On Research

If you haven’t yet read All the Stars in the Sky, you might find this post to be spoiler-y, so close your eyes!

FullSizeRender (3)

  Alaska, 2014

On research, and some thank yous.

One reason All the Stars in the Sky felt like it took longer to write (besides its length) is that I did a ton of research. I spent a hundred, if not hundreds, of hours on Google Maps. I virtually drove through much of Canada and Alaska, so much so that when I finally went to Alaska this past summer and my husband and I drove through Wasilla, I thought to myself, “I’ve been here before.” I knew where I was, knew what was ahead, and knew that I had probably spent far too long on Google Maps than was healthy.

But I wanted ATSITS to be realistic. I wanted to be in that RV with our group. And besides the obstacles I created—zombies and the like—I’d say 90% or more of the places they stopped were real. The houses in which they stayed, the towns, the stores, the bridges and rivers, the lake and the roads are all there, if you ever wanted to find them. And, like James and Mark, I also have a well-thumbed back roads atlas of Canada.

Part of the reason research is so much fun is that it brings up ideas you never would’ve considered. In regard to the conveniently placed fireworks stands, those are there. And I never would have known it had I not driven the route down to Anchorage myself and thought, “Holy crap, I could so use those fireworks!”

I figured out and kept a running list of mileage, vehicle MPGs, and amount of gas found. I kept lists of food. I asked questions of random internet people and managed to persuade the amazingly kind Director of Distribution of Bi-Mart to allow me into his distribution center to get the lay of the land (Thanks, John!). I forced Canadians to tell me about their cities (Thanks, Jessica and Lindsay!) and made a dentist answer a few questions about the amount of medical training dentists receive (Thanks, Melissa!). I spent two hours researching boat lifts for four paragraphs of writing, I researched the mechanisms of loading doors (also known as rolling doors—who knew?) and thermal cutting (which was not a viable option for our gang), among many other random things. Hey, I’m not complaining. It’s a lot of fun.

I tried my hardest to cover every base and to at least to pretend I knew what I was talking about. But if you find any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. Don’t blame my lovely, helpful readers or the Google Corporation for my mistakes.

I wanted you to feel as if you were traveling along the road with Cassie and the others, to see what they saw, to get a glimpse of what it might actually be like to journey through a wasteland of a world. I wanted it to feel as realistic as possible—you know, for zombies. I sure hope I succeeded.


25 thoughts on “On Research

  1. Wow … now I have a new thing to add to my bucket list .. travel the road and check out all the places from the book … well done .. I have just got through re listening to the audio books for the second time and getting more out of it each time those details you block out when your anxious to get to what happens next .. will have to search out those hot springs 😉 and seriously start getting these books ready for a tv series.

  2. Your research was amazing, and part of what made the book such a good read. Next time I read it, I’ll sit with an atlas and follow you across the continent while listening to the soundtrack. 😉

  3. Hi Darling Daughter
    I really enjoyed reading your post. As a wannabe novelist and reporter for local newspapers in Brooklyn in another life I can echo your words on research. It’s fun and quite the learning experience.

  4. FOUR HOURS of research for that boat scene… HA! You make me feel better about all the hours I spend researching. Sometimes I catch myself on a tangent, reading about stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with my original question. And then *face palm* because, you know, I SHOULD have been writing. But hey, it was interesting stuff, alright?! Haha!

    • Ha, only two hours, Julie. For four paragraphs. I just had. to. know. how to get that boat down the right way without electricity.
      I totally do that, too. But learning something new is never a waste of time. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m posting on heavy equipment forums and joking around about zombies with all the heavy equipment operators…

      • Well, here’s a plug for your 2-hours-for-4-paragraphs of research (<<got it right this time!), I totally thought you were a boat crank expert. And actually, I liked that you sounded like said expert, because the whole time I'm reading it I'm thinking "JUST CUT THE BLANKETY-BLANK-BLANKIN' BOAT DOWN ALREADY!!!" And then you're like: "We can't. Cause the boat will tip. And smash things. And make loud noises." and I'm all "Oh." *ducks and hides*

        And here I woulda just had Nelly battle ax the supports or something. Clearly research pays off.

