Kansas City is the home to a majestic building that is called Union Station. In 1945, more than 678,000 people passed through those doors and onto passenger trains that took mostly members of America’s Armed Forces all over the country. In its 100 plus years of existence, it has seen tears of joy, tears of sadness, and even blood and tears. Its history inspired me to use a fictitious version of it in book two of the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The First Kansas City Train Station
The West Bottoms district is one of the oldest areas of Kansas City. It sits near the junction of the Missouri River and the Kansas River. Originally called the French Bottoms, it was an area of trade for Native Americans and French trappers. After Kansas City’s stockyards opened in 1871, the railroads came.
Union Depot opened on April 7, 1878 in Kansas City, Missouri’s West Bottoms district. The grand building stood on Union Street (hence the name) filled with the passengers boarding trains for distant cities.
In 1903, Kansas City’s great flood destroyed many of the businesses in the area. Rail executives decided to build a new station on higher, more centrally located ground.
The New Union Station
By 1906, twelve railroad companies combined to form The Kansas City Terminal Railroad. They chose Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt to design the new station.
Construction of the massive beaux arts architectural style building began in 1910.
November 1, 1914, Union Passenger Station of Kansas City opens its doors to a massive crowd. The construction cost close to six million dollars.
Rail traffic peaked during WWI-with 79,368 trains passing through the Station, including 271 trains in one day.
On June 17, 1933, a team of FBI agents and police officers escorted convicted mobster Frank Nash to the station. Nash and four law enforcement officers died in a shootout outside the building. Many myths about that crime persist today. Many claim that marks on the building are from the bullets that flew that day even though modern Kansas City Police disproved that. Mystery surrounds which other mobster committed the crime. They convicted Adam Richetti of the crime and died in the gas chamber on October 7, 1938.
A Long History
After 100 years, Union Station has a long history, a colorful history. With that colorful history and the beauty of the building inside and out, how could I not use it as a location in If I Should Die? Of course, to fit the alternate timeline of the Fellowship Dystopia, I had to change enough part of the Station’s story to make it part of Miranda’s story. But the clock in the Grand Hall of the station becomes an important location. A location of hope and disaster that will change Miranda’s life.
From the behavior of certain politicians to the war in Ukraine to the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the real world and the fictional world of The Fellowship Dystopia series are moving closer and closer together. When I started writing this series, it was fun shifting reality into fiction. Today, it appears we are shifting reality again. History became fiction and now fiction appears to be shifting into reality. You may see it too when you know the actual history that I shifted and sifted into a fictional world for my books, My Soul to Keep andIf I Should Die.
World War I, often called the Great War, began when a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914. Back then, most Americans believed the nation shouldn’t get involved in foreign affairs. They watched the conflict uneasily but weren’t concerned because the war was an ocean away. Then On May 7, 1915, an Imperial German Navy U-boat sent a torpedo into the passenger ship, the RMS Lusitânia, sinking it and killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans.
This unprovoked attack on civilians raised the concern of some Americans. In addition, news reports of atrocities perpetrated by Germans against Belgian civilians reached American papers. Some reports were accurate, some were exaggerated. They stirred anti-German sentiment in the United States. A sentiment that concerned President Woodrow Wilson, who believed the nation shouldn’t get involved.
On August 4, President Wilson gave a speech about how he felt the nation should react to the growing conflict in Europe.
The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as in action…”
During February and March 1917, the Germans resumed their aggressions at sea. German submarines sunk several US cargo vessels without warning.
On April 2, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. On the fourth, 82 of 88 U.S. Senators and 373 of 423 members of the House of Representatives voted to declare war.
The first US infantry troops landed in France on June 26, 1917. And so the U.S. entered the Great War.
The End of the Great War
World War I, the Great War, ended on November 11, 1918 (now called Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day in the U.S.)
Some experts estimate that military and civilian deaths on both sides combined reached 24 million people. Of those, about 117,000 were Americans. The numbers are arguable, but the fact is a massive number of people died and the property loss was tremendous.
Many veterans and survivors of the war suffered disabilities or were “shell shocked.”
It should be no surprise that by the 1920s, many Americans swore their nation should never enter another foreign war.
In 1928, the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as a part of national policy.
The Isolationist Movement
During the 1930s, the losses of the Great Depression (1929-1933) and the physical, mental, and emotional scars of the Great War visited most Americans. Many of them vehemently advocated non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and international politics. Called Isolationists, they felt the US needed to focus on issues at home like rebuilding the nation’s economy. By 1941, they held America First Rally’s across the nation.
The Isolationists had historic precedence to bolster their position. America’s founding fathers saw the ocean separating them from Europe as an ideal situation to create a new nation. Even President George Washington had advocated for non-involvement in European wars and politics.
