Guest Post: How Doing Research is a Twist on “Write What You Know” by Resa Nelson

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.

Links: Webiste | Twitter | Facebook
(Free “mini” ebook of Dragonslayer short stories)

How Doing Research is a Twist on “Write What You Know”  
by Resa Nelson

My research for my 4-book Dragonslayer series began with library research – thank goodness for interlibrary loan! Because my knowledge of history is weak, I read history books for months, beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire and ending with the Renaissance. That gave me a framework I could use as a model for the fantasy world I created, as well as making it easier for me to visualize that world. Because I’m a longtime fan of the Viking era, I decided to model my fantasy world on the beginning of the Viking era. I relied not only on the books I’ve collected over the years about Vikings but on my own memories, photographs, and experiences.
One of the things I love most is travel. My favorite thing to do is travel to a country where an ancient culture existed (ancient Egyptians, Mayans, Aztecs, Incans, etc.) and explore the ruins. But because I’m a writer, I also travel to do research. Many years before I decided to write the Dragonslayer series, I knew that someday I’d want to write something inspired by Viking culture. One year I went to Iceland after reading some of the Icelandic sagas. (If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend them – although they’re short on characterization, they’re full of action and adventure.)

When I go on a research trip, I take a blank journal and spend about an hour or two at the end of each day writing about everything I did and saw during the day, everything I learned, and ideas for novels or short stories. While in Iceland, I spent a few days in Reykjavik and had the wonderful experience of doing research in the university library, thanks to the splendid and generous help of the librarians. I was able to access specific documents with English translations. There were specific things I learned in Iceland that I couldn’t forget. They stayed in my heart like a really good book or great character. Many years later when I was trying to figure out the story for my first novel (The Dragonslayer’s Sword), the things I’d experienced and learned in Iceland came rushing back to me one day. They inspired me while I was creating the plot of my novel. When I thought about how the plot would affect my main character, I literally started crying. I thought, No! How can I do such horrible things to Astrid! That’s when I knew I’d figured out a novel that was worth writing.

A few years after my Iceland trip, I went on another trip that began in Bergen, Norway. On a fairly small boat, I sailed to many of the islands off the coast of Scotland: the Hebrides, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Faroes, the Isle of Man, and the Isle of Skye. I also spent a day in Wales and ended my trip spending a few days in Dublin. This was also years before I knew I was going to write my Dragonslayer series, but this trip ended up providing me with a lot of inspiration. My series begins in the Northlands, which are modeled on Norway and Sweden. In my fantasy world, there are Western Islands that come into play throughout the series, and these are modeled on the islands I visited. One of the islands has simple ruins of a Viking settlement. Because I love Viking culture so much (and because there’s some evidence I might be part Swedish and possibly a descendent of Vikings), I was so thrilled when I visited these ruins that I ran all around shouting, “I’m a Viking girl! I’m a Viking girl!” (I’m about 8 years old at heart.) Years later, I remembered that experience and modeled an important location in my Dragonslayer series on everything I saw at these ruins.

Throughout my life, I’ve gone to Viking exhibitions at museums. I’ve collected postcards and taken photographs and written my own notes about everything I’ve seen. So once I decided to model my fantasy series on the Viking era, I already had a wealth of information and experience and photographs and memories at my fingertips. I felt as if the fantasy world rose up all around me in great and wonderful detail.
What happened to me is kind of a twist on the advice of “write what you know.” I believe that if you follow your heart and delve into things that interest you, you will come to know things that you can then write about. In fact, that’s probably the key to how I do research!
During this blog tour I’m telling lots of stories about the research I’ve done for my Dragonslayer series. You can find out where I’ve been and where I’m going next by checking my website, 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. 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 at the end of this tour on Feb. 14. 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 here, too.


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