Writing What You Don’t Know: How to Cheat

Writing What You Don’t Know: How to Cheat

Licensed for CC use from Wiki

Salutations.  This is Samuel Blondahl, artist and author of The Anahita Chronicles (science fiction). The Dancing Writer, Amber Forbes, honoured me with this opportunity to write a guest-blog. Now, you might be thinking “He spelled honored wrong”. Actually  I did not, you see, I am Canadian.


Canadian science fiction sound a bit off putting? Read on, and worry not, most of my settings are in the southern United States (& deep space – It is sci-fi after all). Specifically Houston Texas & Fort Lauderdale Florida, the sort of places NASA employees might be found. Now, it is an interesting fact that I have never actually been south of Minnesota. So, how does one write about an area that they have never set foot in? Anne Rice famously travels extensively through the places in her books, Stephen King tends to write within his sphere of life (New England), and other sci-fi authors have the luxury of setting their work in imaginary off planet locals. Now, I simply cannot afford to travel, and I am writing about astronauts and physicists in a contemporary world. I cannot ignore the importance of their home life. I could just write Canadian characters, but that would severely limit the interest of American readers. Not to mention that my publisher is an American house, and that their logo on my book spine and back is the stars and stripes. People might expect a little USA in a book with that flag flying on the cover.


So how do I write about a place I have never been? Well, today’s world offers writers a tool that was never before available. Google street-view. I can walk the streets of any large city in the world, get info on the businesses and a first hand look at the environment. From there, I can describe in detail foliage, architecture, the kind of people one might encounter, and the strategic plans of alien beings using the city as a beach-head for invasion (Not to mention how many Starbucks locations are available to the first wave of invaders). No maps or encyclopaedias have ever given writers this kind of direct knowledge before. Google Street-view allowed me to really see the locations I was writing. It opens doors and allows for important details that otherwise I would miss. Like the view from a window in Washington. A place I have never been, and will likely never be.


I study a lot of physics and technology when I write sci-fi. But I am not a physicist. I do not have the engineering degrees that my characters have. I do not understand Einstein’s equations or Hawking’s theories. So I read about them, I watch documentaries, I learn what I need to know, and how to describe it to others without going over their head, or saying too little. Research is a respected tool of any writer. Using street-view in this fashion is a new form of location research. Is it cheating? Well, sure. But it’s a good way to cheat, it’s educational, fun, and a welcome chance to write about real places that I cannot otherwise visit.


Being Canadian has been a challenge for me as a writer. Not in the creative work, but in the effort to construct a story that will interest an American audience. For me, writing is a career, not a hobby. I know that the majority of my audience, the large publishers and the film studios are south of the border. I must write to that demographic if I want to succeed beyond the local market. According to google, there are 34,482,779 people in Canada, and 311,591,917 in the US. That is a difference of 277,109,138 people. The population of California alone is 37,691,912, more than three million people above Canada’s total. Five minutes of research tells me everything I need to know: I need to know the USA. I hope that someday I will have the chance to visit your country again and do a book tour, but for now I will wander your streets online, and window shop as a digital ghost.


Astronaut Chris A. Hadfield Mission Specialist...
Astronaut Chris A. Hadfield Mission Specialist Canadian Space Agency (CSA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


For the record, I do write a little Canada as well. Book I opens in the BC interior, and has a later scene in Vancouver, a city I know well. Some of my antagonists are Canadian, and some of my protagonists wear a maple leaf on their mission patches. Also for the record, Canada has always been a strong member of the international space community. For example, Commander Chris Hadfield, returning to Earth as I type this from his tour in command of the International Space Station, is a former fighter pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and is currently working for the Canadian Space Agency on detachment to NASA. So is it really so far out to give a Canuck writer a fair trial in sci-fi? If it helps, I am a descendant of two presidents, John Adams & John Q. Adams, and the wife of Ulysses S. Grant was a great-great-however many great aunt. So come on, give me a shot. I promise to thrill and entertain, and to research my locations and do them honour. Or honor if you prefer.


Thanks to Georgia state’s dancing writer Amber Forbes for this guest spot. I’ll mail you an envelope full of real Canadian snow sometime.


Samuel Blondahl’s first book – MERCURY The Anahita Chronicles Book I – can be found on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, itunes, and Goodreads. Book II – WAR – will be launched within a month, and book III is deep in production. Visit www.blondahl.ca for more information, links to purchase, as well as his blog, and social media.








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