The Isolationists also had the support of many powerful Americans. Pilot Charles Lindbergh strongly and vocally supported isolationism. Former Presidents Herbert Hoover and James Monroe each voiced support for isolationism. As the Isolationist movement grew, another movement was sweeping through America.
The Third Great Awakening
The Third Great Awakening (1850-1920s) was a period of religious activism in America. Dwight Moody (1837-1899), Billy Sunday (1862-1935), and Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) were some of the major players.
During his 1932 bid for the presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt welcomed Father Coughlin’s support and influence over urban Catholics. But Father Coughlin soured on FDR after the president did not give Coughlin a position on the president’s cabinet.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and Dachau, the first concentration camp, opened.
FDR worried about the rise of fascism and totalitarianism and wanted the US to be more involved in Europe and Japan. Most Americans were overwhelmingly against such action.
In 1935, Congress passed the first of a series of neutrality acts to protect the United States from world problems.
Father Coughlin began expressing anti-capitalist, anti-banker, anti-Wall Street, and anti-Semitic views. He blamed those ‘forces’ for America’s entry into World War I and worried those same forces would involve America in the turmoil in Europe.
Shifting Reality to Create a Fictional World
In the Fellowship Dystopia’s history, Giuseppe Zangara assassinates FDR before he can take office. This empowers the Isolationists and the Third Awakening. They join and become a religious-political machine, the Fellowship.
In tents and on the streets, a preacher’s sermons are full of the message that the Great Depression is punishment for America’s sins. People desperate for relief flock to his revival tents. The Fellowship seizes the idea and opportunity. They declare the preacher a prophet and “the way” to peace and prosperity. The Fellowship becomes a source of solace, a source of rules guaranteed to bring relief. With each passing year, more and more laws remove the people’s power and freedom.
America never enters World War II. Europe struggles valiantly, but the Federation of Germany assumes power. Japan rules Asia and the Pacific. And in America, the Fellowship and its Councilors grow more and more powerful.
Miranda, daughter of America’s premier preacher-politician, lives a charmed life as one of the Fellowship’s elite. Until she faces a life that will rob her of all rights.
The story of the Fellowship Dystopia is a story of a fight against tyranny in all its forms. The fight isn’t easy. It ranges from tiny and very personal to national to global. Miranda’s fight starts small and grows in My Soul to Keep. But it frightens her, so she chooses another path and in If I Should Die, events force her to choose different paths. And every path is a test that costs her dearly.
At first, the changes in American sentiment over the past handful of years surprised me. I was shocked by how we seem to be on the way to creating a theocracy in reality. Reviewing my notes, reviewing our actual history… I am no longer surprised. I am saddened that we can’t seem to learn lessons bought with blood and tears.
The Pendulum Swings
To anyone who studies history, it is apparent that human behavior and belief systems, especially political ones, swing from one extreme to the other. It’s a pattern we follow to the detriment of us all.
Perhaps that’s where we are in today’s shifting reality. Perhaps we’re being tested. Will we pass these tests?
What choice will our nation make? What choice will you make?
Illustration of a torpedo hitting the Lusitania: Winsor McCay, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The more you practice creativity, the more you realize the blessing and curse of research and inspiration. It happened again while I was planning and writing my Fellowship Dystopia series. When we left Miranda at the end of My Soul to Keep, she had sworn off shooting to kill and taken to the water to help rescue fugitives from the tyranny of the Fellowship. So I had an obvious place to start book two… on the water. But the inspiration for her yacht, the Lady Angelfish, came from writing a completely different book.
Blessing and Curse
The blessing and a curse, research and inspiration come hand-in-hand for me. I can dive Marianas Trench deep down some of those research rabbit holes. When I do that, I lose time… days and days… All right, not days, but I definitely lose hours.
Some of you may have read a sneak peek at another novel I’ve started,Paladina. I needed information about life in Greece told from both natives and non-natives. While researching that, I came across blogs and vlogs of expats living on boats as they explored life outside the U.S. Life abroad and aboard a boat fascinated me. Their blogs gave lots of details about the benefits and challenges of that life. Their vlogs added to those details.
The Great Loop
I ate up those blogs about life on boats, and that led to a revelation. I discovered that there are boaters who take a year-long epic boating adventure in the U.S. They call it the “Great Loop.”
The Great Loop is the name of a continuous waterway that allows boaters to explore Eastern North America using the Atlantic and Gulf Inter Coastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America’s heartland. Anyone who completes the journey becomes an official ‘Looper.’ Boaters can travel all or part of it.
Research Stretched into Inspiration
You know, with a name like Looper, I was hooked (wordplay intended.) I didn’t know it then, but that the blessing and curse of research and inspiration had hit me for a book I hadn’t even outlined yet. That rabbit’s hole took me on vicarious journeys via blogs and vlogs. Some shook loose memories of short boating trips I took as a kid. And boy, some of those blogs and vlogs were super educational.