  5. Thank you for the commitment you’ve made to this book and all the books in the series, it’s these details that all help to make it feel real and I for one appreciate that dedication. You wanted us to feel like part of that group in the RV, like we were traveling with them and for me you certainly did this. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done, this book is amazing and just like the others it had me gripped and I didn’t want to stop listening (I heard them all via audiobook). I loved every book and you finished it brilliantly, although of course being such a huge fan I wish it wasn’t over now. I know I’ll be going back to these books time and time again, you’ve written them so well and captured everything so perfectly. They are definitely it my top list of favourite books 🙂 and I know I’ll listen to them over and over again, in fact some I already had whilst I was waiting for new books in this series to come out. Thanks again for all you’ve done, I can’t thank you enough. You might remember me from facebook, these got me through some very hard times in my life and I’ll forever be thankful for that. Take care and thanks again for all you do!

    • Hi Rosie,
      Thank YOU! I’m so flattered to be on your list. Of course I remember you! I’m glad you finally got to finish the series, and that it ended in a satisfying way.
      I do hope you’re feeling better than you were. I was wondering if you’d had a chance to get to the last book, so thank you for writing to let me know. ❤

  6. I have been trying to come up with a review for Audible. I just re-finished the entire (4) book set, and am hankering for it again. Bye the way, I normally don’t do zombies. Your character development beats every piece of writing I have read so far. You’re attention to detail was obvious and had me googling maps of Canada and Alaska. You nailed the children and their tendencies for each age so well, I have to assume you have your own. I will never look at mouthwash again without giggling. ( should have seen me in Costco when we got the double pack and I had to explain to my husband why I was grinning so broadly- then of course I had to explain the scene) I also write and I love to do research – wish that I’d had this love in school. Bravo for work so well done… and like a starving zombie I will be gnashing my teeth and moaning my hunger until I get more.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Hi Beth,

      Aw, thank you! And I’m very happy that I had you Googling. If you ever have a question about a place in the books, I might still remember or have written the location in my notes, so feel free to ask.
      Ha, the mouthwash! I love that scene–I think because I could very well see myself doing the same thing. And I’d probably get the kids, too, just to be on the safe side (Yes, I have two kids, ages five and eight). By the way, that lake they cross is Charlie Lake in BC, if you ever want to look it up on a map.

      You write! Awesome! Do you have anything out? I hear you on the writing and research–if only I’d been this obsessive about work in high school!
      I’m currently working on a spin-off series set in NYC, where you’ll see a familiar face or two. No release date yet, but stay tuned.
      Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing! ❤


  7. Pingback: #31ZombieAuthors – Day 1 Interview – Sarah Lyons Fleming – Packing the Perfect Bug-Out Bag | Bookshelf Battle

  8. Hi Sarah, I just wanted to let you know that I loved your books. I am an avid reader and I LOVE zombies to the point that everyone I know thinks I’m crazy. I read ALL the zompoc authors and while I tend to prefer military to chick lit- your series is, without exception, my absolute favorite. I fell in love with them all and I thought it was crazy how much of my personality I could see in Cassie’s character. I never read a character I could identify with until now. It was nuts. Anyway, thank you for these books. They are a gift. I hope to read more from you someday.

    • Hi Erin,

      Well, I don’t think you’re crazy for liking zombies! I’m happy I got you to give the non-military zombie stories a shot. And even happier that you loved them!
      I love to hear you identified with Cassie. Me, too. 🙂
      You’ll get more soon. The first book in The City Series will be out by the end of June. It’s with the editor and once I’ve made corrections and it’s been proofread, it’ll be in everyone’s hands!

      Thank you so much for writing. It’s a gift to hear from you!


