Wednesday, February 06, 2008

 

Serendipity

I'm taking a few days off from finishing Three Unbroken to work on "Edison's Frankenstein," my submission to Nick Gevers's steampunk-themed Extraordinary Engines. I disappeared down a research rabbit-hole today, researching some little bits and pieces to do with the setting, and fleshing out the story's viewpoint character. Yesterday the story was one kind of thing, and this morning I thought, "Mmm, what if the main character was actually this guy, instead?" I typed three names into Google, and came up for air six hours later, having printed out hundreds of pages of PDFs I'd turned up on Google books, and having scribbled countless pages worth of notes in a little spiralbound notebook. Now, the story has turned into another thing entirely.

I don't know if this happens to other writers. I'm sure it does. There's this strange, vertiginous moment when you find a whole rash of terrific detail, and think "There must be some kind of way to work this into the story." And for a while, it looks like it's not going to hang together, and that there's no way to get it all to cohere. And then, all of the sudden, you find the keystone, the little bit of information that makes it all fit.

That was what today was like, for me. Weird side trips into the history of Algeria, ethnographic stuff about the Kabyles, page after page of guidebooks from the 1893 world's fair, more stuff about Kabylian culture, back to street maps of turn-of-the century Chicago, and on and on. All of these great little bits of thing that weren't a story yet, but could be parts of a story if I could figure out how they all fit together. And then...

The keystone.

It won't make much sense until the story is written, accepted (hopefully!), published, and read, but all I can say at this point I cannot tell you what a shock and relief it was to discover, as I did a short while ago, that in 1893 the Muslim holy month of Ramadan fell in the weeks just prior to the opening of the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.

Thank you, Islamic lunar calendar!

Comments:
I felt the same way when I learned the date a zeppelin set the transatlantic speed record from New York to Europe in 1937. Whee!
 
Edison's Frankenstein. Good title. Instantly evocative.
 
I'm intrigued.

I also do appreciate an author who does get those little details right, for those who want to research them.

The best example I can think off the top of my head at this hour is Elizabeth Bear's first Promethean novel, Blood and Iron, which features a full moon on Halloween. Fortunately, a full moon on Halloween DID occur in the year (1997) that the book is set.
 
Thanks, guys. I've got about 90% of the story worked out in my head, at this point, and just trying to get the last 10% straight in the next couple of days before sitting down and writing the thing.

And thanks, Bill. When I first stumbled on the name a few years ago, used to refer to Edison's early silent film version of Mary Shelley's novel, I was amazed that no one had ever used it as a title for a story, about Edison making a "monster" himself.

But I know what you mean, Paul. This is an alternate history that diverges from our own a few years before the story, in some quite dramatic ways, but at the same time I felt it would be an unforgiveable cheat to "fudge" the dates of Ramadan. (I've got Blood and Iron on my To Read shelf, having picked it up a while back, but haven't found the time to read it yet. Which may be ironic, since the story I'm writing makes frequent use of the name "Promethean", or prometheic, at least.)
 
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