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Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Blogger Donn Taylor and Deadly Additive

Donn and I met a few years ago, and we've managed to connect a few times at the annual ACFW conference. Not only does he write poetry along with his fiction novels, but he has a notable past career as one of our amazing military veterans who has sacrificed his time and safety to keep us safe here in America. Thank you, Donn!


DONN TAYLOR led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he completed a PhD degree at The University of Texas and taught English literature (especially Renaissance) at two liberal arts colleges. His novels The Lazarus File and Rhapsody in Red have received excellent reviews, and he has also authored Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. His new book is another suspense novel, Deadly Additive. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences such as Glorieta and Blue Ridge. He and his wife live near Houston, Texas, where he continues to write fiction, poetry, and articles on current topics.

by Donn Taylor
Published by HarbourLight (Pelican Book Group)


To soldier-of-fortune Jeb Sledge, the assignment seemed simple: Rescue an heiress and her journalist friend from Colombian guerrillas and collect a sizable paycheck for his troubles. But things rarely go as planned. After stumbling upon a mass of dead bodies, Kristin Halvorsen isn't about to leave Colombia without the proof she needs for the story of a lifetime, and Sledge soon finds himself ensnared in a chemical weapons conspiracy that involves civilians, guerillas and high-ranking government officials. But neutralizing the factory isn’t enough. Where are the weapons that have already been fabricated? Who are the intended targets? How potent and far-reaching are the effects? A pursuit through South America, the U.S. and Caribbean embroils Sledge and Kristin in a mission to prevent a catastrophic attack—and leaves Sledge fighting to save both their lives.

Readers, buy your copy of Deadly Additive today!


Pleasures of Research, Often Unexpected

One of the joys of fiction writing is the research one does to make sure that the writing is accurate. Some of this comes through to the reader through settings that have the ring of truth and through avoidance of anachronisms and other errors. But for the writer—or for any other researcher—much of the pleasure comes from things that may not make their way into the completed manuscript. This pleasure comes from discovery of some odd truth one would never have suspected when he began his research. Once in a while, though, such a discovery leads to an entirely new project.

Such was the case with the journalist Ronald Downing back in the mid-1950s. His London newspaper had him researching the yeti, the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. His research led him to an obscure Polish refugee, living in England, who was said to have actually seen those strange creatures. The first interview revealed a story more remarkable than the yeti, and other interviews over the next year produced an equally remarkable book.

When the Germans and Soviets invaded Poland in 1939, the Soviets arrested Slavomir Rawicz, a young lieutenant of Polish cavalry. He was one of the lucky ones. Instead of being summarily executed, he was tried, sentenced, and eventually sent to a Soviet labor camp some 200 miles southwest of Yakutsk, in Siberia. He and six other prisoners escaped from there and walked—yes, walked—south past Lake Baikal, through the Gobi Desert and China, through Tibet into Nepal and eventually into English hands. Several died along the way. And in the Himalayas the survivors did see, in passing, creatures resembling the fabled yeti.

Thus what had begun for Ronald Downing as one project became an entirely different one, and he told Slovomir Ravicz’ story in a book titled The Long Walk (The Lyons Press, 1956, 1997). It is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read, and I revisit it every few years.

My own adventures in research have been less dramatic, but also filled with unexpected discoveries. For The Lazarus File, a novel of spies and airplanes in Colombia and the Caribbean, I spent hours researching the Colombian terrain and weather. Somewhere in there I stumbled onto the photograph of a lone house on top of a barren hill. The image stayed with me and eventually grew into one of the chief features of my fictional landscape, one that recurred throughout the novel.

In researching my latest novel, Deadly Additive, I was surprised to learn that during the 1980s, then-communist Nicaragua’s airline was largely owned by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and that Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas were tutored by the Abu Nidal terrorist organization.

There is also satisfaction in research that prevents embarrassing errors. Some years ago, my critique group had a good laugh over a novel whose protagonist drove west out of Houston, Texas, and found himself immediately in the desert. (Five hundred miles of prairie and Texas Hill Country had apparently disappeared from the earth.) A quick glance at any atlas or encyclopedia would have saved the author that error.

I came close to making the same kind of error in The Lazarus File. The story told of several detailed flights in the Douglas DC-3 aircraft, one of the most common aircraft used by drug smugglers. I remembered an old movie in which James Stewart looked out the pilot’s window of a DC-3 to see if his gear was down, and I thought that might be a good detail to add. But caution prevailed. I managed to track down a flyable DC-3, talk with the pilot, photograph the instrument panel, and sit in the pilot’s seat. Lo and behold! The landing gear was not visible from the pilot’s seat. That incident also taught me never to use a movie as a research source.

