"Where do you get your ideas?"
In one form or another writers (and I suspect artists of any type) get that question regularly. That's about like asking a person what they want for dinner, really. Sometimes the answer is easy and sometimes it's more difficult.
Sometimes the ideas jump at you and other times they sneak around and hit you in the back of the heads.
Most of the time it's a news article for me. Watching the late news with my wife once, I watched a tragic little story about two little boys who climbed over a fence and went into a pool unsupervised and, sadly, died for the error of their ways.
Ten minutes after watching that news story, I got out of bed and promptly wrote a story called "My Brother's Keeper," about twins with a psychic connection. One of the boys is a good person. His brother is a sociopath. It had nothing to do with those boys at the pool. It had everything to do with those boys at the pool.
Beyond them there was no research needed, nor any inspiration. That one was easy. I consider myself blessed, because that's often the case.
And then there are those OTHER stories, the ones that come out slowly and cause me no end of headaches on their way to the page. I'm not fond of research. Never have been and likely never will be, but it is a necessary evil. I did not live in Utah in the 1800s, so if I need to know about a type of weapon or about how a damned horse saddle stays in place, guess what? I have to do research.
I've written several weird westerns lately--heck I'm writing one right now--and I have enjoyed it. But for accuracy you need to do a little digging. What is the weather liked in Colorado in October? When did the Gold Rush reach its absolute frenzy there? What were the names of the towns in the area? Who made the most reliable handguns in those days? The best rifles? Did you have shells that were pre made or did you have to make them yourself? When did the Bowie knife first come around? How much stopping power does a buffalo rifle have? (Lots. Seriously. Don’t get shot by one of those things.) The native tribes? Were they violent at the time in question and if so, why? What the hell is the proper name for the hats the US Calvary wore in those days (It's a Hardee. I had to look it up. Explains how that roast beef place got the name, I suppose.), did the Civil War coincide with the gold rush? If not was it before or after? What shape were the railroads in? Were they still building the lines that crossed the country? What sort of trees and wildlife? I know there are bars, but what sort and are they, by nature, aggressive? What was the wolf population like? What was the human population like?
That's just a few of the subjects I've had to research over the time I've been looking into weird westerns. And a lot of it is research I did more than once because I also did some weird westerns back when I wrote for roleplaying games (TALES FROM THE TRAILS: MEXICO)—wrote that one about sixteen years ago now.).
The Internet helps. It can also offer up a ton of bad advice and misinformation. So now you have to research where you're going to research.
And understand me here. I am the very first to cut that research as short as possible. I have two jobs already and when in doubt I'll ask a few reliable sources that I know have a love of certain aspects.
My ideas are the easiest part. They can come from almost anywhere, including a conversation or the notion of playing with words. I once did a ghost story called "Spirits" where alcohol played a significant part.
I recently decided to title my latest weird western "Blank White Page," because it's sort of a sequel to once called "Black Train Blues," and I wanted a song title. Why? Because I researched song titles for the name of the latter story as well. The stories have the same main character, take place in chronological order and are coming out from the same editor. I wanted them to fit together. This is a whim and nothing else, but it meant researching song titles. In both cases the colors involved are significant in the stories, not the largest aspect, but significant. I put far more into a story's title than I ever have into a character's name.
For me the research is a lot of fun, but it can also eat time like nobody's business. Most of my research is done before the story starts, not during or after. Once the seed of an idea is there I do my best to ignore it for a while. I get ideas all the time. That's never a problem. The challenge is deciding which ones will work and which ones won't. If they keep coming back to mind, I decided to work on them. Once I've invested that much consideration it's time for the research. Mostly what I do is submerge myself into the knowledge for a while. I might not retain much when the session is over with, but you can bet I'm force-feeding myself information for a while.
When I wrote BLOOD RED, my vampire novel, I pulled out roughly 50 novels and short stories about vampires and I read them voraciously. Not because I needed to research vampires in the traditional sense--as I've said before, I worked in roleplaying games. One of the games I worked on was VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE. Believe me, I researched the hell out of vampire legends from around the world. I also tore through about 25 of my favorite vampire movies. Classics and crap alike, because I wanted to make sure that whatever I wrote was as original as it could be when it came to the vampires themselves.
I do a fair amount of research on almost every subject I write about. It's part of the business and if you are wise you don’t try to bluff your way through a lot of the details. Here they be tigers.
James A. Moore
The Weird Westerns, by the way, star that recurring character of mine, Jonathan Crowley.
The latest one was edited line edited over the last few days and then today I read it again and did the final approvals myself.
That one's coming out in the SNAFU anthology later this year. You can get all kinds of details about it right here.
Just because it's a lovely cover, I'll even show you what it looks like.