Copyright 2012 by Paula S. Jordan
I have just submitted a new story to Analog (wish me luck!) that involves, among
other things, a Jeep, a large tub, a shotgun, and rock salt.
Why in the world would anyone want to research such everyday things? And particularly in a story involving aliens?
It’s a good question, and maybe most mainstream writers wouldn’t need to do much. But in SF and F we strive very hard for that ephemeral mental state, the willing suspension of disbelief, and it’s tough to ask the reader to swallow our more outlandish creations if we’re lazy about the everyday stuff.
My main character in this story is a small-time farmer in late middle-age, so most of his key farming gear dates from the 1970’s-‘80’s. Researching that not only lends the story authenticity, it informs me about him and his life.
So I picked out a Jeep from that era (a CJ-7, produced 1976-1983) that offered features the story required (a longer wheelbase than most models of the time, an extended hard top, running boards, and a hatch-mounted spare.) The story also required a large tub (I was thinking of an old-fashioned aluminum washtub) to fit in the back of this Jeep, and I assumed the larger space provided in this model would do the trick.
Later I began to think a little more about that tub. How big did it really need to be? How wide and how deep? Worked through that (settling on a present-day plastic tub used for watering cattle) and realized that my CJ-7 might not work. So I looked a few years ahead and settled on a Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler (1981 – 1986) with a still longer and wider wheelbase.
For the shotgun I picked a Mossberg model from the mid-1970’s, with acceptable pump-action reloading time, and a choke that could provide a tight strike pattern with buckshot. Shells loaded with rock salt also figured prominently in this regard, and I read LOTS of commentary about whether and how well rock salt actually works as ammunition, how you’d go about loading the shells, etc., etc.
The result? I feel confident in my accuracy and, though no reader will likely be aware of the source, I gained several useful tidbits for character development and plot improvement.
I also reduced the chance of hearing someday from a Jeep enthusiast that my tub would never fit into that Jeep!
P.S. I also did a LOT of research and development on the aliens. But that’s another post.