I’ve been talking about research from a writer’s viewpoint, but anyone can enjoy the pleasures of research, and it doesn’t have to be writing-related. There is a certain satisfaction in just finding facts like, for instance, that Texarkana, Texas, is closer to Chicago than it is to El Paso, or that President John Kennedy’s 1961 use of the term West Berlin with Premier Khrushchev (instead of simply “Berlin”) convinced the Soviet leader he could do as he pleased in East Berlin. And there is satisfaction in learning, while the Soviet archives were actually open, the truth about questions Cold War historians had argued over for years. (See, for example, John Lewis Gaddis’s We Now Know.)

Research does provide deep pleasure, but superficial research contains a danger voiced long ago by the poet Alexander Pope:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

In our researches, either for writing or for pleasure, let us all drink deeply and avoid the embarrassment caused by shallow draughts.

* * * * *

Thank you, Donn, for sharing with us today.

Reader Question: Most of us have done research in school or business, or just to satisfy our curiosity. What is your most pleasurable find in research?

ENTRY RULES Readers, leave your email address (name at domainname dot com/net) along with your answer to the question for your chance to win a free autographed copy of the book featured above. If you do not answer the question, and your email address isn't provided, you will not be entered.

This week, the contest is open to anyone worldwide.


Sadie and Sophie said...

We have Marc McCutcheon's Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800's. In his acknowledgments, he thanks his young daughter for being the best little research assistant; and his wife for being the keeper of the best little research assistant LOL. The book has been a God-send, and hopefully keeps the error out of our Civil War era books.

Donn Taylor said...

These guides are good, though it's best not to depend on single sources for matters important to your narrative. The exception is for works that are recognized as the definitive work in that research field.

Janalyn Voigt, escape into creative worlds of fiction. said...

The wise writer will err on the side of caution, as you suggest. It's all too easy to make a mistake even when you're trying not to. Thanks for sharing from your experience, Donn.

Clare Revell said...

Lovely post :)I read a novel once set in my home town, where the protagonist turned out of the university and into a street 5 miles away. Wish I knew that shortcut ;-)

Best research I ever did was a visit to a lifeboat station, where I picked up all kinds of stories which made my hero more real and gave me a lot of background information which seeped into the novel itself.

telsiacharis at yahoo dot co dot uk

Amy C said...

I'm a genealogy nut. I've found many many great finds during research. My Irish grandmother was a first cousin to Woodrow Wilson. I'm a descendant of General Anthony Wayne. Also, the first colonial governor of VA. I could go on and on.
Campbellamyd at gmail dot com

Liz Flaherty said...

I wanted to write a historical romance just because, after all, I liked history in high school. The interurban train went through my grandparents' front yard, so I went to study up and became so fascinated by the county history that I got stuck in 1875 and never made it to the interurban. I only wrote the one historical romance (HOME TO SINGING TREES), but I loved the writing of it AND the research.

I love your titles, BTW. And, from the wife of a Vietnam vet, thank you for your service.

Donn Taylor said...

Thank you Janalyn, Clare, Amy, and Liz. And thank you, Liz, for your husband's service and yours. Yes, military wives preserve the values their husbands are defending. They often have the tougher job.

Southern-fried Fiction said...

Great article, Donn. I love the research process, but then I enjoy always learning new things. :)

Cheryl said...

Superb post. I think I enjoy research more than writing some days. :) I've researched so much, it would be hard for me to pin down exactly one thing that sticks out to me. What I have discovered, however, is that your local librarian is one of the best resources a writer can have.

I've been working on two projects: one set partially at Wheaton Female Seminary in Norton, MA, and the other in Colorado Springs and Florissant, CO in 1876. Internet research has led me to memoirs and other resource material that our librarian has helped me track down. The children's librarian helped me with market research for two of my other projects.

Your book sounds fabulous.

Wishing you a blessed week,



Lyndie Blevins said...

I like traveling to research - I love going somewhere new.

squiresj said...

My most pleasure find is new books contests to enter so I can find new books and review them and share them. I love finding new authors to connect to.
jrs362 at hotmail dot com

jude urbanski said...

Donn, appreciated your post. Have read The Long Walk, which made me pull out an atlas. Your books sound good. Love history.

Donn Taylor said...

Thank you Ane, Cheryl, Lyndie, Squiresj, and Jude. Yes, The Long Walk took me to the atlas, too. And more. During a break in a military joint staff meeting years ago, I got caught tracing the route with my finger on a wall-size map of Europe and Asia. You can believe that started a few rumors.

Beverly Varnado said...

Donn, I enjoyed hearing from you as always. I, too, love the unexpected gems we mine during research. Such gifts!! Many thanks, Bev