When it comes to the creative process, the one thing I hear my writer friends complain about the most is research. It is near-universally hated! This has never made sense to me, as research is, and always will be, the foundation upon which I build my stories. And, in some instances, research grounds otherwise beyond the point of acceptable fictitious stories in a reality they very much need.
However, there are writers who share my passion for research. The details matter just as much to them as it does to me. And the readers who know the difference cheer when they see we knew which types of figureheads were on Dutch ships in the 1800s (for example).
I’m very pleased to introduce one of these fine writers to you today; technothriller author Tim Queeney has graciously granted us access into his novel research process.
Research: striking the right balance
Research isn’t exclusive to writing a technothriller, of course. Just about every book requires some digging to get the facts right. A large part my thriller, The SHIVA Compression, however, deals with the innards of the U.S. strategic warfare system. I had to know how the system worked so I could write with accuracy — to know when I was on solid ground and when I was inventing a few details out of whole cloth.
The U.S. nuclear war fighting system is a complex beast. The horrifying prospect of nuclear war can’t be allowed to occur by chance or by the actions of a single unbalanced commander. There are many layers of control built in to prevent an accident.
So how did I uncover this secretive systems inner workings? First, I sought out a ‘bible’, an authoritative explanation of the system. Since a large part of what makes the doomsday SHIVA virus so dangerous is the way it takes control of U.S. missiles, the book I relied upon was called Strategic Command and Control by Dr. Bruce Blair, currently president of the World Security Institute. Dr. Blair was a former Air Force Minuteman missile launch officer and in his book he lays out in detail how the system works. In addition to Dr. Blair’s book, I relied on several other books and a variety of other sources: magazines, technical defense journals, Internet sites, and email exchanges with people who had specialized knowledge and were willing to share it.
The main character in SHIVA is Perry Helion, an Air Force lieutenant trained as a pilot. Perry is grounded, however, due to a minor mishap he committed when landing an aircraft. As Perry and his team work to stop the SHIVA virus from starting a nuclear war, Perry must fly a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft for the first time.
Since I’ve never flown a C-130, I didn’t know any details of the aircraft that could lend reality to the account. I found and posted on an online forum of former Hercules pilots, asking for help. These guys were incredibly generous in providing me with an avalanche of details — so many, in fact, that I was a bit overwhelmed.
That plethora of detail can be a danger of heavy research. When you discover a trove of interesting technical detail, you want to include it — all of it. The detail is so cool everybody will love it, right? In most cases, NO! Too much of this “fascinating” stuff can derail the story and result in dense thickets the reader has to chop their way through. Readers want a good story, not arm exercise! So only include enough detail to set the scene and further the story, no matter how tempting it is to include it because it’s ‘cool.’
One intriguing and unexpected outcome of my research was the realization that a good chunk of what the U.S. government said about its nuclear war fighting policy was just a pose. During the Cold War, the government took certain public positions as a way to calm people’s fears about nuclear war. The U.S. nuclear control system was then and, unfortunately, remains far more hair-trigger and dangerous than most people realize.
The SHIVA Compression is available at Amazon.
And check out the book trailer for SHIVA:
A magazine editor and writer, Tim Queeney live in Maine with his wife, sons, and family dog, a black lab who is always on the wrong side of the door! His house is a stone’s throw from the ocean. When the mist rolls in or on snowy winter nights, he can hear the fog horns from three lighthouses bleating their warnings. His Independent Author Network page here.
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