Sara Grant: “One Writer’s Cautionary Tale (The Stupid Things Writers Do in the Name of Research)” – Half Lives Blog Tour Guest Post

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Today we are thrilled to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for Half Lives by Sara Grant. Sara stops by with a guest post — plus read the first chapter from Half Lives and enter to win a copy of the book! All of these goodies are below, so keep reading!

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One Writer’s Cautionary Tale
(The Stupid Things Writers Do in the Name of Research)
by Sara Grant

half lives final coverHalf Lives is two stories twisted and tangled together – one set pre- and the other years after an apocalyptic event. Icie is a typical teenager, until disaster strikes. Her only hope of survival is escaping to a top-secret mountain bunker. Hundreds of years later, 18-year-old Beckett leads a cult that worships a sacred mountain. But Beckett and his beliefs are under attack. Icie and Beckett must fight to survive. They are separated by time but connected by a dangerous secret that both must protect at any cost.

In November 2009, my editor at Little, Brown sent me a link to an article on’s Culture Gabfest. The article was titled “Atomic Priesthoods, Thorn Landscapes, and Munchian Pictograms: How to communicate the dangers of nuclear waste to future civilizations.” Chuckwalla over Las VegasIt discussed how a US Department of Energy panel planned to label the site of an underground nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. She thought this might be the spark for a teen novel. And she was right. Despite its scientific beginnings, at its heart Half Lives is a story of love, survival and faith.

Initially I did the normal kind of research to develop my story. I read books and web sites and interviewed experts. In Half Lives a fictional mountain on the outskirts in Nevada plays a pivotal role in Icie and Beckett’s stories. I thought I needed to do some hands on exploration to add texture and color to my setting. And this is where my research went from normal to downright stupid.

Las Vegas SunsetI found a wonderful web site about hiking in Nevada and decided to contact the web site’s expert. And as you do – NOT – asked if he would be willing to take me hiking.

After a few email exchanges, he agreed. We set a date for when I was on vacation in Las Vegas. It wasn’t until the night before my hiking excursion that I begin to question my sanity. I was heading into the desert with a complete stranger. I’ve watched enough episodes of “CSI” to know that Vegas had more than its fair share of crazies. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. The next morning, I made my husband come with me to meet my guide. I made him swear that if the guy looked or acted too weird he would demand that I stay at the hotel with him. (I’m from the Midwest and I couldn’t be rude – not even to a psychopath.)

Jim & Liz
Jim & Liz

Funny thing was … my guide had the same last-minute concerns. He made his wife come along. After reading my web site and a synopsis for my dark dystopian thriller Dark Parties, HE was concerned that I might go a little CSI on him.

I spent an amazing day hiking the mountains of Las Vegas with Jim and Liz Boone. They carted me around, up and down mountains on the east and west sides of Vegas. They were the most lovely people and proved to be a wealth of information on the geography, geology, phytology, and zoology of the area. I also discovered that Jim had worked on the Yucca Mountain Project. What are the odds? He really was my perfect internet research match. I can’t thank him enough for answering all my questions.

Las Vegas TripThis research proved invaluable to my story. Immersing yourself in your setting really brings it to life. You can’t get the same details from Wikipedia and Google Earth.

My tale of extreme research could have ended differently – with my face plastered on a MISSING poster instead of the back flap of a book. My advice to others: safety first, research second. Do your research, but don’t agree to meet up in a desert with random strangers. It’s generally not a good idea. (But I’m glad I did.)

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Sara Grant_R1Sara is an author of fiction for teens and younger readers and freelance editor of series fiction. She has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her new novel for teens – titled Half Lives – is an apocalyptic thriller. She also writes Magic Trix, a fun, magical series for younger readers – available in the UK.

Sara was born and raised in a small town in the Midwestern United States. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She lives in London. @authorsaragrant

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Read the first chapter of Half Lives for free, courtesy of Little Brown. And thanks to LB, enter to win a copy of the book, too:

Fill out the Novel Novice + Half Lives Contest Entry Form for your chance to win a finished copies. Two (2) winners will be chosen at random, but there are a few rules:

  • U.S. only
  • One entry per person
  • All entries due by midnight (PT) on Monday, July 15th.

Questions? Leave ’em in the comments & we’ll reply!

2 thoughts on “Sara Grant: “One Writer’s Cautionary Tale (The Stupid Things Writers Do in the Name of Research)” – Half Lives Blog Tour Guest Post

Add yours

  1. What a unique post! I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially because it touched on something basic that never seems to be part of writer conversations–safety. We all want to write the most realistic fiction possible, but we have to be aware of the limits and everyday cautions that should be observed in the process. If I wanted to write a passage about my main character falling down the side of a ravine and landing on the rocks at the bottom, I wouldn’t try the experience myself first to get the accurate sensory details! That’s where my imagination would come in.
    Great message, Sara! And awesome premise for a book. I just put it at the top of my “To Read” list.

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