Saturday, February 26, 2011

Too much? Not enough?

My husband and I currently live in a small town in West Africa, and occasionally we send out a mass email to our family and friends talking about the highlights of the past few months. A lot of people come back with, “Wow! That’s so interesting! Why don’t you write more often?” Well, because in actuality all the interesting things have already been distilled for their reading pleasure. The rest would be a droning monologue on heat, the lack of fresh food, heat, interminable insects, and did I mention the heat? Sure, there’s more to tell, but they don’t actually want to hear about it. Dissecting the interesting from the banal can be tricky for someone who lives with all of it all the time. This challenge crosses over into my fictional life as well.

One of the problems I come up against when I write any sort of story is deciding how much of my background research to put into it. For example, when I write about a city I’ve never been to before, I read books and look at pictures and find blogs written by people who’ve been there to get a feel for the place. This is harder from where I’m living right now, but I still try to be thorough. I’m the child of a professional historian, and my dad’s mantra has stuck with me: research is crucial. Do I want my readers wondering why I’m writing about the picturesque Roman ruins in Heidelberg when there actually aren’t any? Or why my Desert Eagle has a thirty round magazine? “It just does” isn’t an answer that sticklers are going to accept.

One would think that writing about a wholly fictional world would bypass these difficulties, and to a certain extent that’s true. A lot of the fun in writing speculative fiction is building your own background, making your own world. That’s not to say that, for example, science fiction doesn’t have its own tropes with regards to something like faster-than-light travel, but one assumes the reader is mostly willing to roll with what you put out there. If you want trisexual, shape-shifting space vampires, you can have it. However, this is the time when the problem of background in the story can reverse. The issue becomes not a dearth of information, but a glut.

My newest release is an example of the battle between too much and not enough. Nothing Ventured is a m/m steampunk romance set in semi-Victorian London concerning an inventor and his latest creation, an entirely new type of airship. The ship is powered by the force of vacuum, of nothingness rather than helium or hydrogen. My scientist husband helped me look up historical references (that there actually are historical references to such a thing thrills me), and then proceeded to detail to me how it would work, draw me several pictures, and generally get me excited about the engineering of an airship that runs on nothing. I wrote my first draft, read through it again and wondered, “Um…is this a technical manual or an erotic romance?” Just because I liked learning about pulleys and winches doesn’t mean my readers will.

Finding the balance between too much and not enough can be a difficult thing, but I hope I struck it with this story. Nothing Ventured was released earlier this month along with three other novellas in the anthology Silver Wings, published by Phaze Books. You can find it here:

I valiantly struggle against the forces of oppression, circumstance and, you know, laziness to maintain my own blog at There are links to my work, free serial stories, and occasional rants in which I swear I’m going for humor. Visit. Peruse. Follow me to the other bizarre places I like to invent. To Lisabet, who is not only delightful and generous but also seems to be the reigning queen of multitasking: you rock. Thank you for having me.

Bio: Cari Z is originally from Colorado, where she imagines it snowing with guilty pleasure. She and her husband currently live in Western Africa, where snow is so foreign that it defies the capacity of her poor French to describe. She’s been writing for many years, publishing for a few years and trying to get the hang of blogging and the like for less than a year, but it’s slowly coming together. She loves visitors, but she doesn’t expect you to fly all the way to Africa to see her. Come and visit her blog instead.

Excerpt from Nothing Ventured

The man insisted on watching the construction. It irritated Sean to no end. He wasn’t an engineer or a technician, he was a pilot, damn it, and he should bloody well restrict himself to that sphere. It didn’t help that he asked the technicians intelligent questions or stayed out of the way, either. As long as he was there Sean thought about him, and as long as he was thinking about him he couldn’t devote himself to thinking about the ship. So Sean ignored him as best he could until the man literally invaded his personal space one afternoon a week after the party.

“I’d like to see the specs,” he said without preamble, his soft drawl lengthening the vowels in an unfairly enticing way.

Sean glared at him. “What on earth could you get out of looking at those?”

