIC.
August 18, 2011 @ 12:03 am
I’m usually pretty slacker-ish about my settings, because I fail horribly at description of places. I’ve been working on fixing that with Weeping. Fingers crossed that I’ve been doing it well, haha.
Ressearch became a lot more fun for me with this one though. I like to do it as I go. Most things for it take absolutely zero research, since it doesn’t really take place HERE, but there are flashbacks or occasions where my MC is thinking about his time in Italy about 3 centuries ago, and I usually have to go look things like that up–I didn’t want to have them riding in a carriage when they wouldn’t have been at that time! (Except they would have been, so all was well, lol.)
I love reading about how other writers do things–it gives me ideas for how to do things myself!
August 20, 2011 @ 9:04 pm
It’s totally the same for me that a lot of the research happens as I go. With SS&D, I did a LOT before I started writing, but with book 2, I’m pretty much just doing it as I go OR there are a lot of little . 😀 I’ll fill those blanks in after my next research trip to Paris.
And Italy 3 centuries ago? Oooooooohhhhh….
August 19, 2011 @ 7:55 am
Ooh, thanks for sharing! I’m terrible at settings and research, so I really needed to read this, haha. I’m in the process of planning my first novel now… hoping that if I work out more things beforehand I won’t have to revise as many times!
August 20, 2011 @ 9:07 pm
You know, Linda, I gotta say: I did a LOT of researching and outlining before SS&D…and still spent aaallll those months revising. I realize now that I’m more of a pantser–that I like a firm idea of major story events but that I need the freedom to stray where my Muse takes me. Sticking to an outline made the revisions more intense in the end (at least for me) because FORCING my story to fit into a mold that really didn’t work out so well was…hard. BUT, the book that will be out next summer is surprisingly similar in terms of story events to my very original outline–somehow I made it work!! 😀
August 20, 2011 @ 8:51 pm
aefjao;iewfj Thank you for that website.
I got really lucky with my research and found a book called “A Season of Splendor” by Greg King, which has tons of money equivalencies in terms of things the upper crust would have bought in gilded age Manhattan. Which we chose, mostly, because we thought the harsh expectations and societal concerns would contrast nicely with the freedom of an otherworld they were able to disappear to whenever they like.
Though, I find for me, the story and the time/setting/characters all come together at once, and not as separate pieces. I might alter and edit them, and they certainly change over time, but I like to write organically, from the inside out, instead of the outside in. I let the mental restructuring happen when I enter revisions. : )
August 20, 2011 @ 9:11 pm
You know, Kae, I write much more organically now. Since SS&D was my first “real” book, I really had no effing idea what I was doing!! I have since learned that sticking to a strict outline and spending months researching beforehand is NOT how I work best.
SS&D 2 has been a much more flowing/pantser process. I research the details I need as I go and I aim for main story events, but all the small details just grow and evolve as I write. HOPEFULLY this book will require far fewer revisions…um, especially since I’m on a DEADLINE this time. 😀
And that SEASON OF SPLENDOR sounds like quite a handy guide–I’m gonna have to look into it myself. 😉
August 22, 2011 @ 4:28 am
Thank you for sharing this with us, Susan!
Research is one of the scariest aspect of writing, but so fun as well. It definitely makes your setting richer. (Anybody who writes historical will always have my admiration because of the sheer amount of research needed.) And it’s amazing that you took 1 month to write, but 8 to revise.
August 24, 2011 @ 6:19 pm
Yeah…LOTS of revising. I’m a better writer now, though. The first drafts are (thank heavens!) cleaner and the revising process is (double thank heavens!) much faster. 🙂