Research rabbit hole

The evidence shows that I enjoy research more than the actual writing. Today’s writing session is an instructive example.

My story takes place in 1911, and at the beginning of my writing session today I set up the situation where my main characters have to track down Nikola Tesla. But how would they look up his address?

A Google search for “New York telephone directory 1911” led me to the NYPL’s online copy of Trow’s general directory of the boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, city of New York, whose 1911 edition was 3790 pages long. On page 2300 or thereabouts I found this listing:

Tesla Electro-Therapeutic Co 111 Bway #901
— Nikola elec eng 202 Metropolitan tower in The Waldof-Astoria
— Ozone Co 111 Bway #901

No visible phone number, though there is a smudge after “The Waldorf-Astoria” which might possibly be a two-digit number. But my characters’ cheap hotel would not likely have this monster phone directory (which was printed in multiple volumes, likely at least 8). So maybe they would have to go to the library to look it up?

Well, as it happens, this scene takes place on May 16, 1911 (nailed down by a newspaper story about Tesla) and the NYPL’s current location (at 476 5th Ave, just a few blocks from their hotel) had its grand opening on May 23, 1911, so it’s not clear whether they would have found it open yet. Even if the new building was open, the directory might still be at one of the libraries it replaced, the Astor Library at 425 Lafayette Street (which closed to readers on April 15, 1911 and is now, as it happens, the Public Theatre) or the Lenox Library at Fifth Avenue between 70th (which was demolished in 1912; I haven’t found a specific closing date).

I really don’t want to send my characters running all over NYC — the Astor is about four miles south of their hotel, the Lenox about four miles north — in search of a phone directory, only to have them fail to find one. Or do I? “If your hero needs to get out of town fast, steal his car.” It’s also crunchy historical detail, which I for one find fascinating.

And how would they cover those distances? The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (subways and elevated trains) was up and running in 1911 and had a five cent fare (I think — fares were limited to five cents by the Dual Contracts which merged the IRT and BRT in 1913). I really do need to scan in the 1911 New York guidebook I found on eBay.

Or could the hotel’s telephone operator call Central and get the info from them? “Hello Central” was definitely a thing in 1911; “Hello Central, Give Me Heaven” was a popular Tin Pan Alley song first published in 1901. But would the telephone operator have given out that info? Maybe not Hello Central, but “Hello Information” definitely existed and might very well have been able to provide it.

The end result of all today’s researches: “Our first stop was at the front desk. The clerk there asked the hotel telephone operator. She vanished into a back room, then returned a few minutes later with a piece of paper on which were written two addresses: the Tesla Electro-Therapeutic Co at 111 Broadway, and Nikola Tesla, Electrical Engineer, at the Waldof-Astoria.”

Net 54 words for the day. Jeez. But I had fun!

David’s Index for 2021

Novel words written: 15,899
Short fiction words written: 15,175
Notes, outline, and synopsis words written: 165,870
Blog words written: 5,562
Total words written: 202,506
Novella words edited out: 11,656
Net words written: 190,850

New stories written: 2

Short fiction submissions sent: 8
Responses received: 6
Rejections: 4
Acceptances: 2
Other sales: 1 (reprint)
Awaiting response: 2

Short stories published: 5 (2 pro, 3 reprint)

Novel submissions: 11
Rejections: 8
Acceptances: 0
Awaiting response: 3

Collection submissions: 1
Rejections: 0
Acceptances: 0
Awaiting response: 1

Happy new year!

Before you take your 2022 Camry through a car wash…

If you, like me, have a brand new 2022 Toytota Camry Hybrid and would like to keep it clean and shiny, be aware that it has a Pre-Collision System that will FREAK THE F–K OUT at the onslaught of brushes, soap, and water that is an automatic car wash.

Here’s how you disable the Pre-Collision System on the 2022 Camry before going through a car wash:

  1. Press ⬇️ on steering wheel left side until “gear” icon is selected
  2. Press ➡️ to select “crash” icon
  3. Press and hold 🆗 to change settings
  4. With “PCS” selected, press 🆗 to turn it off

To turn PCS back on, repeat the above steps, or just turn the car off and on again.

Please note that this is likely true of many other newer cars with collision avoidance systems or automatic windshield wipers, though the procedure for disabling them will vary from car to car. See your car’s documentation for details.

Virtual Book Launch for Dispatches from Anarres Nov 18

I have a reprint story in Dispatches From Anarres, an anthology of Ursula K. Le Guin inspired fiction by Portland area writers, and I just learned that it is a “Powell’s pick of the season.” I’ll be appearing at the Virtual Book Launch, hosted by Powell’s, on November 18th at 5PM PST. Register here:

“Best-Laid Plans” published at Clarkesworld

I am very pleased to report that my short story “Best-Laid Plans” has just been published at Clarkesworld!

This story started at one of the “Idea to Outline in an Hour” workshops I present at science fiction conventions and writers’ workshops. In this workshop I walk the participants through a series of fifteen questions, which I originally got from my instructor Pat Murphy at Clarion West, which I have found reliably guide me from a vague idea to something with characters, setting, and structure that I can actually begin writing.

This particular workshop was at the Foolscap convention in September 2012, and in this case I started with the two-word idea “Space Mice!” and worked through the exercise right along with the participants. I don’t always do that, but in this case I did, and the outline I wound up with struck me as perhaps worth pursuing. But I didn’t get to it right away. In fact, it remained in a folder on my hard disk for over eight years.

As you may know, my wife Kate Yule was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after I sold my first novel, Arabella of Mars, in 2014. I managed to finish the Arabella trilogy during her illness and death, but I didn’t have much energy left over for short stories. After turning in the third and final Arabella book, I started in on a new novel… but between grief, post-trilogy syndrome, a medical crisis of my own, and a global pandemic I didn’t finish it until late 2020. It wasn’t until February 2021 that I started to consider writing short stories again.

I’d been thinking for some time that the “space mice” idea I’d worked up back in 2012 felt like something compact, self-contained, and fairly lightweight, a good candidate for getting back on the short story horse. So on February 25 I started in on writing it, and by March 14 I had a draft. I sent it off to a couple of friends for their feedback, then after a few small revisions submitted it to Clarkesworld on March 29. On April 10 it was accepted, and after a few more small revisions it was published on May 1. That’s about the fastest I have ever gone from idea to publication! I hope you enjoy it.

The ebook and podcast are also available from Amazon, iTunes, and many other places.

The Forces of Light vs. the Cardboard Dark Lord

My body is a battlefield right now, on which the Forces of Light are combating… not the Dark Lord, but a cardboard cutout of the Dark Lord based on a portrait sent by my friends at Moderna. But though the adversary is fake, the battle is real, and I’m feeling it. Fever, body aches, lethargy. It’s not that bad, though, and it will pass soon. And when it has… I will have a standing army who know and hate that guy’s face.

Flights of Foundry this weekend

I will be at the Flights of Foundry virtual convention this weekend (April 16-18, 2021)! It’s pay-what-you-will and open to all!

Look for me at the following events:

  • Writing Contest Winner Showcase (Fri 6pm PST)
  • Surviving Your Debut (Sat 7pm PST)
  • Outline in an Hour workshop [FULL] (Sat 8pm PST)
  • Author Pro-Class: Considerations for Rising and Professional-tier Creatives (Sun 9am PST)
  • David D. Levine – Reading (Sun 4:30pm PST)