This the fifth in a series of guest posts by authors who, like me, have found themselves falling down into a Research Rabbit Hole, often with hilarious results. Because this is the true danger of research…it sucks you in!
GUEST AUTHOR: LAURA ANNE GILMAN
Creating the world of the Devil’s West was an education in ways I hadn’t planned – western North America pre-1803 is not the world of gunslingers, cowboys and cardsharps quite the way people think of the Old West, and even though I’d known that I hadn’t quite understood it until I started checking the sorts of guns and supplies that would be available back then…
But this isn’t a story of that kind of research.
The magic of the Territory is one that manifests itself within the natural world – you can’t create something new, only modify what already exists. So when I had to create magical threats, I had to stay within those parameters, with the additional limitation of using – whenever possible – mythology from the American continents.
Act-of-God events, check. Digging into local weather patterns, playing with the ideas of tornadoes and earthquakes and all the natural phenomena the land mass is heir too. But I needed living, breathing threats, too.
Okay, I said to myself. Natural world. Actual history. Dangerous entity. How hard, in the wilds of north and south America, could it be to find something….
Bears, okay, meh. Bison, no. Cougar/mountain lions…. They were all too…familiar. Too obvious. I wanted something different. Unexpected.
So I opened up the Great Rabbit hole that is the American Museum of Natural History. And then the US Fish and Wildlife Service website. And good-bye about a WEEK.
Look, let me be your Object Lesson.
Seriously. Unless you have a laser focus, just don’t go there, not in person, not the website, not in Google search: don’t. Block them from your browser.
Did you know the Eastern Elk (now extinct) had an antler rack of up to six feet? SIX FEET? That there’s a very large salamander species called “hellbender?” I lost almost an entire morning playing with that idea.
On the longer-ago-extinct side, did you know that there used to be a massive (seriously, one-ton massive) armadillo waddling across north and south America? And a 10 foot long ground sloth? (Ten. Feet. Long. 2,000 pounds. It doesn’t HAVE to go fast at that point, it just has to SIT on you). I tried to get that into the book, I swear, I really did. Maybe in a short story…
And that was before I even got to the pterodactyloids.
Some day, damn it, I’m going to write an extinct animals epic fantasy. Because I’ve got about 30 pages of notes and a dozen bookmarked sites cued up….
Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus urban fantasy series of novels and novellas, and the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy. Her newest project is the Devil’s West series from Saga / Simon & Schuster, beginning with the award-nominated, Locus-bestseller SILVER ON THE ROAD, and continuing with THE COLD EYE.