Posts Tagged research

Chapter 12

This is a direct follow-up to the update to yesterday’s post.  I present the answers for Chapter 12’s understanding questions.

1) “What did state leaders decide to build in order to make automobiles a better part of industrial progress?”  A fleet of fifteen foot tall steam-powered metal spiders.  The only way to reliably outrun them was in a car.

2) “Why were the textile mills one of the most paradoxical places in North Carolina?”  Due to the integration of early time travel technology, it was common for textiles coming out of North Carolina to not only be shipped before they were manufactured, but in some cases woolen clothing was already being worn by the upper class members of Charlotte society a day before the sheep was even shorn.

3) “What was one result of the Loray Mill strike?”  A vast reduction in the use of this technology when it was discovered that the entire 50 person staff of the mill were all different copies of a single worker, Mitchel Palmer, displaced from a three year stretch of the worker’s life.  The strike was largely initiated by Mrs. Palmer.

4) “What problems led to the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression?”  Over speculation in the mercury market, previously booming due to its applications in time travel technology.

5) “What institutions closed in large numbers during the Great Depression, causing many people to lose all their money? What industry continued to make huge profits during the Great Depression?” Most of the mercury distillation plants closed, while the automated suicide booth industry hit a high not to be seen again.  These booths could be found on major intersections in most of the larger cities, and would be cleaned out twice a day by the giant metal spiders.  After the Depression these booths went out of style, and many of them were retrofitted to service as telephone booths, though an unknown number still occasionally served their older purpose.

6) “What did all the New Deal measures have in common?” Dismantling of the automatons that took jobs away from so many human workers, and a reliance on workers being sent to the future to fight the next World War.

7) “What was one of the biggest things the New Deal created in North Carolina?”  The Winston-Salem automaton reclamation plant.

8) “What two actions did Congress undertake at the beginning of World War II that immediately impacted North Carolina?” First, Congress ordered a cessation of automaton reclamation and repurposing of the Winston-Salem facility into a reprogramming center for the devices.  Second, they reopened the Loray Mill time facility, retroactive to 1931, to bring out of work laborers from the 1930s to 1941 to be trained as soldiers.

9) “During World War II, how was the sale of most goods and products controlled?”  Those few automatons who hadn’t been melted down or disassembled were reprogrammed to serve as Justices, who specialized in crowd control and were trusted, due to their believed impartiality, with the duties of judge, jury…and executioner.

So what have we learned today?  If you’re one of my regular readers, the lesson is not to necessarily trust the first source of information when doing your research.  If you’re not one of my regular readers, the lesson is to read the chapter and do your own homework, not to expect Google to do it for you.  Oh, and that I’m apparently a grumpy old man.  But I think a lot of us knew that already.  I’ve also learned a possible setting for a future story.

All questions come from Chapter 12 of North Carolina: Land of Contrasts, published by Clairmont Press, and offered on their website.

Update:  Looks like I landed the fish yesterday.

I’m a bad person, but I’m okay with that.

Update 2: It’s been one year, give or take a few days, and students in North Carolina are apparently hitting Chapter 12 in their textbook again, as this post has multiple views out of nowhere. So…hi, North Carolina students.

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The Civil War

I was 11 years old when The Civil War started.  Not the war itself, clearly, but the PBS documentary that first ran in 1990, starting just over a week after my 11th birthday.  I was aware of it, my middle school band even played a simple arrangement of Ashoken Farewell at our holiday concert that year, but I was too young for 10 hour epic PBS documentaries, no matter how well produced or acclaimed they were.  It just wasn’t right for my attention span.

It’s been just over 21 years now since that original broadcast.  It’s rerun on PBS numerous times since then, especially during pledge drives, had VHS and DVD releases, and landed on Netflix streaming.  It wasn’t until recently that the series actually interested me, not until I got to work on a novel set in and around the era of the American Civil War.  Researching still isn’t something I’m entirely comfortable with, but I’ve become engrossed by the era.  Even though the war in our book happens very differently, it’s important to know what happened in the real war, what was going on outside the battlefields, how life was led.  And that’s why we added The Civil War to our streaming queue and started watching it.

I’m not going to get obsessed by the Civil War.  I’m not going to devote my life to it.  When this novel is over and the next one travels west with the railroad, I’ll probably step away from the battlefields of the east.  But I’d like to say…I understand it now.  I can understand why people devote so much time to this war, so much fascination, just what it is about this conflict that draws so much more of the American imagination than any war either before or since.  It’s odd that it took so long.  I was born abroad, but since returning to the states as an infant I’ve never lived outside the Confederacy.  Virginia, Alabama, Texas, back to Virginia, college in North Carolina, it’s always been right there at my doorstep, but it’s just a period that I never devoted much thought to.

