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A Whole New World

One of the most common pieces of writing advice is “Write what you know.” I took a big risk and wrote about something I didn’t know, and my eyes and mind were opened.
| Oct 7, 2015 | 9 comments |

My apologies if you can’t get that song from Aladdin out of your head for the rest of the day.

This is going to sound knowledge-doublinglike a shameless plug, and it is, but please bear with me: my sixth novel, Beast, released late last month from The Crossover Alliance. It’s a disaster tale set aboard the world’s largest oil rig, nicknamed “The Beast.” My coauthor on this project is a real-life oil driller that I met online after hitting up several oil industry forums to solicit help for the book. I wanted the book and the setting to be larger than life but also grounded in reality. This was a challenging task, because I knew absolutely nothing about offshore oil drilling. Over the course of about one year, my coauthor and I conjured up a relentless, explosive story that takes place among some really outrageous machinery — a lot of which was real and some that was fabricated for the book, because every story needs a bit more pizzazz than reality can offer.

I didn’t want to rely solely on my coauthor to handle the technical stuff, because I was the main storyteller and I was going to have to carry my own weight. Therefore, I threw myself into the mind-boggling world of oil drilling. I watched documentaries, I read articles, I followed industry news reports, I memorized technical terms, I studied diagrams…and then I made it bigger, louder, faster, more dangerous. Beast dabbles in what I refer to as realistic sci-fi: near-future machinery set in our contemporary world, and it may even be possible; it just hasn’t been done yet. I felt out of my element the whole time I was writing, but by immersing myself in this macho world of mega-machinery, I was able to create devices and floorplans and events that my coauthor signed off on. If he gave his stamp of approval, I knew I had to be doing something right.

BEAST by Mark CarverThis book was the most difficult and challenging project I had worked on, but what I learned from the experience went way beyond the writing craft.

We all know that our world is dominated by oil. The fluctuating price of gasoline reminds us every day. The plastic keys that I’m typing on right now used to be some form of fossil fuel deep below the Earth’s surface. But what I never thought about was the human toll. Fortunately, fatal accidents are rare, but injuries are common, and these workers are cut off from their friends and family for weeks at a time, working 12-hour shifts for two weeks straight before getting a few days off to head back to dry land. Of course, they are compensated very well, but that doesn’t console a child who wonders where his father is on his birthday or a wife who freezes with fear when she sees the words “Offshore Oil Drilling Accident” on the scrolling news ticker on TV. It’s an intense job that is not for the faint of heart or body, and one that I no longer take for granted when I fill up my car at the gas station.

One of the most common pieces of writing advice is “Write what you know.” I took a big risk and wrote about something I didn’t know, and my eyes and mind were opened. By stepping out into this unfamiliar territory, I learned a lot and gained a deep respect for a world that I only knew in passing.

So how about you? Writers, did you feel compelled to write a story about something you knew nothing about, but grew to know and respect during the course of your writing? Readers, did you ever pick up a book about a subject that didn’t interest you or you weren’t familiar with, but that changed by the time you were finished? It doesn’t have to be something from the real world; the world of imagination can be just as real.

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Parker J. Cole
Member

Hi Mark,

I’m just itching to read this now. I’m trying to wait till I finish two of my writing projects!

I’m glad you stepped out and did something different. And the rewards are yours and the readers to pursue. I’m stepping out with my first fantasy right now and it’s pretty scary. I’m nervous readers will think I’m an idiot and they won’t like the story. Plus, I write romances so what am I doing trying to hang with speculative fiction big dawgs? But, taking a chance is the best part of writing…and life. Getting out of our comfort zones often lead us to a play we’d never imagine we’d be.

Jess Hanna
Guest

Hi Mark,

Great article! Your lack of oil drilling knowledge certainly did not translate into Beast. it all felt very real, and that is a testament to how you blended your research into a compelling adventure.

While I haven’t yet explored fantasy or straight up science fiction, I may very well do so one day. Fantasy may be easier because everything can be imagined while science fiction fans expect a certain level of realism. The most I can relate to this concept is moving my stories away from trying to convince the reader that monsters are real to assuming they already believe in them. That freedom cannot be taken for granted. Nothing is off limits if we have the drive and determination to stretch our imaginations.

Kessie Carroll
Member

The more I hear about your book, the more I want to read it! Initially I thought it was one more book about the end times. 🙂

I started writing a paranormal romance trilogy set in the California almond orchards. Since one of the story McGuffins was a strain of bees that collect magic and store it in their honey, it made sense to write about the single biggest gathering of bees in America–the February pilgrimage of thousands of beekeepers to California’s Central Valley. I got to research colony collapse, and how almonds are farmed, and how as bees die, the almond farmers are getting more and more desperate. Throw in vampires and liches, and by golly, it’s a darned good story.

Lisa
Guest

As I live in a town in Alberta where the majority of people depend on the oil industry for work, I see a lot of those consequences first-hand, especially the “oil wives” who are left at home for weeks at time, raising children and dealing with life while their husbands are away. I’m intrigued by your book, and looking forward to reading it!

My book took me to 7th century Northumbria (642 AD to be exact) and I have learned a whole lot of fascinating things about that era and the people who lived there, some of whom appear in my book. Along with the Fey, I mean, they kinda sneaked in (as they often do) so what can you do but set off on another round of research on the legends and stories surrounding them?