The Iron Maiden Blog Tour: Guest Post and Giveaway

Why Bother Researching a Fantasy Novel?

A lot of fantasy authors write perfectly good novels without doing any research – so what’s the point in doing it? Why bother?

I’m going to answer that question by telling you why I started doing research. Many years ago, I attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop, which requires you to walk away from your home and life in order to study, learn, and write full-time for 6 weeks. Some people quit their jobs so they can go to Clarion. Others leave spouses and/or children behind. It’s a huge commitment, and that’s the point. If you want to become a professional writer, you may face big choices and have to make big decisions during the course of your career.

My first week at Clarion was wonderful. I learned a lot from my first teacher, AJ Budrys, and I produced the best short story I’d ever written as a result. The next week I wrote a story that just didn’t feel right. I took it to that week’s teacher, Joe Haldeman, and told him I didn’t think it was worth putting through the workshop. I asked him to give it a quick once-over to confirm my suspicion. He did. I was right. My latest story was a flop. A complete and utter disaster that failed so spectacularly that it wasn’t even worth asking my fellow writers to waste their time critiquing it. I felt devastated. How could I have grown so much in Week 1 only to crash and burn in Week 2?

I lost my confidence. I began doubting myself. Had someone made a mistake admitting me to Clarion? All my classmates were so bright and clever – I reached a point where I felt I didn’t belong. I decided to quit and leave the program in the middle of the night without telling anyone. I turned out the lights in my room and pretended not to be there when my classmates came knocking at my door. Then I began feeling sorry for myself. It’s one of the biggest pity parties I’ve ever thrown, but it led me to a place where I felt so broken that I identified with paraplegics. I remembered a segment I’d seen on TV’s 60 Minutes about technology in the works that would someday help paraplegics walk again, and I realized that’s how I felt: I wanted the emotional equivalent of learning how to walk again. That’s when I got the idea that changed the course of my life: I came up with the idea of a quadriplegic learning to walk again with the aid of technology – but the mystery of the story would be how she became a quadriplegic.

Keeping the lights turned off in my room, I found paper and a pencil and wrote in the dark. The next morning I typed it up and kept working on the story. I finished by Week 3 and took it to my new teacher, Elizabeth Lynn, who saw how broken I felt. She encouraged me to workshop the story, and she talked about its strengths, along with my strengths as a writer. I felt like Humpty Dumpty, and Lizzy and my classmates helped me put myself back together again, which is something I’ve never forgotten. I wrote several short stories at Clarion. The first one to sell – which was my first pro sale – was the story about the quadriplegic. Now here’s where the research comes in.

I got two letters from readers, both paraplegics. They both said I got the emotions 100% right – in fact, one of them asked me if I’m a paraplegic because he didn’t see how I could understand unless I’d been through it myself. (I’m not. But I like to think of myself as an empath.) The other reader encouraged me to do research. He pointed out ways the story could have been better if I’d done my homework.

His letter changed my perspective. I thought long and hard about what he’d said and took it to heart. From that moment on, I did as much research as possible on short stories and novels. That doesn’t mean I always get it right – I make mistakes. And sometimes, especially with short stories, I have to decide when to stop doing research. In other words, how much research is enough? I depend on my gut instinct to answer that question.

But what I’ve found is that doing research has a tremendous impact on plot and characterization. It also helps me find specific details I can use to help my fantasy worlds come alive. Truth is so much stranger than fiction that the facts I uncover while I’m researching often spark my best ideas. So that’s one of the most important reasons why I do research when I write fantasy. It helps me come up with far better ideas than I could ever dream up on my own.

During this blog tour I’ll tell lots of stories about the research I’ve done for my Dragonslayer series. You can find out where I’m going next by checking my website (, checking my Facebook page (Resa Nelson & The Dragonslayer’s Sword), or following me on Twitter (ResaNelson).

If you’d like to sample my work for free, you can download a free "mini" ebook called "Dragonslayer Stories" from my website at No cost, no obligation, nothing to sign up for, no information gathering. I like giving away samples of my work so you can decide for yourself whether you like it or not.

If you do, you can enter to win a copy of the first two books in my series, which I’ll give away after the end of this tour. To enter, just send email to (I won’t keep your email address – this just makes it easier for me to keep track of entries.) I’m also doing a book giveaway on GoodReads, so you can enter to win there, too.

Resa Nelson’s 4-book Dragonslayer series:
Synopsis for The Dragonslayer’s Sword (Book 1)
For Astrid, a blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers, the emergence of a strange gemstone from her body sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to destroy her life. Her happiness is shattered when her lover--the dragonslayer--disappears without a trace, and the life that she knows and loves implodes without warning.

Astrid lives in a world of shapeshifters whose thoughts have the power to change not only themselves but others. Everything Astrid knows to be true is called into question when she learns the truth about her past and the mysterious family from which she was separated as a child.

Reality turns inside out as Astrid gradually learns the truth about the people she loves as well as those she disdains. With the fate of dragons, ghosts, and slaves in foreign lands resting on her shoulders, Astrid faces the challenge of deciding who she is and how she will stand up inside her own skin. Will she withdraw and hide from the world that has disappointed her so much...or will she rise to lead others to freedom and peace?
Synopsis for The Iron Maiden (Book 2)
Astrid is reluctant to travel the winter route beyond the Northlands, even though it’s her duty. She’d rather stay home in her village, surrounded by friends and neighbors. Ignoring the bonds of tradition, she decides to spend the cold winter months in the warmth of her blacksmithing shop. Why should she leave the comfort of her cottage to serve and protect foreigners who might raid and harm her native Northlands?

Everything changes when a traveling merchant steals Starlight, the first dragonslayer’s sword Astrid forged and her last link to her sweetheart DiStephan. Having no time to alert her friends, Astrid races in pursuit of the merchant, determined to reclaim Starlight as her own and return home in time for dinner. Instead, her quest leads her to new lands, unexpected friendships with foreigners, and a harrowing encounter with the damage done by the followers of a new god that considers women as nothing more than servants to men. All the while, she must be ready to face any dragon traveling the winter route.

In Book 2 of the Dragonslayer series, Astrid must learn that deciding who she is isn’t a decision she can make just once. It’s a decision she must make every day.

About The Author:
Resa Nelson has been selling fiction professionally since 1988. She is a longtime member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and is a graduate of the Clarion SF Workshop.

Resa was also the TV/Movie Columnist for Realms of Fantasy magazine for 13 years and was a contributor to SCI FI magazine. She has sold over 200 articles to magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Her first novel, The Dragonslayer’s Sword, was nominated for the Nebula Award, the highest honor in science fiction and fantasy. It was also a Finalist for the EPPIE Award. This medieval fantasy novel is based on a short story first published in the premiere issue of Science Fiction Age magazine and ranked 2nd in that magazine's first Readers Top Ten Poll. The Dragonslayer's Sword is Book 1 in a 4-book series. Book 2, The Iron Maiden, was recently published. Book 3 is scheduled for publication in Summer 2012.

Resa's standalone novel, Our Lady of the Absolute, is a fantasy/mystery/thriller about a modern-day society based on ancient Egypt. Midwest Book Review gave this book a 5-star review, calling it "a riveting fantasy, very highly recommended."

In real life, Resa is a fan of chocolate, travel, summer, museums, ballet, movies, and Broadway musicals (her favorites are Les Miserables and Wicked). She lives in Massachusetts.

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  1. I would love to attend Clarion, but as I live in the UK, it's a bit tricky. A great, insightful post. Thanks for sharing!