Saturday, July 5, 2014

Inspiration Is Full of Twists, Turns & Research

For my science fiction novels I tend to be fascinated by an event, which leads me to that first "What if" question and then I'm off and running. So far I've been inspired by the sinking of the Titanic, the 1857 Sepoy Incident in India and various other real occurrences. I'll be reading or watching the news and suddenly my eyes glaze over and I start thinking in terms of a plot. I always begin from the point of what I would have done or what it must have been like and go from there.

WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM was inspired by the idea of retelling the story of Titanic, but set in space. I like to have a Special Forces guy as my hero in the SF novels, so I had to figure out why he'd be on board this luxury liner in the first place. Once I knew the answer to that, then the plot began coming together. At some point I realized I had to stop and design my spaceship, because the characters were moving all over and between decks in their efforts to save lives and escape the wrecked vessel. So I'd better know if the cargo hold was on level ten or level 8! I researched cruise ships, aircraft carriers and certain features on the Titanic, all of which gave me plot points and ideas. I drew a really bad schematic of my ship and kept writing.

For the paranormal novels I set in ancient Egypt, I tend to start with a situation (a dancer, captured by the enemy...or a priestess who finds it a personal challenge to be anywhere but inside the safe confines of her temple, suddenly sent to Pharaoh's Court....).

Let’s go with the latter situation, which became my latest novel MAGIC OF THE NILE. Since it’s a sequel to PRIESTESS OF THE NILE, I’d already done the research into the Crocodile God Sobek, hero of the first book and major player in the second. (My inspiration there having been the realization that the god was a shifter, which led to the question what kind of woman would catch such a being's fancy? One with a beautiful voice, since crocodiles have excellent hearing.) But for this book, since we spend time at the temple Tyema runs, I researched how Sobek’s temples were organized 4000 years ago, a lot more details about crocodiles, how processions were conducted, which deities were important in the capital city of Thebes, the hierarchy of an Egyptian temple’s priesthood, what Pharaoh would wear for different activities, what foods would be served on a big feast day…

I needed my hero Sahure to be very dashing, so he’s a charioteer, which was about as dashing as you could get in 1500 BCE. That led to research on chariots, including a wonderful NOVA special, called “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot.” (Available on dvd.) Watching a team of British researchers attempt to reconstruct the chariot of ancient times, with the help of Egyptian craftsmen, basically by studying tomb paintings and the few actual surviving chariots, was amazing.  But where does Sahure need to be in his gleaming, horse-drawn vehicle?

Well, turns out there was a chain of fortifications along various Egyptian borders, including at the Southern Oasis of Kharga, located on a major caravan route. I’d already researched caravans pretty heavily for a sequence in DANCER OF THE NILE. That’s one nice thing about writing a series – I can build on the tidbits I’ve learned before.  Also, research suggests plot points and vice versa. Since I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, this approach works for me! Now I know all about Kharga, including the topography and weather.

At one point, Sahure needs to tell Tyema about a battle he’s fought in beside Pharaoh. I drew a suitable tale to adapt from translations of  4000 year old eyewitness accounts of actual warfare and gave my character the right ‘memories’ to share with the heroine. So I also needed to be able to talk about his weapons and tactics. Back to researching bows and arrows of the time…

Were the native people of the Southern Oasis descended from the goddess Sekhmet? They certainly thought so, which sent me off to ponder all the cool facets of her powers and background.  Sekhmet became a major player in certain events that take place in my book. In many cases there are alternate versions of the myths surrounding an Egyptian deity so I’m free to choose the aspects that work for my story and to extrapolate other ideas for my plot.  

A lot of the research I do never shows up directly in the novels, so if by now you’re thinking "Wow, her books must be dusty tomes!" hopefully I can reassure you. I have to be able to put myself in the headspace of ancient Egypt, so I can create characters who are believable residents of that time and place, even while they’re having these amazing adventures. I don’t have to show off all my research (except maybe in blog posts LOL). If it doesn’t serve the plot, it doesn’t go in the book, but the knowledge might influence the story’s direction.

For my latest science fiction romance, however, it was a single photo that made me pause and ask myself, "What if?" 89K words later and about to publish in August, turns out there was a lot of action, romance and adventure in that what if!


  1. Thanks for sharing your process, Veronica. I'm still intimidated to write historical novels. I love them, but there's so much information to internalize! I admire those who can do it as well as you do.

  2. Thanks for the compliment! I did have to train myself to filter all the information on ancient Egypt, because it can be like drinking from the river. I try really hard to focus on one thing, like chariots...although of course those shiny squirrels do pull me off on tangents!