Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Five techniques to help your research

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 19•12

I’m terribly sorry that this blog post is a few days late. Some family health challenges  have had me away from the computer.

Today’s blog is by T.W. Fendley. She is the author of Zero Time.

As Zero Time nears, only Keihla Benton can save two worlds from the powers of Darkness. But first she must unlock the secrets of Machu Picchu and her own past.

When Philadelphia science writer Keihla Benton joins an archeological team at Machu Picchu, she learns the Andean prophesies about 2012 have special meaning for her. Only she can end the cycle of Darkness that endangers Earth at the end of the Mayan calendar. As she uncovers secrets from the past, which threaten her life and those she loves, Keihla struggles to keep the powerful Great Crystal from the Lord of Darkness and his consort.

Xmucane leads an expedition to Earth to overcome a genetic flaw that threatens the people of Omeyocan with extinction, but she soon finds herself involved in a very personal battle that pits mother against daughter and sister against sister. With the help of the time-traveling Great Serpent Quetzalcoatl, she leaves the Southern Temples to arrive in present-day Machu Picchu as the expedition’s time-window closes.

Xmucane and Keihla work together as Earth and Omeyocan near alignment with the galaxy’s dark heart for the first time in 26,000 years. They must seize the last chance to restore the cycle of Light to Earth and return to the Pleiades with a cure, no matter what the cost to their hearts.


Researching a book like ZERO TIME takes a lot of time, but for someone like me, that’s part of the thrill of writing. It gives me a reason to spend hours, days…heck, let’s be honest, YEARS…delving into the history and mythology of ancient cultures, studying where science and metaphysics intersect, and using geeky tools to picture the astronomy and astrology that shape the ancient and future worlds.

Today I thought I’d share five techniques I use that may help with your research:

One — Check out your topic online. These days, doing a Google search is a no-brainer, but it still bears mentioning. When I start a new project, I like to know what’s already out there. It’s unlikely anyone would write the same book I would, even if the premise somehow matched. No, it’s more about finding a starting place–what are the most reliable and/or popular sources of information? Are the books I’ll need available at the library or do I need to buy them? Are there any relevant courses or conferences offered locally, and if so, when? Some of the resources I used are listed on my website:ZERO TIME: Behind the Story. Since that time, I’ve discovered the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies Inc. (FAMSI)–amazing stuff!

Two — Read. A lot! Once the initial sources have been identified, I start reading. Often I’ll find leads to other sources in each book, magazine or online article I read. A historian friend of mine, Brad R. Cook, suggests to “start specific then broaden – always approach from multiple angles – try to find source material.” That’s a good approach, though sometimes I find myself doing the opposite: getting an overview, then narrowing down the focus. Is there an unanswered question that could be the basis for my story? How could I adapt the facts in a unique way, perhaps by introducing another topic? I already knew I wanted to write about the ancient American cultures when I ran across a description of the sex-chromosome drive (SRY) in Matt Ridley’s book, GENOME. I thought, What if people had this SRY disorder that causes 97 percent of the offspring to be female? Suddenly my characters became travelers from the Pleiades whose motivation for traveling to Earth was to save their race from extinction.

Three — Travel if you can; Google Street View it and use tour guidebooks if you can’t. Even with all the resources so readily available to armchair explorers, it’s still hard to get the sensory feel of a place without physically being there. You can get temperature information for any location pretty easily with a Google search, but that doesn’t tell you how your lungs feel in the Andes’ thin, high-altitude air. I spent a lot of time trying to find how a plant called broom smells. I finally had to make up the scent because I could never find it described, even though I had a splendid picture showing the fiery red blooms covering the Urubamba River Gorge. Alas, travel isn’t always feasible when you need the information. In addition to online sources, I relied on three guidebooks that included lots of photos and maps. Google’s Street View can give you many details of what things look like now. Without a time machine, though, it isn’t possible to physically view the night sky at Machu Picchu three thousand years ago.‘s Star Dome and Star Atlas help you picture it more accurately. And for other sky events, past or future, NASA even offers an eclipse calendar. Details give your work the authority it needs to come alive for your reader.

