For me, researching a novel usually involves dredging Google, clicking through Wikipedia to follow the rabbit hole wherever it might lead, or watching television. (Mock if you must, but there’s a lot to be learned from prime time drama.)
And sometimes, research can be as simple as asking the right person the right question.
|Kiev (via Picture Ninja)|
The scene I’m working on has one of my lead characters on a treadmill. During her workout, she stares at a framed poster on the wall in front of her. My intention is to tie the picture into a setting later on the novel (or series), and in the initial draft, the image was of Kiev’s (Ukraine) skyline, with Minsk’s (Belarus) as a second possibility.
|Minsk (via Svoy Krug)|
At this point, I took a step back. As I’ve mentioned before, “Virgo” takes place in an alternate universe. I set points of divergence from our history months ago, so whatever city I use for Delilah’s poster, it has to be appropriate to the altered universe, not ours, so reading the Wikipedia page of either city isn’t really going to work.
Fortunately for me, I happened to know a very intelligent person who lives in Belarus. What follows is a short conversation that derailed my Kiev/Minsk plans before they got started.
Me: I’m toying with the idea of incorporating an Eastern European city into my new story…that may be a series. It’s very loose at the moment. If I used it, it wouldn’t be until book 2, but either way I have to drop a hint in at the beginning of 1. (It’s just how I roll.) I’m thinking Kiev or Minsk.
Anyhow, I was wondering how Belarus might be different today had the Nazis not invaded Russia during WW2, and the Cold War didn’t happen. The story involves both scenarios, in addition to other key historical changes.
Ivan: Hmm, an intriguing question. We here usually ask ourselves what would have happened if the Nazis had conquered the USSR.
Never considered the question you ask though 🙂
Well, I think the Iron Curtain would’ve never fallen and we’d live in isolation from the rest of the world.
But the USSR had so much territory someone was bound to try and conquer the country.
I’m not sure if I answered your question, if no, let me know 🙂
Me: Very interesting. The story uses the Nazis-attack-Turkey route. They gain control of the Black Sea oil, which has been argued would have guaranteed their win. Attacking Russia is where they screwed up, but…hmm, if the Iron Curtain doesn’t fall, that changes its usability for my story. Shit, I’m so glad I asked you!
Maybe I’ll use Mexico City. Or Madrid. Or…
Ivan: It’s only a conjecture, Wendy. I don’t know what would’ve happened if there hadn’t been wars. It’ll probably be better for you to choose a different location, but if you decide to take Minsk I’ll try to help you when necessary 🙂
Me: Right. I hear you. I don’t like the scenarios I’d have to think through…a reason for the Iron Curtain falling, or a reason for my characters going to the Soviet Union. After giving it some thought, they wouldn’t, so it’s down with the Curtain, which begs for Nazi invasion of Russia, just later. I didn’t pick a Western European capital because I didn’t want to deal much with Nazis. Mexico City’s looking better and better.
Thanks so much. You really helped me out! All of this was to decide which city’s skyline is framed on my MC’s living room wall. *sigh* I have issues.
Ivan: That’s quite an important point so it’s good you decided to pick one city 🙂
Back to Delilah’s poster, my heart isn’t in Mexico City. Then I read a news article while I was at work about Guadalajara being Mexico’s “Silicon Valley.” The country is putting billions into nurturing tech sector start-ups, making it just the kind of place where underground raves would feel right at home. Of course, no discussion of 21st century Mexico would be complete without addressing its drug cartels, BUT…as I mentioned earlier, this is an alternate universe.
Guadalajara is known for being a clean, peaceful city for much of its history. It’s only recently that it’s seen the kind of violence that is tearing apart the border towns of Mexico. The reason for this is Guadalajara is the home of several leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, and the city benefited from those men liking their home clean and quiet.
Then came 1999. The leader of the Gulf cartel formed a military arm to protect him from rival cartels and the Mexican military. In 2002, they became known as Los Zetas, and after the leader’s extradition to the US in 2007, the group took a greater leadership role in the Gulf Cartel’s operation. In 2010, Gulf and Los Zetas parted ways, and it’s the Zetas that are wreaking havoc in Guadalajara. Why is this important to my story?
Alternate universe, remember. The Zetas are such a recent development in Mexico’s history. I change one thing and they don’t split from the Gulf cartel. I change one more, and they don’t get created at all. That certainly sounds better to me than rewriting the fall of Soviet Russia so I can put Kiev or Minsk on a poster.