This past week, I’ve been making good progress on my new novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. Although it’s based on experiences I’ve had and places I’ve worked, the observatory and nearby town are products of my imagination. I do this for several reasons. For one thing, there isn’t an observatory exactly like the one I wanted to tell a story about. I wanted a maze-like building similar to the Kitt Peak 4-meter, but I wanted the remoteness of Southern New Mexico. I wanted to have an observatory, where an astronomer is buried in the building. Although those exist, they aren’t quite as modern as the facility I wanted to describe. I also wanted to be respectful of actual events and people, and have a way of signalling that the story is purely fiction.
As it turns out, I recently had the opportunity to take my daughter to the Tucson International Airport. They recently installed a set of cool, 3-D posters showing nearby areas of interest. One of them is for Kitt Peak National Observatory, where I work. On one hand, it’s really cool looking. On the other, it struck me that the way the 4-meter looms over the other telescopes and is tinted red, it captures some of the sense of oppression I’m trying to evoke with my imaginary 5-meter telescope.
The 5-meter telescope in my story is very much a character, like a haunted house in a ghost story. One of the challenges is that the building is similar, but not identical to the 4-meter at Kitt Peak. I had to write up a description of the building that I can refer to, to make sure I’m consistent in my portrayal of the imaginary building.
Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that people enjoy knowing about the work I do. What’s more, several aspects of my job are important to the story I’m telling. Another challenge I’ve been facing is striking a balance between showing enough to be interesting and informative without writing a manual about my job. In fact, I actually do maintain one of the telescope manuals at the observatory, so I worry a bit that I might verge into that mode of writing. I’ll soon hand the first pages of the book over to my first beta readers to see how they think I’m doing with that goal.
No matter what, this has been a fun project. It’s different from the science fiction, steampunk, and vampire novels I’ve written before, which makes a nice, refreshing change of pace. I’m looking forward to showing this novel to you when it’s finished.