Monday, January 08, 2007

Writing Real Life

One of the fun things about writing fiction is you get to make shit up. One of the funner things about writing science fiction and fantasy/romance is that you get to make funner shit up. If fiction engages the imagination then science fiction/fantasy/spec fic romance engages the imagination plus.

One of the tougher things about writing science fiction/romance based here, on this planet, in present day is that you have to be real careful about the shit you make up.

I'm finding this out the hard way as I come down the home stretch with THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES.

I know. GAMES OF COMMAND's release date in the end of next month and here I am talking about a book that won't even be out until Fall 2007 (later, if I don't get it finished!) but it's the one I'm working on and hence, it's in the forefront of my mind.

THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES (hereinafter DHZB), as some of you know, is my science fiction/romance/police procedural book. It's the first one I've done that's based here and (give or take 15 years hence) now. It's based in Florida in a city that's suspiciously like St. Petersburg, where I lived and worked as a private detective for ten odd years (and damn, was they odd!).

The hero is a homicide detective sergeant named Theo Petrakos. And therein lies the focus and point of this blog: writing a real life law enforcement officer. Being a retired PI, you'd think that would be a cake-walk for me.

Not. The two professions may interact (more infrequently than television and movies would have us think) but they operate from totally different perspectives and venues. So in order to write Theo and his department--the Bahia Vista Police Department--I found I needed to do research. A lot of research.

This has slowed my progress on the book enormously because--for one thing--cops don't easily talk about what they do and how they do things (for some very valid security reasons, in many cases). For another, I'm an admitted research junkie. Once I found a website or source that could provide the information I need, it was easy for me to get sidetracked by all the other aspects of what it takes to walk in a cop's boots on a daily basis. Quite honestly, fact--in the case of what many law enforcement officers deal with as part of the job--is far stranger than any fiction I could write (well, almost).

From an author's perspective, that hard part comes with melding the fact with the fiction. I wanted DHZB to have an authentic feel as to what Theo goes through and as to who and what Theo is. But I didn't want it to become a manual of police procedure or homicide investigation. I write--and I say this with all pride--space opera romance or, in this case, space opera police procedural romance. I didn't want to lose my science fiction readers or my romance readers by getting too wrapped up in the methodology of a well-executed chokehold. But I also didn't want any mystery readers who pick up the book to helicopter it because I've ignored the realities of call outs, shift work, the law enforcement chain of command and--most important--the law enforcement mind set.

I tried to approach crafting DHZB in the same manner as I would any of my other books. Let's face it, world building is world building. Whether I'm working with Port Rumor--a totally fictitious city somewhere three left turns past the center of the galaxy--or Bahia Vista, Florida which is in reality St. Pete, I'm still working with maps and charts of where things are. I'm still sketching out interiors of rooms--be they kitchens or starship cabins. I'm still working with characters whose lives have been shaped by their cultural beliefs (and I have to know those cultural beliefs). Gillie in AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS was Raheiran, raised with spells and chants and who spent a fair amount of time on her butt in a temple. Theo Petrakos is a Greek-American who grew up diving for the cross each January in celebration of the Ephiphany. GABRIEL'S GHOST'S Chaz Bergren grew up on a space station and learned that an upside down beer bottle stuck in a corridor railing meant it was Party Time! Theo grew up playing softball on palm tree-shaded sand lots and skim boarding with friends in the Gulf of Mexico.

Contrary to what you might believe, it has not been easier writing Theo because of the very fact that he is "here", in the sense of a world that you all have been to. None of you can go to Port Rumor unless I take you there. But you can go to Bahia Vista (St. Pete) and then write me a letter and tell me the police station is NOT on Central Avenue--as I have it depicted--but on First. I know that. I turned the building around to face Central because I wanted to. It IS fiction.

Which brings me to another point. I recently received an email from a reader who deemed me "a pretty good writer" considering all the flaws in my books, one of which he stated was the way I structured my militaries, my space fleets. He instructed me to read and study David Weber's Honor Harrington series so that I can learn to improve. News flash: I'm a long time Honor Harrington reader and am well aware that Weber uses the "Horatio Hornblower" military structure for his fleets. Second news flash: my books--save for DHZB--are not Earth-based and the space fleets I construct are not 'far future' extensions of the US, Canadian, French, Chinese, Russian, Horatio Hornblower or any other military on this planet, as Weber's are.

The reality of writing UNreality--to me--is consistency. World building must be consistent WITHIN THE BOOK ITSELF. Not necessarily a duplication of what is Here and Now. If I'm writing a book set in Florida, USA, yes, you will find it to be accurate to your present experience. Though be warned! I will turn the police station around to face the other direction because I want it to. Because it is fiction.