“I might get an understandin’ of why this bird’s being built the way she is,” he replied, pausing to sip at a cup of coffee. Coffee, not tea, Sean noted. He must have brought it with him. “Doesn’t take a genius to figure out there’s a lot that’s different about her.”

Good thing, too, Sean longed to comment, but he managed to restrain himself. “I can explain to you everything you need to know, Mister Winters.”

“I want,” he said emphatically, “to see the specs. In the flesh, so to speak. Not secondhand, not even from you. You can answer any questions I have after I’ve taken a look. And it’s Nick, by the way.”

Sean flushed at the man’s confident, peremptory tones. He picked up the pages of blueprints lying on the drafting table and thrust them at Nicholas—he couldn’t think of the man as “Nick”—not even trying to hide his contempt as he said, “Good luck understanding them.”

“Thanks,” Nicholas said with a smile.

“Do keep in mind the privacy clauses in your contract—”

“I won’t go spoutin’ off about anything I see here, don’t worry.”

“Not that I expect you to make head or tails of what I’m building, but nevertheless—”

“You don’t listen real good, do you?” Taking another sip of his coffee, Nicholas turned and made his way back to his seat along the wall, looking over the blueprints as he did.

Sean watched him go, unable to tear his gaze away until Nicholas turned to sit, and then jerking hastily back down to his work. Unfair. It was unfair he should be able to distract Sean that way. Why couldn’t he be more like James? Portly, middle-aged, married and above all familiar James, who knew when his presence was required and when it wasn’t? James, whom he’d known since he was a first-year student, James who was comfortable and non-threatening and didn’t make Sean want to nuzzle his lips into the enticing space just behind his jaw…oh, bloody hell.

Mercifully, the blueprints seemed to occupy the American well enough for the next few hours, and Sean was finally able to concentrate. He was concentrating so hard, in fact, that he didn’t even realize that the time had slipped away from him until the growing darkness made him aware that he was working by lamplight now, not sunlight. Sean straightened up, twisting his neck to work the kinks out as he turned to examine the lab. He was alone again. The blueprints were folded neatly on his work table, and there was a plate of food and a cup of tea, now cold, sitting next to him on the floor. Sean mournfully examined the tea and then bit into the meat pie, which was still faintly warm.


Sean nearly choked on his food. He glared up at the American, who came slinking in out of the shadows like a wraith. Well, perhaps not slinking, but there was a certain sinuousness to his movements that was reminiscent of a cat, and he shouldn’t have been so quiet. It was rude not to give one some warning of one’s presence.

“Do you enjoy sneaking up on people, or is it simply a habit?”

“Hardly sneaking,” Nicholas said mildly as he came closer. He held two cups in his hands, both steaming. Without preamble he sat down on the floor next to Sean and handed him a cup. “One of the kids you’ve got workin’ here said this is how you liked it.”

“How I like what? Sneaking?”

“No.” There was a slight smile on the smug bastard’s face. “How you like your tea.”


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Cari!

Welcome to Beyond Romance!

I definitely know what you mean about steam punk and sci fi. It's a balancing act, trying to keep the characterization and plot going while still giving insight into the technology. I actually just finished and submitted a steam punk romance set in Victorian Bangkok. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Cari Z said...

Hi Lisabet

Thanks again for letting me blog here today, I appreciate it and you;)

I love steampunk and sci fi in particular because they give the writer the option to be a little more thorough with their technological explanations. I think readers expect it and aren't put off by it as much as with other genres. So long live steamy Victorian England, Bangkok and wherever else people get combine alternative history and steampunk style! There are so many options for creativity, I think the genre is only going to get better.


She said...

Silver Wings sounds good. I'm liking the steampunk books that are beginning to be written. Nice interview. Reading historical fiction gives me a glimpse into an era or event that I didn't know about or gives me a different viewpoint. It makes me curious to find out more.

Cari Z said...

That's part of the beauty of historical fiction to my mind. You can learn about a particular subject or time period from the author's perspective, but then you also have the option of going deeper if you're really interested. Thanks for reading!


Janice Seagraves said...

Good luck with the new release. I wish you many sales.

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