Thursday, 21 May 2009


I hit a slow period with my latest novel these past couple of weeks. This one is a big leap from my earlier efforts. Instead of genre fiction, it's mainstream fiction, or what some people call "literary" fiction, although I don't like that word because, like "patriotism", it's been so overused that it's become almost meaningless. Anyway, I've been struggling with this experiment in a new genre and a new voice.

When the writing gets tough, the writer goes to the library. One of my main characters is a fictional silent film star. He mostly acts in westerns next to Tom Mix, so I've been reading an excellent biography on Mix called, The Life and Legend of Tom Mix, written by one of his descendants. It's really gotten me into the feel of the era, while giving me lots of trivia to help with the writing. For example, to do the stunt shooting like blasting bottles off the bar, early actors made it easier on themselves by loading their revolvers with buckshot! That's too good not to go in somewhere.

Since I like to fuse my fictional characters as seamlessly as possible with real events, like I did with my last novel, this book helped me figure out just when my character starts working with Mix. It was remarkably easy, because many of the early Mix films are lost. Mix made more than 330 of them and none of his biographers are sure the filmography is even complete. Thus it's easy for me to give him a co-star and even make up movies without changing history too much!

So if you're having trouble with your novel, try doing some research with a notebook right next to you. You'll find yourself scribbling down notes, ideas, and eventually entire scenes.


Emma Newman said...

I think you're incredibly brave to delve into a new genre and a topic like this one. It's good advice - I'd like to offer a tuppence of suggesting going to a relevant location if possible. My book is set in post-apocalyptic London, with geographically accurate locations. In the early days of writing it I went to the locations, wondered around, felt the atmosphere that the building provided and imagined what it would be like if almost everyone else was dead.

I must sound like a complete loon, but really, despite the fact that it made me a little bit weird (I can't walk through those locations without seeing my dark future superimposed over them), it did give me lots of ideas and details like the ones you describe.

Sean McLachlan said...

Very good advice. Much of the book actually takes place in the modern day, following the story of the actor's great-grandson. He's in Oxford and London, where I am now, so at least that part benefits from on-site exploration.
As for the old stuff, I used to live in Arizona, so I can get the desert scenes, even though I'll have to use a lot of imagination for picturing them 90 years ago! I also bought several silent westerns from Grapevine Video to get into the feel of the era. I've seen a bunch already, but it never hurts to see more. They're fun too!

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.