Researching Darkness Haunts

Full Moon and active colorful aurora over Fairbanks AlaskaSometimes when story inspiration strikes, it takes you to places you’ve never been.  In my case, it was Alaska.  This was not a location I could easily visit which meant doing a good deal of research so the setting would be as accurate as possible.  I may have had to embellish some things due to the supernatural elements, but I wanted most of the places my character visited to be real.  Even the fictional parts needed some grain of truth to them.  This made Darkness Haunts quite the undertaking to bring to life on the pages. I’m not a writer who likes to include a lot of flowery detail (it bores me to tears in other books), but I tried to put enough in that readers could feel like they were really there.

The following are some of the steps I took in my research:

1) Youtube videos- made by native Alaskans in their home area, particularly hunting videos because that gave me the best idea of what might be encountered in the wild and also gave me the best visuals of what Alaska looked like.  Videos taken while locals were flying over and around the Fairbanks area were also helpful in giving me the basic terrain layout from above.

2) Weather and Climate- Darkness Haunts begins in mid-August.  Since I was still in the early stages of writing the novel in that month I monitored their weather conditions daily online to get an idea of what temperature ranges they had (along with any wet weather).

3) Daylight hours- In most parts of the world this isn’t as important, but anyone writing a story in Alaska better pay attention.  If you write a story in Fairbanks that takes place in June, you should consider there is no more than a couple hours of dark.  For one day a year in that month, the sun’s light never does fully fade.  The winter is the opposite.  By late December you may only see a few hours of daylight and the rest is night.  Because there is such a rapid change in what time the sun sets (and I had light sensitive vampires to consider), this meant every single day in my book was calculated for how long the day would last.  This element played into the overall plot.

4) Local businesses- For basic visuals and mentions of where Melena (my main character) ate/drank/visited, I had to know what was really available.  Not all chain stores have made it to Fairbanks, and I wanted to know what types of privately owned businesses were available.  In the book, every fast-food restaurant, bar, grocery store, unique shop, etc all exist.  I rarely used their names, but did ensure a visitor could locate such places.  I even emailed the one local brewery to verify their beer could be ordered at any bar in the area just because my character ordered it one time.

5) Real estate listings- This was a great way to get an overall picture of what types of houses are in and around Fairbanks.  Most had pictures and mentioned their amenities.  It should be noted that there are more houses/cabins than you would think that do not have indoor plumbing.  Outhouses are very common in Alaska and this had to be considered when writing the story.  I’m still not sure how those people bathe since they have no running water, but imagine it could turn into quite the stink-fest if they aren’t diligent in finding a source.

6) Travelogues and books- I found blogs and other travel websites where tourists talked about their stay in Fairbanks.  It gave me a good idea of what places are popular for tourists and what they thought of them.  A couple times Melena ends up in some of the well-known places to visit and I wanted her impressions to be similar to that of any outsider.  I also found a book written by a former Army officer who was stationed up there for a year.  It was good to get a perspective from someone who was active in the community but had fresh eyes when arriving.  My character is not native so she needed to sound like an outsider trying to adapt.  This meant picking up some of the local lingo and learning how things are done.  Reading this guy’s book made a huge difference because he did a lot of activities including fishing, hunting, hiking, flying, gold-mining, etc.

7) Wildlife- I was careful to study what wildlife may be encountered and how to deal with them.  Melena has a couple of run-ins and it needed to be as realistic as possible.  You would be amazed at how dangerous caribou can be.  They have been known to kill.  That was the kind of information I needed to know when writing my story.  I also studied bear attacks in the Fairbanks area as well as any other potential threats.  News articles were part of my sources.

8)Maps- Every place my character goes is mapped out in my head.  I don’t go into too many specifics because I don’t want anyone actually trying to go to some of the destinations I describe.  There is a reason for this.  Another Urban Fantasy author I know of did that with her books and her fans actually went to the houses she described where vamp parties happened and harassed the normal humans (that lived there in reality).  There are times when I describe areas that could be dangerous to the unwary tourist.  This made me take that other author’s warning to heart, so I give just enough detail you might get a general area on the map, but can’t pinpoint it most of the time.  Harmless locations like McDonalds or Safeway are left in because I don’t really worry about people visiting those places and nothing significant happens at them anyway.

 

There are numerous other sources I used to check on things while writing the novel.  Too many to get into here, but I wanted to give a basic idea of how realistic a reader can expect the setting of this book to be.  Some of the things I studied closely would give away important plot details, so I have to leave them off the list, but rest assured that while the supernaturals and characters may not really exist, just about everything else does.

 

The Inspiration Behind Darkness Haunts

Light bulb on blue backgroundFor a long time I was nothing more than an avid reader, particularly of romance.  It began with historical and time-travel novels, and later branched out to paranormal and fantasy.  I rarely read contemporary, mostly because I didn’t want my escape to be too much like reality.

It wasn’t until about two years ago that I stumbled on Urban Fantasy (UF) and really found the genre that gave me everything I wanted.  It was the modern world transformed and I loved it!  Plus it almost always featured a tough heroine trying to survive in situations that no normal woman (or man) should be subjected to.  After reading through the first book I found, I continued to look for more.  The best kind were the ones in first person that followed a particular heroine as she grew as a person over the course of the series.  Of course, paranormal elements and romance were always involved.

One thing began to bug me, though.  I kept seeing these kick-ass heroines who had little background in fighting or strategy (with a couple of exceptions).  It wasn’t to say there was anything wrong with using waitresses, students, etc.  I just couldn’t understand why none of them had a military background and I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t become a master at fighting in a few weeks or even months.  Having served in the Army myself, I wanted a character I could relate to.  Someone who represented (in a fun way) all the female heroines who have served in the Armed Forces.

This led me to a campaign of complaining to anyone who would listen (including authors) that military women had been forgotten.  Finding male heroes in the Army, Navy, etc is very easy to do, but forget females in the Urban Fantasy or paranormal genre (you might get one in contemporary but that’s not my thing).  The response I got from a lot of people was if I wanted a book like that so bad, then perhaps I should be the one to write it.

They had a point!

Up until then, I had written one novel (a modern fantasy romance), but it was more for fun and practice.  That one will never see the light of day because I made a ton of rookie mistakes that would require an overhaul I’m not willing to do.  The heroine wasn’t military, but she was a character in my head that was begging to come out.  It was a 70k novel written in about a month.  I did do some revising in the following months, but I still knew it wasn’t something that would be worth trying to publish.  Sometimes, what you write really is just for you.  I enjoyed the story and it did teach me some things about plotting and story development.

The difference with this idea of a military heroine is that I wanted it to be something others could read.  I started two different UF novels, each getting to about the 30-40k range before giving them up.  They weren’t working.  So I stopped for awhile and decided to wait until true inspiration struck.

One day it did.

I finally thought of an idea that had a solid plot and main character that could be made into a full length novel.  In July of 2011 I began writing it.  There were still a lot of rookie mistakes in the beginning, but by this time I knew other writers who were willing to look at early chapters and point out things I needed to do to make my story better.  Months of trial and error, further writing and revisions before even finishing it, and I finally had the full novel done by January (2012).

Of course, it wasn’t really “done”.  Good writers will tell you a novel needs to be polished until it shines.  That means finding good critique partners to catch the holes that are inevitably there and any other problems.  I have one that has read the entire novel and been a big help.  A couple others are running through it now.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it will need further tweaking, but it’s already shaping up to be a great first novel in a series I will be proud to share.