Write What You Know(?): How Reality Inspires Science Fiction by Jenny Martin

The fabulous Jenny Martin is here today! (Her debut, TRACKED, which I've heard amazing things about, will be released next May by Penguin Random House.) Her book has some fun, unique, fascinating elements that make her the perfect person to talk about how reality can inspire science fiction. Take it away, Jenny!

True confession: I’ve never raced a stock car. I’ve never tested a jetpack or blasted through folded space. I’ve never even taken a course on high speed intergalactic sports and interstellar geo-political conflict.

And yet…I’ve written about all these things. My upcoming debut, Tracked, is about Phee Van Zant, a spitfire street racer from another far future world, who faces down an empire. You might say I completely ignored the old adage…write what you know.

Or did I?

See, TRACKED isn’t just a wild, shot-in-the-dark yarn. Truthfully, I borrowed a whole lot of its heart and soul from my little world. And I’d bet that many science fiction and fantasy authors do the same, spinning speculative threads from their own reality.

Often, it happens naturally. You experience something, a memory drifts in, and bam—that something filters into your work. Other times, you seek out connections. You research a topic until a burst of inspiration becomes a major plot point. For me, it took a little bit of both—background and sleuthing—to get those jetpacks off the ground.

In building TRACKED’s world, I first relied on memories. Dressing up as a settler for a ‘land run’ in second grade. Watching oil derricks and roustabout workers. Sitting in Oklahoma history class. Taking field trips to Woodward’s Plains Indian and Pioneers museum. It all came back to me when I was writing Phee’s story. Suddenly, I understood the history of her planet. I realized exactly why racing became so important to Castra, and how it evolved over time. Those Earthborn ancestors who raced to claim land in a new galaxy? They weren’t so different from my ancestors, the daring, but not-always-noble Boomers and Sooners who settled my home state and later, discovered oil there.

But memories weren’t enough. I had a more than a world to build. I had to flesh out the specifics of Phee’s sport. What would it be like to street race in a futuristic vehicle? Would virtual reality come into play? What would that look like? Feel like? How would interstellar circuit rallies work?

To answer those questions, I visited nearby Texas Motor Speedway. I interviewed an amateur stock car driver and peeked under the hood of his car. I devoured sources like:

  • NASCAR, Rally and Formula One books, especially memoirs by racing superstars and veteran crew. (Despite the dubious title, Real Men Work in the Pits: A Life in NASCAR Racing by Jeff Hammond, is an awesome resource, BTW.)
  • Books and articles on futurist gaming and military technology and virtual reality. War Play: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict by Corey Mead is a great find, since it covers all three at once!
  •  Red Bulletin Magazine. Yep, you read that right. The energy drink empire publishes a magazine. And it’s awesome; an all-around incredible resource on extreme sports, technology, subculture, and futurism. In each issue, you’ll find features on high speed aeronautics, rally racing and other daredevil pursuits. The journalism and helpful info-graphics are truly stellar; I always come away with new info and ideas. Actually…forget I said that. Ignore Red Bulletin. Leave all that inspiration for me. ;) 

But seriously, I’d love to hear about your inspirations. Do you write sci fi or fantasy? How do you draw on real life experiences as you create new worlds?

Jenny Martin is a writer, librarian, and beatle-maniac. She lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with her husband and son, where she hoards books and blisses out to all kinds of live and recorded rock. Tracked, her debut, releases 5/05/15 from Dial, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


Anne said...

I don't write sci-fi or fantasy though I love to read them. My experiences though and those of other people inspire my writing.

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Janet B Taylor said...

I'm just in awe of the way you were able to mesh together memories from grade school with your incredible imagination--along with all that real-world research--and were able to come up with something as fantastically AWESOME as TRACKED!
It's on my "Can't WAIT" list!
You're a FABULOUS writer and (for those who don't already know) an even BETTER person.
Soo happy for you! :)