Thank you to Novels Alive for having me today and letting me discuss researching!
Like many authors and readers, I love vampires. One of the questions I get a lot is how I set the book so well in a time period because my books are in the horror or paranormal genre, but they are also as historically accurate as I can make them.
I have noticed writers sometimes allow facts to get in their way of the story. They go down rabbit holes of exciting information, but it is so generalized, it doesn’t even end up in the book. So this post is about the three types of research I do, using specific examples from my latest book, Accident Among Vampires or (What Would Dracula Do?)
First, I always write a loose statement of what the book is going to be.
Working Title: Normas_Story
Genre: Gothic Horror Subgenre: Family Drama
Main point: Norma will not be a tragic child vampire even if the vampiric world doesn’t accept her and most other vampires born in their teens are tragedies.
Plot: a coming-of-age story with a girl who uses only her intelligence as her vampiric telepathy and other gifts are still a hindrance.
Setting: Issaquah, WA to Seattle WA, June 21, 1951 through April 1952.
Horror Genre specific: What would a fourteen-year-old vampire fear in the 1950s?
It has already been established in other books in my universe: vampires are killed by sun or flame. Depending on the vampire’s size: it might take days to fully burn because they start to heal once the sun goes down. Blood loss and certain purifying metals can wound the vampire to the point of unconsciousness. Dismemberment can quicken the process, but they feel everything until their brain is ash. Obviously anyone would fear a slow death of pain. However this story is about a specific girl set in a place and time. So what would she fear?
Norma’s creator, William, fears war and ultimately The Bomb. So does Norma, but this is a background fear.
Norma’s strongest fear is herself and new bloodlust. She is always hungry for blood and flesh. She knows if she goes home, she will eat her mother, dog, and friends. That’s why she stays with William, and later William’s creator, Derrik.
Secondly, she is terrified of other vampires.
However, her biggest fear revolves around her coffin. Why?
While I do most research AFTER I write my first draft, there is one point I needed to know before I started: what Norma knew about vampires when she was transformed.
I researched this by watching several 1930’s and 40’s vampire movies. Soon I discovered a pattern to that era’s stories. The vampire is most vulnerable in their coffin. The sun or fire might kill them, but the coffin traps them for those who would kill them. Throughout the book, Norma questions William and Derrik about protecting herself using such films asSon of Dracula, House of Dracula, Return of the Vampire and others because these are examples of how vampires died.
So now I establish that I can start my first draft. For every other item of research: the goal is the ensure the topic relates to what I’m writing. So if I am writing a scene and need to know a quick fact I look it up immediately.
Example: When was the Alaskan Way Viaduct constructed through Seattle? Answer 1949.
Cool, now I know it is there during the scene in the story when it makes an appearance.
However, some questions are not quick, even if we have basic information.
Example: Post War/1950’s parenting books
(Extremely applicable to Norma’s fears about vampires and specifically her interactions with Derrik.)
I already knew the three vampires who have parental rights/responsibilities also have vastly different parenting techniques as they are very different in character. I don’t need to know specifics before I started writing, but I did know their basic reaction to Norma’s actions. Everything feeding the plot. Now this does not mean she is always getting in trouble, this is how her mentors react to her, her needs, and her actions.
Below are my notes on this topic, excluding spoilers:
William (Norma’s creator) always answers Norma’s questions. When she is good or clever, he lavishes positive attention. He beats Norma with his belt for any disobedience/fists and belt when she actively disrupts an experiment.
ISSUE: William treats her as his father treated him. Norma knows this and she doesn’t know what having a dad is like before William. (Norma’s human dad died when she was 4.)
Derrik (William’s creator and lover) corrects anyone who calls him her “grandpa.” They do not have an immediate connection, but he is dedicated to raising her right due to what he will lose if he fails. ISSUE: Norma is sure Derrik will hit eventually because some of his parenting books have scary advice.
Pascaline (Derrik’s wife) is like a fun big sister. Pascaline is Norma’s cheerleader, but always sides with her husband. Norma was once quite close to her mother and aches to be close to Pascaline.
ISSUE: Pascaline works outside the coven, so she isn’t always available.
ISSUE: Derrik and Pascaline disagree about the best parenting methods in private. Norma is always listening.
With my above notes, I can write a solid rough draft and then research the specifics of Derrik’s parenting books once I know what specific challenges he faces with Norma as she is moving through the universe before I start the second draft. Then, I can place specific types of books or advice depending on where he is on his character arc.
I hope knowing how I research helps authors out of their personal rabbit holes; does anyone else want to discuss how they accomplish their research? Comment below.
Publication Date: June 21, 2021
Issaquah, Washington, USA
My name is Norma Mae Rollins. I’m fourteen and an illegal vampire. I miss my mom, but new ghoulish appetites force me to remain with my creator.
Bill didn’t mean to transform me. At least, that’s what he claims. His frightening temper, relentless lies, and morbid scientific experiments makes it hard to know what to believe. However, someone snitched about Bill’s experiments to a nearby coven. Now both of our corpses will burn.
Bill won’t run. He is curious what happens to a vampire after final death. I don’t want to die again. It hurt so much the first time. Bill thinks his vampire boyfriend might shelter me. I must brave an eternal existence with elder vampires and other monsters who don’t think I ought to exist. Oh and figure out who I am allowed to eat.
A vampire’s reality is nothing like the movies.
Elizabeth Guizzetti is an author, podcaster, illustrator, and a collector of dragons — the ceramic kind. Elizabeth lives in Seattle with her husband and poodle. When not crafting stories, she can be found hiking, birdwatching or hanging out at the dog park.
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