A Little More Research
I learned about locks and I learned the rules of boating etiquette. Previous to my research, I hadn’t thought about who policed the waterways. I learned that, too. (Do you know which U.S. Agency patrols our inland waterways?) I used as much real detail as I could.
I also researched what size and type of boats travel the Great Loop. Then, I had to factor in the alternate world of the Fellowship Dystopia and determine what Miranda’s boat looked like. Fortunately, there are a ton of online marinas that sell boats with lots and lots of pictures and details. At the time, sYs International Yacht Sales had exactly what I had hoped to find.
Here are a couple more of the photographs I used to help me plan Miranda’s yacht. Some of these details appear in If I Should Die. But for the story, Miranda’s boat has more interior space and a few special features.
The protagonists from My Soul to Keep, Miranda and Beryl, return two years after their battles in book one. Although the rebels didn’t uproot the tyrannical Fellowship Council, Miranda kept her promise to herself and hadn’t picked up a gun to shoot another person. She’s piloting the Lady Angelfish through the inland waterways of the U.S. and rescuing fugitives from the Fellowship. She never expected to have to make a choice between sister and brother, peace and war.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a taste of locations and characters from book two. You can read If I Should Die as a stand-alone novel, but you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve read My Soul to Keep.
Research and Inspiration
No matter how much research I did, I could not get my poor brain to remember nautical terms. In early drafts, I used port and starboard as if they were interchangeable. SIGH. Inspiration doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at it. To avoid confusion, I kept a cheat sheet beside me during revisions.
If you are a Looper, and you read If I Should Die, know that the book takes place on a very small portion of the Great Loop. I hope I did enough research I didn’t make any glaring errors, but whatever errors I made were mine and mine alone.
A writer’s life isn’t a comic book. We don’t get cartoon bubbles of lightbulbs above our heads. But we have the blessing and curse of research and inspiration being linked. Linked and a possible “waste of time.” A waste of time that often brings inspiration.
Had you heard about the Great Loop before? Are you a Looper? Even if you aren’t a Looper, I’d love to hear about your boating or inspiration experiences.
How does science translate from the real world to the fictional world? In hard science fiction, the scientific elements of the story stay as close to reality as possible. The more speculative the science, the less “hard” the science fiction. Imagine that science we know is on one end of a sliding scale, we’ll call it reality. And we’ll place the far-fetched speculative science of a speculative fiction / science fantasy story on the other end. Sometimes what started as science fantasy slides toward science reality. That’s what happened to the rocket ships of Golden Age Science fiction. In my series, the Fellowship Dystopia, parthenogenesis is used to create female children. But is it Real Life or Science Fiction?
Real Life Parthenogenesis
Parthenogenesis was discovered in real life by Charles Bonnet a Swiss naturalist, lawyer, and philosophical writer in the 18th century when he observed asexual reproduction in aphids. Parthenogenesis is a method in which a new individual develops from an egg (ovum) without fertilization from a sperm. This is a natural phenomenon in some animals like bees, wasps, ants, fish, lizards, and in some plants.
Researchers at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital announced they had created a biobag, an external uterine system used to support an extremely premature lamb in 2017. Their hope is to one day support extremely premature human babies until their lungs and organs are more developed.
In My Soul to Keep, book one of the Fellowship Dystopia, the reader learns about a pair of scientists who used parthenogenesis to create a human embryo from two eggs. They implant the embryo into a woman’s uterus in 1944. Under the care of the brilliant Dr. Locke and his assistant, Dr. Gallaway, embryo grew into a fetus, and after a normal pregnancy, a girl child was born. One success quickly became many successes.
The doctors claimed their research was to filter out genetic defects. They believed that unlike the better baby contests looking for perfect children, they would create a world where every child born would be genetically perfect.
When the subjects of their research turned out to have a high propensity for out-of-control behaviors during their brief lives, the scientists discovered ways to influence those behaviors. Under their influence, they created a class of female assassins they called Azrael, the Angels of Death.
By the end of My Soul to Keep, the scientists have built an enormous experiment in ectogenesis…growing a fetus in an external, mechanical womb. Lots of mechanical wombs.
If I Should Die
In If I Should Die, the second book of the Fellowship Dystopia, the reader gets to take a tour of the laboratory with the characters and learn a little more about fictional parthenogenesis. Of course, there’s more going on than the characters see…at least at first.
Of course, all the science in the Fellowship Dystopia is speculative or so-called science fantasy. Or is it? The slider is edging back toward the reality side.
Real Life Parthenogenesis Impossible
In the mid-1980s, researchers attempted parthenogenesis in mice. They combined genetic material from two different female eggs, and created embryos they then implanted into a surrogate mouse. The implantation was successful, and the pregnancy seemed successful, but none of the embryos survived. Later experiments discover a phenomenon called genomic imprinting. They describe this imprinting as a kind of genetic tag in egg and sperm that are dormant, or shut off, until sperm and egg meet. This tag allows for normal development of the fetus.
