The happy accident – that’s what serendipity is, and I’ve had more than my fair share when it comes to researching my new novel project.
I started off by asking a friend of mine for help picking a geographic region where artifacts would likely survive intact. The Sahara came up, but I wanted to stay pretty far away from Egypt and even the Green Sahara sites in Niger. So I settled on Algeria. Googled “Algeria, map, 1910” and the first thing to come up was a map for sale – an original drawn in 1910 of Algeria and Tuni.
I picked an arbitrary date, late spring, early summer of 1910. I wanted a setting where steampunk could meet and greet a cultural upheaval. I certainly got it. The transition period, from 1900Victorian America to the Roaring 1920’s when morals were scandalously loose by Victorian standards, was stuffed full of interesting world events. Women’s suffrage was getting a foothold in the US independent from the successful abolitionist movement, the Civil and Labor Rights movements were inching toward notoriety, the Model T was turning American into a country of movers and shakers, and women’s hemlines were drifting up to show the ankle.
But I picked better than I realized. My two main characters are scheduled to meet in late April, 1910, and to arrive in New York City the first week of May – just in time to see the first womens suffrage parade walk through New York City. After that, they’ll spend a few weeks preparing for their journey and dealing with the comet panic as Halley’s Comet sweeps through the heavens and Earth traverses the comet’s tail. Street vendors sold comet pills, comet umbrellas, and comet gas masks to protect the gullible against the deadly gas from the comet’s tail, and posh New York hotels hosted rooftop comet parties in the wee hours of the morning.
Then it’s off across the water aboard a period-accurate luxury liner. I managed to locate a travel log written by the commander of the ship I selected at random from those available in 1910, which includes dates, weather and surf conditions, and even miles traveled each day.
I can’t wait to see what else 1910 has in store for me. The most exciting-and a little scary-part of all this is that my “happy accidents” have all been real history and the fantasy elements of my story may end up being pale by comparison.