Mike Winchell is a veteran English teacher with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. The creator & editor of the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT anthology series, he lives in upstate New York with his wife and two children. You can find out more at www.mikewinchellbooks.com.
THE ELECTRIC WAR: EDISON, TESLA, WESTINGHOUSE, AND THE RACE TO LIGHT THE WORLD —In the mid-to-late-nineteenth century, a burgeoning science called electricity promised to shine new light on a rousing nation. Inventive and ambitious minds were hard at work. Soon that spark was fanned and given life, and a fiery war was under way to be the first to light—and run—the world with electricity. Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of direct current (DC), engaged in a brutal battle with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, the inventors of alternating current (AC). There would be no ties in this bout—only a winner and a loser. The prize: a nationwide monopoly in electric current. Brimming with action, suspense, and rich historical and biographical information about these inventors, here is the rousing account of one of the world’s defining scientific competitions.
How do you conduct your research? Do you have a specific system for collecting data?
I have a few stages when it comes to research. Initially, I read source material that’s readily available (that the average person can find), and I take notes on index cards (at this stage, I’m looking to see what the big picture ideas are related to my topics). I’ll jot details on one side of the index card with a citation included so I can find it again later on. As I do those first reads, I’ll look for things that keep coming up, like maybe one of the historical figures continually exhibits a character trait. In this way, development is coming through by way of my research. But I’m looking for a reason to write, or as Candace Fleming recently described it, I’m looking for the “vital idea” to my book.
After I have read a decent amount and know there’s something there (once I know there’s a compelling narrative to tell), I’ll begin to categorize the notes by writing the main ideas (categories) on the other side of the cards (this is where a character trait might be listed for those life experiences I’ve jotted down on the other side of the cards). I then turn to my giant bulletin boards that I hang on my office walls, and I start outlining in a big-picture manner so I can see the structure all around me. These bulletin boards will remain up until I am done with the book, so they’ll be up for a while. I’ll put big question marks on cards and tack them up (this tells me what I need to find out as I continue researching). Then I start looking for the information I lack—those question marks—in order to fill in the missing pieces and bring everything together. Cards will be moved, categories will be changed, and more question marks will be hung. When that bulletin board is complete, I start to look at the structure: Should I tell this in complete chronological order (which is rare)? Or should I play with the time structure, and if so, how am I doing this? The bulletin board will be shuffled around to put everything in order. This all makes the actual writing so much easier. The work I put in with the notes and the outlining really allows the writing itself to be a smooth process.
How did you come up with your system for researching and writing?
I have to give a lot of credit to Steve Sheinkin. You see, before I even started researching for my first book, I had read an interview where Steve mentioned that he used a big bulletin board and index cards. He didn’t detail the process, so I can’t tell you how close to his process mine is, but Sheinkin is definitely the inspiration for the process I came up with and have used effectively. So thanks, Steve!
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
I’ll usually spend a few months to a half year researching and plotting everything out before I start drafting.
What is your favorite thing about research?
I have a thirst for knowledge, so I soak up every drop of information like a sponge. With each detail I uncover, that thirst is satisfied more and more.
What’s your least favorite thing about research?
Since I write both fiction and nonfiction, when I’m at the research stage there are times when I just want to WRITE. I’ll catch myself envying the fiction author in me, and I’ll ask myself why I’m not writing a novel instead.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
Nikola Tesla ripped up his AC royalty contracts so that George Westinghouse could maintain control of the company and continue the vision they had of sharing AC with the world. As a result, Tesla died penniless, and essentially gave up millions of dollars.