When this imprinting process goes awry, kids can end up with inactive gene regions that cause miscarriages, developmental defects and cancer.”
Kono and his colleagues hope that this achievement will help make animal cloning more efficient.
In 2018, Wei Li and his team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing used CRISPER the gene editing technique and produced healthy mice from two moms.
The researchers created embryos with two genetic mothers (bi-maternal) and implanted them into surrogate mice. The offspring were born, lived to adulthood, and produced their own pups. Although Li’s first bi-maternal mice had growth defects, he and his team deleted another tag in the mothers’ genes, which allowed the bi-maternal offspring to experience normal growth.
Li and his team also experimented with creating embryos from two male mice. Only two and a half percent of the embryos made it to term and less than half of one percent were born live. They didn’t make it to adulthood.
Real Life or Science Fiction
While the science in the Fellowship Dystopia doesn’t exist today, it was fun to extrapolate the possibilities of what that might have looked like in an alternate history. If you haven’t readMy Soul to Keep, book one of the Fellowship Dystopia, get caught up! If I Should Die, the second book in the Fellowship Dystopia series, goes on preorder starting May first.
Some speculate that some day real life science will use parthenogenesis to enable same-sex couples to have children genetically related to both parents. No worries. The ability to produce multiple live births from manipulated human ova or sperm is miles from any near future possibility. But what about a hundred years from now? Could we be producing genetically Better Babies? Should we?
Suppose you live in the future when parthenogenesis creates viable human offspring, would you opt for a son or daughter who’s your genetic duplicate?
As a blogger and science nerd, I try to keep up with science news from a variety of sources. Oddly, that curiosity rarely benefits my writing. My writing style follows a diagonal on the chart below: Lawful Plantser, True Plantser, and Chaotic Plotter. And that’s pretty much how my research goes, too. I start with a plan and end going off script. This is the story of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.
My Research Method
Targeted research is when one narrows their topic and is very selective in choosing books and articles for said research. Targeted research is always my intent, it rarely is what gives me the most inspiration.
I love Google Maps. They allow me to “travel to” areas I’ve never visited. But the maps don’t give me the smells, the texture, or the mood of the place. For those, I search out travel blogs, expat blogs, and personal blogs. Sometimes, I reach out to a blogger for more details. Usually, bloggers respond with more information than I need. And that’s a lovely thing.
Sometimes, I need more hands-on research. That may mean a visit to a museum or a road trip to a location.
Serendipity has been a big part of the Fellowship Dystopia Series. Although it isn’t quite serendipitous if you’re looking in the correct direction.
For example, I had selected Lynchburg, Virginia as a location in the first book, My Soul to Keep, because of its history and location. But until I visited Lynchburg, I did not know about the former Virginia State Epileptic Colony.
I happened upon the historical marker as I drove through the area around Lynchburg. After researching the Colony, it became a source of inspiration and an important location in the book.
Don’t Research Everything
When I first started writing, I would research the heck out of every topic and location I wanted to include in the book. It was a tremendous amount of work and I would amass more files than I could store (both physical and virtual).
You know what all the research did? Squat. Typically, I used very little of the research I collected before I started writing the book. Often, in writing the story, I’d find the research didn’t fit the book. Not only that, no matter how much I think I’ve planned the book, more than one thing changes during the writing. All that research work was a waste of time.
These days, I will research a general topic or time period or location. When I accumulate three or more pages of notes, I move on to another topic or I write.
It’s when I write the first draft that the real serendipity research happens.
Everyone Must Follow Their Own Best Flow
Legions of writing mentors will tell you not to stop writing once you start your first draft. Their belief is that if you interrupt the creative process, you will lose your way. That was true of me when I first started writing. Anything that interrupted my writing threw me off course or straight into what many refer to as writer’s block.
What works for me now is to research as I go. I write as far as I can based on my imagination or memory. When the writing stutters and I can’t seem to get through the next scene, I take a few hours to a few days for research.
When I’m in the middle of a draft, my head is full of possibilities. Maybe my character will go here and do this. Or do that and go there. Or…. It’s nonstop and a bewildering plethora of possibilities. But with a bit of research, my writer’s brain (some call this their muse) will latch onto some bit of information. That piece of information focuses my writer’s brain and writing the draft takes off again.
Serendipity Strikes Again
Recently, I was researching a blog article I wanted to write. I needed more scientific research to back up my story. I turned to one of my frequent sources, Sciencenews.org. My search of their website was fruitless. But the site was celebrating their 100th anniversary.
My curiosity overcame what little resistance I had. I clicked on one of their original stories, and that resulted in another bit of writer’s Serendipity.