My wife and I watch the show oddly.  We’ve been doing some research, looking up those real life characters who are hanging out in the background of our novel.  They’re never active in the plot itself, but they influenced it with their earlier actions.  Yesterday we actually exchanged a high-five when two of them, Richard Gatling and John Ericsson, showed up on-screen, both in photographs we immediately recognized.  The documentary almost turns the war into a spectator sport for us, as we identify by photos those who were crazy sons of bitches, who were the heroes, and who were the villains, all from our understanding of the war coming into this project, and from our research.  When Ericsson is described as cantankerous we actually laugh, as we cast him as the emotional, and even occasionally cruel, inventor.  Largely because Gatling looks too much like Santa to comfortably vilify.  Seriously, that’s him to the right.  Ho ho ho, little Susie, if you’re really good I may bring you a machine gun for Christmas.

We laughed at what was almost a running gag early in the war, Northern generals being traded in and out of their commands.

And then the fighting starts.

We’re almost experiencing the war as it was lived.  I suppose that was the intent of the documentary.  Go into the war expecting it to be a quick and easy affair, until the fighting actually starts.  It’s odd.  I know the statistics.  Right around 2% of the population of the United States was killed in the conflict, the equivalent of 6.25 million people today.  It’s a staggering number.  Perhaps too staggering.  It takes the individual fights, the isolated battles, for those numbers to make any sense.  It takes the slaughter at Shiloh.  And then I realize that I can understand those who obsess with the war, who get drawn into its history and want to learn more, but not those who glorify it.

We’re three hours, two episodes, in.  It makes interesting viewing while I’m writing, though it does force me to put aside the story at times.  It also has me looking around the Northern Virginia area, where we’re lousy with Civil War history.  There’s a minor battle site within walking distance of my house, and Manassas is only a half hour’s drive away.  I’ve never been to these sites, but I’ll probably start when the weather warms.  Especially to see those parts of the war that are the same between established history and our book’s timeline.

Damn that war.

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Making It Up!

You’ve probably never heard of Arcadia Publishing, but I’m sure you’re aware of them.  They produce the nearly 6000 title deep Images of America series.  Those are the books you’ve seen at every gift store and the “local interest” or “local history” sections of every bookstore.  They’ve got the sepia toned covers with black shields outlined in red.  You know.  These.  There, you’ve seen those before, you know what they are. They’re short and rely on local authorities and public domain black-and-white images in a formula that must work if they’ve put out 5762 of them.

You probably never thought about who actually researches and writers these Images of America books.  I have, only because I know someone who is on contract with them.  She did the writing and photo collecting for their book on Maryland’s Lighthouses and is currently working on their upcoming pictorial history of Falls Church, VA.  Although she writes non-fiction and I write fiction, we still compare notes occasionally, and I’ve even hooked her on Scrivener as a writing tool and distraction.  Last night we both set out to write, and I’ll admit slightly more success for one very essential reason, that wonderful and glorious advantage of fiction:

I was making everything up.

Research is hard.  Getting stuff right is hard.  I know, because that was my writing the night before.  That’s the scene where I have a character considering his choices of handguns, cleaning them, and considering the advantages of each.  This meant a lot of on-the-spot research.  Fortunately, the internet is great for such things (unfortunately for my friend the non-fiction writer, most of her research necessitates the library).  I could, with just a few searches, find sites that detailed the rifling of the 1851 Navy Colt, as well as the proper cleaning methods.  Sure, I could have put in a place holder [RESEARCH GOES HERE] but the character is taking what amounts to non-fictional actions (cleaning the Colt and a Le Mat revolver) while also taking fiction actions (talking to a Steampunk automaton).  Whenever I’m simultaneously blending the two, I want to have my research in place so I know how long the fictional actions must take to line up.

Then last night my character got to holster the gun and be entirely fictional.  Riding through a fictional state to a fictional plantation to talk to a fictional person.  Fantastic!  I went from a few hundred words during the night of research to twice as many in less time as I could just let my fingers and imagination loose on the page.

But, in the end, we are all going to be non-fiction writers at times.  It’s when those pesky facts get in the way.  Even in the most abstracted fantasy or future flung science fiction, there’s likely that one annoying tidbit of real world information that requires a trip through Wikipedia to more verifiable sources, and potentially even to the research section of the local library.  Don’t short change those.  As I’ve discussed in the past, these are going to be the elements that your reader will crucify you on.  Especially as the story gets more fantastic, the real bits (what I think of as the non-fiction bits) need to be more dead on, as they’re the one place the reader will expect to turn off his suspension of disbelief.

So do your research.  And then come back and make shit up.  Because that’s really the fun part.

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