My urban fantasy romance, INHALE, is coming out next week, and I’ve had a few people ask me about my research for the books. I’m a firm believer in keeping fantasy as real as possible. Realism grounds the reader with the familiar in an unfamiliar world. So, yeah. I do a LOT of research!
Setting details. I chose Hervey Bay, Australia as the setting for my JUST BREATHE trilogy because I’ve been there — once for a whale research internship, and once for pleasure. I hope that my knowledge of the place shines through — from the harbour itself, to the research house (which is based on the one I stayed in) down to the boats in the slips. A crit partner once criticized descriptions of the Zodiac my heroine, Dr. Zoe Morgan, drives while she’s tagging whales. That irked the shit out of me because I described a boat I’ve actually been on. She went off on a rampage about how there’s no way the boat has a cover or a steering wheel. Pardon me while my head explodes. Not only have I been on such a boat, but I also pored over Zodiac’s web site for specific information about this particular vessel to ensure I depicted it accurately.
Characterization. Zoe has a condition called Triple X Syndrome — three X chromosomes instead of the “normal” two. I consulted a geneticist and countless web sites to determine whether this condition would work the way I needed it to. Basically, Triple X girls have a normal appearance, though they are often tall for their age. Without genetic testing, you’d probably never suspect the person had it. In fact, it’s estimated that many women go through their whole lives without ever knowing they have Triple X. According Wikipedia:
“Symptoms may include tall stature; small head (microcephaly); vertical skinfolds that may cover the inner corners of the eyes (epicanthal folds); delayed development of certain motor skills, speech and language; learning disabilities, such as dyslexia; or weak muscle tone. The symptoms vary from person to person, with some women being more affected than others. There are seldom any observable physical anomalies in Triple X females, other than being taller than average…Triple X females are more likely to struggle with personality and psychological problems, and low self-esteem, but these respond well to treatment. Triple X girls are at increased risk of poor academic results at school, and some may need special education. Sometimes, they may suffer from anxiety and be very shy, and this may affect their relations with school peers. They seem to feel much better after leaving school. They benefit very much from a stable home environment.”
I crafted Zoe’s character very carefully around this information, and I did it for a reason that won’t become clear until the second book, EXHALE. Again, I wanted to ground the fantasy elements firmly in fact-based science.
The whales. Everyone knows I’m a whale fanatic. Other than being able to communicate with humans, the behaviors I depict in the books are 100% real, and again, based on personal experiences and LOTS of research. I consulted with one of the guys who helped design the DTAGs (Digital Acoustic Recording Tags) Zoe uses in the book. I asked him specific questions about how they work, how they’re applied, and how they’re retrieved. I state in the opening Notes section of the book that I did take some liberties with some of the methods described, but for the most part, I stayed as true to the facts as possible.
There are plenty other topics I researched heavily for this series: Aboriginal cultures and myths (read books and watched countless videos to get the dialect down), flight times (yes, I actually plotted trips on Qantas so I could have the times correct when characters fly – I’m that anal!), geographical features and climates of Australia (including average yearly temperatures for July – August), and I used the floor plan of a specific hospital in Sydney to plot characters’ paths for a scene in EXHALE. Research is that important to me. When I don’t know something, I look it up.
Fantasy writers, how do you “keep it real” in your books?