Four — Attend conferences and take courses. If you’re dealing with a topic totally new to you, it helps to hear other people talk about it. For instance, if you’re using foreign names of cities or people, how are they pronounced? Do scholars “in the field” agree with how the topic is portrayed in the media or popular culture? With the 2012 “end of the Maya calendar,” there’s a huge schism between what New Age folks promote and what many Maya scholars say. At some point, you have to decide where you fit in the scheme of things. That may not be easy. While researching my debut novel, I joined the Pre-Columbian Society of Washington DC (where I lived for a while). I visited museums like Dumbarton Oaks and took classes at the Smithsonian on archeology and archeoastronomy. I’m now on FAMSI’s AZTLAN listserve that provides ongoing information from Mesoamerican field researchers, including upcoming conferences. I’m also actively learning about metaphysics, guided by groups such as Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, The Monroe Institute and the International Remote Viewing Association.

Five — Follow your heart. This is undoubtedly the most important part. If you follow your heart, you’ll have fun–and the journey is at least as important as the end result! Your passion will lead to original interpretations, ones that only you could create. This also involves getting out and trying some new things. If you’re writing about snow boarding, horseback riding, fencing, etc., try it out or at least become an avid spectator for a day or two. You’ll be a better writer because of it. Watch a TV documentary on your topic from Nova, Discover, the Smithsonian, National Geographic or the History channel. Sure it’s fun, but it’s also research. Search for clips on You Tube; get a trial Netflix subscription to see if they have documentaries you missed. Check TED for anything of interest. Look at coffee table and travel picture books at the library and book stores. You’ll be amazed at what’s out there waiting to be discovered…by you.


T.W. Fendley writes historical fantasy and science fiction with a Mesoamerican twist for adults and young adults. Her debut historical fantasy novel, ZERO TIME, was voted Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel in the 2011 P&E Readers Poll. Her short stories took second place in the 2011 Writers’ Digest Horror Competition and won the 9th NASFiC 2007 contest. Teresa belongs to the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, SCBWI and Broad Universe.



The ZERO TIME 2012 Virtual Book Tour Party is here!

To celebrate, T.W. Fendley is giving away a Maya-Aztec astrology report, a Mayan Winds CD, ZERO TIME tote bag and fun buttons. Check out the prizes and other posts on the Party Page.

3 ways to enter  (multiple entries are great!)

1) Leave a comment here or on any of the other PARTY POSTS listed on the Party Page.

2) Tweet about the Virtual Party or any of the PARTY POSTS (with tag #ZEROTIME2012)

Example: Join the Virtual Party for historical #fantasy novel ZERO TIME by @twfendley for a chance to win prizes! #ZEROTIME2012

3) Facebook (tag @T.W. Fendley) about the Virtual Party. (NOTE: tag must have periods to work)

Example: Join the Virtual Party for historical fantasy novel ZERO TIME by @T.W. Fendley for a chance to win prizes!


ZERO TIME is available at:


Ebook $4.99

Paperback $16.95

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  1. T.W. Fendley says:

    Thanks so much for having me as your guest, Tracy, and for being a wonderful Party Host in my book tour! I appreciate it.

  2. Great blog post, T.W! and so true! I’ve got your book in my queue to read and dying to dive in! One thing I also learned when researching my WWIi book, is to use the facts as a touch stone, not a wall! If you get so tied into “how it was” it can get in the way of the story. It helped me that so many people went through same war, but had different experiences and POV about it. Never played with the hard facts, but tweaked the personal “facts” when I needed to.

    congrats on the release!

    • T.W. Fendley says:

      Pauline — thanks so much for the kind words! I think you have the right idea about tweaking the personal “facts” to keep your story moving. As you point out, no two people see events the same way. It gives a storyteller a lot of latitude, even with a historical framework!