Research is a big part of "getting it right" on paper when we want our fiction to feel real, but no one warns us that research can be everything from a momentary time suck to a brand new obsession. I've found myself in the library neck-deep in Encyclopedias of Victoriana and etiquette books just to get the tone of a period piece right, let alone some of the things I've heard other authors doing in the name of research.
Now sometimes research is just a good excuse to do something you always wanted to do; Leah Cypress (MISTWOOD) took a falconing lesson, Denise Jaden (LOSING FAITH) shot a few arrows during a high school archery practice, Caroline Starr Rose (MAY B.) signed up for flamenco classes "in honor of my (future) Gypsy novel. Ole!" Helen Landalf (FLYAWAY) volunteered for a summer at PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center's bird nursery and "used tweezers to feed worms to baby birds" while Sonia Gensler (THE REVENANT) "climbed the very steep path to the top of a Welsh hillfort -- in rain, wind and sleet -- all for a book that got me an agent but never sold." [She attached a photo of her "suffering" looking beautiful on a rocky backdrop before admitting, "Actually, it was glorious. So this probably doesn't count."] But other times I wonder what these folks are *really* up to...
Natalie Standiford (CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS) got sneaky: "I went to the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown NY to look at the Cardiff Giant for a book called THE STONE GIANT. The Cardiff Giant is a statue of a giant that people thought was a fossil of a real giant in the 1860s. They keep it in ditch under a tent. My very tall boyfriend crawled into the ditch with him for a height-comparison picture (the giant was taller.)" Myra McEntire (THE HOURGLASS) "toured the club floor/offices/grounds of a Ritz Carlton. They gave me a cookie on the club floor. And a lot of strange looks everywhere else." And while Jen Nadol (THE MARK) met with a mortician to know more about working in a funeral home, (despite more than one "challenge" to actually succeeding), Saundra Mitchell (THE VESPERTINE) used to attend actual autopsies. (No, I didn't ask...)
But it isn't always fun and games. Jenny Moss (WINNIE'S WAR) "went through every death certificate for every person who died in Galveston County from Sept-Dec 1918 to figure out how many had died of the influenza. It took foreeeever & as an added bonus, I did get to see how many ways one could die in 1918." Brenna Yovanoff (THE REPLACEMENT) "watched a billion youtube videos of people skinning catfish by nailing their heads to a tree and just sort of . . . undressing them. Okay, three videos. The technique doesn't invite a lot of variation."
Some brave souls take the direct route, like when Beth Revis (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE) relived the moment that she accidentally gagged herself when trying to figure out what shoving tubes down her MC's throat would feel like. (She says her husband liked the "kisses in the rain" experiments much better!) Terry Lynn Johnson (DOGSLED DREAMS) "choked down the inner bark of a white birch and drank birch twig tea. Yum. (Actually, no. Not recommended!)" Lisa Albert (MERCY LILY) let herself get stung by a honeybee "so I could write the Apitherapy/Bee Venom Therapy sting scenes with authority...BVT is a holistic treatment used for pain management and it's proabably the most extreme thing I've done for the sake of research so far." Rae Carson Finlay (THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS) was trying to capture what an epic journey of fearless heroes would really be like; "I took advantage of a very rainy day (and by "rainy" I mean "deluge") to go outside and walk around fully clothed. I wanted to see what it was like to be soaking wet and freezing. I squished around in the mud for an hour, getting wetter and wetter and wetter and colder... Good times." Or why not go for broke as Tessa Gratton (BLOOD MAGIC) says, "I'd actually go with the time I cut myself in the kitchen and bled all over the counter because I was taking notes, instead of cleaning it up getting a bandage." (Tessa!!!) But Ruta Sepetys (BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY) won the "Maybe I Went A Bit Too Far" trophy, admitting that there are regrets: "To research Between Shades of Gray I agreed to take part in a prison simulation experience and was locked in a former Soviet prison overnight. Worst decision I've ever made in my life. There were rats the size of cats." ((shudder))
While research can't all be fun and glamorous, it can certainly get us into trouble like when nice Jewish girl Sarah Darer Littman (CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC) snuck into the chapel at Manhattanville College and sat in a confessional, wondering the whole time if lightning would strike her down! Victoria Schwab (THE NEAR WITCH) "shut myself in a broom closet to see how, if one needed to kick a door down, they'd go about it (how they'd get their foot through said brooms to said door, and where they'd kick." (She went on to report that no doors were irreparably damaged in the process.) Ambyre White (FORGET-HER-NOTS) wanted to be sure to get the flower scents "just right" so: "I had my nose in every bloom I saw, even if that meant "trespassing" in someone's yard. Who's going to put away the crazy lady who just wanted to smell the lilacs?!"
And lest you think these are "minor" brushes with being bad, there is evidently a common career hazard of ending up on the FBI Watch List:
"I once got into a discussion on Twitter about the best way to kill someone, but at some point we lost the #amwriting hashtag. This continued until someone else pointed out we were now most likely on some FBI watch list! Oops." -- Lisa Gail Green (CURSED)
"I put myself on the FBI watch list by repeatedly googling "molotov cocktails" "how to make molotov cocktails" and "how much damage would a thrown molotov cocktail do to a wooden structure". However, I did not google "molotov cocktails made with faerie liquor" which might have made my FBI flag more interesting." -- Kiersten White (PARANORMALCY)
"I'm also probably on some watch list somewhere, even though I was doing research WITH the FBI because I was googling disturbing porn video names for research for WTGP. Besides giving myself nightmares...I had to make sure to clear my browser history in case my teens went on my computer and thought I was even more a freak than they already do." -- Sarah Darer Littman (WANT TO GO PRIVATE)
There also ought to be a warning label for when you're the Significant Other of a dedicated writer: it's a hazardous thing to love someone bent on being bizarre for a living! Carrie Ryan (THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH) "made my husband run down a path on top of a mountain in the middle of a winter night under a full moon so I could figure out just how many details I could and couldn't see (much of the book took place at night under a full moon). It was awesome, I kept making him go back and said, "Come running at me like a zombie!" I think the poor thing might have been barefoot too (not my fault he didn't want to grab shoes)." Holly Nicole Hoxter (THE SNOWBALL EFFECT) ruefully remembers, "One time when I was 19 or 20 and still writing short stories, I had my boyfriend drive me to the travel plaza just so I could walk in and walk out again (to see what setting details my character would notice when he did the same thing). For some reason I was embarrassed to explain to the boyfriend that it was story research, so he definitely thought it was bizarre." And my own husband, Better-Than-Boyfriend, tolerates my incessant questions about physically mauling somebody and lets me borrow hapless minions for the sake of seeing two people fight/grapple/hit/grab/punch/lift & throw one another. Is this research or merely creative sadism? (Don't answer that!)
However, it's no surprise that Maggie Steifvater (THE WOLVES OF MERCY FALLS) takes the cake: "For a horror book I was writing, I once invited 23 authors to a hunting lodge in the middle of Missouri when there was snow predicted." And we all know how *that* turned out...
So what is the craziest/weirdest/extremist thing YOU ever did for research? Comment below and share the crazy! It's nice to know that we're in good company.