208. The Cost of Research

I grew up on science fiction, but that wasn’t all I read. I read about the westward movement, pioneer days, cowboys, and Indians (as opposed to cowboys and Indians). When I discovered adult books, I read a lot of Costain. He was about all we had in the closet sized abandoned library in our elementary school.

I found a set of cheaply bound classics in a stationary store in a nearby town. They were two-ups, with Moby Dick and Two Years Before the Mast in one volume. I loved them both, along with Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, and a half dozen others. I eventually learned that my Moby Dick was an abridged version. When I tried to tackle the original as an adult, I figured out why they abridged it. Damn, that book is long; maybe I’ll finish it next year, when I’m not so busy.

Everything I read, outside of The Scarlet Letter, was an adventure of some sort. Navel gazing literature never crossed my path until I was an adult. I still like my fiction to be doing something, even while the protagonist reflects on life and its meaning. After all, we mix up action and reflection in real life.

That was the way I approached my writing from the beginning. Plenty of action; plenty of things to consider along the way and, hopefully to consider again after closing the book for the last time.

By the time I was ready to write, I could have written in any of a number of genres. I chose science fiction and fantasy for two reasons. First, they are my favorites. I had been reading both for decades and I knew their possibilities and the readers’ expectations. They weren’t all I wanted to write, but they were a place to start.

The other reason was money. Re$earch co$ts dollar$ – and time, which is a form of money. I could create whole worlds out of my imagination, but if I wanted to write about the area west of Philadelphia in 1789, or West Virginia in 1865, or the Mississippi River in 1845 – to name the settings of three novels on my to-write list – it would have taken years of library research and trips to those places. I couldn’t afford that, so half of the things I was ready to write were out of reach.

I was a pleasure to write what I could afford to write, but still frustrating not to be able to crawl out of that box.

Eventually I started teaching, made a few bucks, and had the chance to travel. That opened things up. I‘ll tell you a bit about that over the next two posts, then acquaint you with one of the novels that came out of those travels. more tomorrow


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