    • Hi Kim,

      Thank you! I’m so happy you enjoyed the series! ❤
      The Until the End of the World series is over, I'm sorry to say. I think I took Cassie and her friends to the end of their story, at least for now.

      My new series is a spin-off that takes place in NYC. The first book, Mordacious, will be out by the end of June. It's at the editor now, so after I get it back and fix those errors, it'll be out.

      If it makes sense to go back to Cassie one day–and it might, if I can make it work–I promise I will. I miss those guys!


  9. Hello!
    Just popping by to let you know that yours is the best zombie series out there! I have 3 small children and no time to sit and read so I fall back on listening to my books on audible while I work (artist). I have listened to them all 3 times over now and recommended them to all I know – my parents both really enjoyed them! It’s so refreshing to not have the decent into gun toting extremism and instead focus more on people protecting and helping each other survive and creating families. As far as I am concerned your attention to details and being as realistic as possible made the series amazing and I can’t wait to read everything and anything you write from now on. Will the new book come out on audible do you know?
    Anyway, thank you for your genius!
    Cheers, Kristie (Australia)
    PS. It’s so sweet that your Dad commented on this post 😊

    • Hi Kristie,

      Thank you! ❤ And thank you for recommending the books (and I love that your parents enjoyed them, too).
      I agree about the gun-toting extremists–I think some of us non-gun-toting extremists might survive the apocalypse as well. We're going to need artists, like Cassie (and you). 😉

      And my dad is the best (as is my mom, who also commented but only as Linda). They're my first readers and biggest fans. ❤

      As for the new book, yes, it will definitely be on Audible. It will be out later than the ebook/print copies, but it'll come.
      Thank you for writing to let me know you enjoyed the series. I so appreciate it!


  10. Just finally got through the audiobook series. Julia Whelen’s voice acting was perfect for your amazing stories. This was exactly the kind of balance between relationships and action, loss and relief that I was looking for in a zombie series. I have already bombarded my friends with recommendations. The style was great, and your dialogue and Julia’s voice for all the characters made them seem so real.

    If you write anything else after this series, I’ll be sure to pick it up.

    • Hi Erik,

      Thank you very much! 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the series, and thank you for recommending it to your friends–I appreciate it!
      Julia Whelan is amazing for sure. I was lucky to have her as my narrator.

      As it happens, MORDACIOUS, the first book of The City Series, will be out on Wednesday, June 8th. The audiobook will be a bit later, but it’s coming! And I’ll post on my blog and Facebook as I get updates on its progress.

      Thanks for writing!

  11. Hi Sarah, not sure what to say except thank you for the wonderful books. I can’t stop listening and/or reading on my kindle. Now I want the print books as well. Just because. I love and care about the characters, and they have become friends. I’m so glad you like the Little House books. That was the first series of books I couldn’t put down when I was in elementary school. Still have my copies also, and I actually read a couple of them recently when they popped into my head. Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing Mordacious on Audible. Will Julia Whelan be reading it? I hope she does. I read it on my kindle but I miss her voice. I hope I can find something else to read this summer that is as good as your books. (But I doubt it). Best Wishes and thanks for an awesome two weeks of reading!

    • Hi Brenda!

      Thank you for all the nice words about the books and characters! I call them my imaginary friends–but they feel real a lot of the time. 🙂

      Ah, another Little House lover. I’m reading the Little House books with my son right now, and he loves them, too. And he definitely likes when Laura gets a bit naughty now and again.

      Julia isn’t reading this series, and I know she’ll be missed, but I have a feeling Luke Daniels and Therese Plummer will be wonderful as Sylvie and Eric. I can’t wait to hear it! I’ll post on my blog and Facebook and send out an email to my mailing list when it’s out.

      I hope you have a lovely summer and find something great to read. I’m reading The Girl with all the Gifts right now (though, maybe surprisingly, I don’t read many zombie books), and it’s really good. Maybe give it a try?

      Thank you for writing! ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s