Friday, August 25

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, August 25, 2017 2 comments
by guest author J. Grace Pennington

I chose science-fiction as my primary genre for many reasons, but one among many was the delightful fact that it limits the need for research.

Of course, ideally, if I wanted to do the most minimal amount of research, I would have gone with fantasy.  Fantasy is, by nature, supernatural.  As long as you stick to your own rules, you can do pretty much anything you want.  Since sci-fi is scientific, it does require a certain degree of knowledge—how things work in general—so that you can have at least some plausible basis for your technological advances.  But still, who's to say what the world will or won't be like in three hundred years?  Who can tell what the landscape of other planets may be?  You can't prove that we won't have starships in the twenty-fourth century, nor can anyone predict how exactly they will be run!

So for the first four books in my Firmament series, I blithely wrote along, amusing myself with the occasional scientific and medical research I needed to write with at least some believability.  After all, I love physiology, and all science is pretty cool, so it was something I could live with.

Then came book five, Gestern.

I want to keep the series moving—keep things fresh, keep the characters growing, force them outside their comfort zones.  Books one, three, and four all take place on the ship.  In book two, I did let them explore an alien planet, but for this installment, I decided to take them to the strangest new world of all:  Earth.

And in the first draft I went about things as usual, writing along my merry way.  Very minimal research.  They're out in the woods and in cities, not on a starship!

Then I started to look at the book for its second draft and realized I'd made a huge mistake.  I had set this story on Earth.  Which meant there were actual things I had to study.  Because Earth is real.  The geography and topography of Austria aren't theoretical—anyone can go there, or even just pull up a map and prove me wrong.

Enter Google Earth and Wikipedia.

I had to dive headfirst into calculating just how long it would take Andi and August to get from A to B.  I had to figure out just what locations A and B were.  And then I had to fit all of that into the plot somehow.  Google Earth became my best friend during this time.  I spent hours perusing the Austrian forests, cities, and fields via satellite images, finding new places for my characters to go.  I found an actual castle to base my castle ruins on, and I learned as much about it as the internet would show me.  I learned what kinds of animals would be native to the places they go and incorporated some into the story.  And then to top it all off, I realized I would have to calculate time zones between where they were, and where their friends were back in the United States!

And all of it had to be fit into the story.  I had to mold the plot and timelines to match what I learned.  I had to move people from one location to another several times.

And in the midst of it, I subconsciously went on the same journey I sent Andi on—a voyage outside of my comfort zone.  Away from easy daydreams and pure imagination and down to the ground to meet hard, unmoving facts.

And in the process, I learned.  I grew.  I'm a little less afraid of research and of the limitations on my creativity—and Andi is a little less afraid of growing up.

About the author

J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them down since age five.  Now she lives in the great state of Texas, where she writes as much as adult life permits.  When she's not writing she enjoys reading good books, having adventures with her husband, and looking up at the stars.

About the book

science fiction

You never escape your past

Andi Lloyd is more comfortable than most with interstellar travel, but she's not prepared for the perils and peculiarities of a world she has all but forgotten—the planet Earth. As the Surveyor undergoes repairs, her brother August receives a message with news that will send both of them across the world to a place he never wanted to visit again.

Neither of them are prepared to be thrust into a world of political intrigue amid the tangled forests and crumbling ruins of Austria. They aren't prepared to encounter wild animals and endure cross-country hikes.  And they definitely aren't prepared to face it all alone.

But despite the dangers they must press on into the unknown to find a way to save Andi's life, to decide the fate of Earth itself—and to rescue a lonely girl who just happens to be their little sister.

Find it on Amazon


J. Grace Pennington is offering three great giveaway prizes! One is the CD she listened to while she wrote Gestern. The other two are a signed paperback of the winner’s choice. You can enter here: 

Tour schedule

August 25
Frances Hoelsma – Excerpt
shout outs – Book Spotlight
Laurel's Leaves – Guest Post
The Destiny of One – Review

August 26
Jaye L. Knight– Excerpt

August 27
Kelsey's Notebook – Book Spotlight
Claire Banschbach– Excerpt

August 28
Rachel Rossano's Words – Guest Post
Rebekah Lyn Books – Character Interview

August 29
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner

Q4U: Are there genres or aspects of fiction writing that, like Grace, you've avoided as outside your comfort zone? What encouragement do you take from her example?


  1. Writing about things on Earth or in the near futures is the hardest. Readers know about Earth and think about the near future on their own, so your writing must be convincing to them.

  2. Every time I start a new story I swear I'm going to write what I know and not have to research, you know, 15th Century travel, or popular songs in the summer of 1914, or what have you. And every time the story starts, the characters go places and do things that I never expected, and suddenly I'm looking up how to sabotage a car and whether you can fly to Inverness in the evening from Heathrow or Gatwick, and... :-)