The UNrealities I create are as detailed and researched as the reality of law enforcement procedure I've recently immersed myself in for DHZB. Do I take liberties? Absolutely. But to the best of my abilities--which I'm the first to admit are no where near perfect and never will be--my liberties have consistency. That, to me, is the goal of my world building, whether it be the officer's mess on board the Vaxxar in GAMES OF COMMAND or the interior of an unmarked police car in DHZB.

And the goal of my books? Fun. Plain and simple. I write space opera romance. If it gave you a grin and a giggle, then I'm good to go.



  1. Anonymous3:50 PM EST

    First of all, I LOVE the title! Conjures up really good 1950's horror in my head.

    Secondly, I hope you didn't let that one reader get you down. I once had a critter Google a technical term I made up and inform me, on no uncertain terms, that I could not use it because it was NOT real. This, after explaining and labeling my story several times as science fiction. The good thing about such nonsense, I think, is that the reader is paying attention to your books in the first place.

    Thank you so much for explaining how you do things as an author. It's a really big help to us who are learning. :)

    I have a near-future romantic science fiction story simmering on the back burner of my brain. It's called 'Shivers.' Big city geologist woman falls for Native Alaskan fishermen while battling mutated iceworms.

    Kimber An

    (Blogger still hasn't pulled my account of the mirror universe yet.)

  2. Anonymous7:45 PM EST


    You said that some call you on the UNreality of your world-building. Fact the reader you make the UNreality REAL. When we are engrossed reading your books we forget that certain things didint happen that way or that police stations face a different direction ;) You make your world real and so we believe it to be as you write it. To me...that is the mark of a great writer. To make a fictional world so real that the reader believes it to be true.

    I cant wait to read DHZB and the world you created in FL..even if it does look like St Pete LOL


  3. Anonymous7:57 PM EST

    Oh, Linnea! I busted out laughing at the comment by that reader. I'm also a DW/HH fan and I just thought it was incredible that someone would try to scrutinize your story from the perspective of a completely different universe! I'm fairly new to this writing thing and I'm definitely not research oriented. I dread the day when I'll have to go find out what the various ranks and stations of miltary personnel do and don't do in their daily routines. My story, alas, is set a century or so down the road from our present-day world. Oh, foolish me. What I'll end up doing, no doubt, is trying to hook up with some folks in the know about such things and hope there's a proper way of making such connections without them looking at me like *I'm* from outer space. Looking forward eagerly to DHZB, and of course, Games. :-)

  4. **I once had a critter Google a technical term I made up and inform me, on no uncertain terms, that I could not use it because it was NOT real. This, after explaining and labeling my story several times as science fiction. **

    Kimber, I hear ya. :-) Actually, Sue Grant once told me a great one: she rec'd 'fan mail' (much as I did) from a reader who advised her to study up on jets and flying before attempting to write about such things as this 'reader' declared there were numerous errors in her books in that regard. I don't remember if Sue answered the guy but of course, the kicker is Sue Grant is a 747 PILOT and a former USAF jet instructor. So it goes. ~Linnea

  5. **I'm also a DW/HH fan and I just thought it was incredible that someone would try to scrutinize your story from the perspective of a completely different universe! ** Dave, this is what somewhat boggles me, too. I would never read Cherryh expecting it to align with Weber, or read Czerneda expecting it to align with Cherryh. I'd also not read Kenyon's paranormals and demand she create her immortals in the same way Feehan and Hamilton do.

    To be honest, this is the FIRST letter of that sort I've received so I consider myself blessed.

    As to my military structures, I'll admit to using as my primary reference the AIR FORCE OFFICER'S GUIDE (33rd edition) by Col. Jeffrey C Benton, USAF, retired. But only as a REFERENCE and not as a BLUEPRINT.

    And as Mo said, the whole point is to create an unreality and make it real. If you want reality, read the newspaper. ;-)

    BTW David, you'll like ZOMBIE. You have a cameo role in it. You always wanted to be a cop, didn't you? ::Linnea wiggles eyebrows::

  6. Anonymous9:42 PM EST

    Oh, shheeeesh!!! Oh, yes, I know all about Susan Grant being a fighter pilot and an airline pilot. I loved her Star King and Star Prince books. Actually, Star Prince was my favorite, but I recently switched back to Star King. Anyway, that is just hysterical! But, you got to love them, because you know they're reeeelly into your story when things like that come up.

    Kind of reminds of when I was a little girl telling my step-mother how to take care of her baby. Uh-huh. No wonder I grew up to be a nanny. ;) That makes me think we should be careful, because we may be communicating with a young person headed for a glorious career as a pilot or something else. We don't want to inadvertantly destroy that passion.

    Kimber An

  7. Anonymous8:25 AM EST

    Oh Lordy! Is the precinct ready for me?

    Btw, and for the record, that was NOT me who raked the light bar off a squad car on the parking garage overhead beams, playing Starsky and Hutch.