Thursday, September 1, 2011

Top 10 Research Facts

Research is an on-going by-product of writing. Sometimes you learn something unexpected when you trot off for a bit of impromptu research. My philosophy is all knowledge makes your life more interesting. I like knowing things for the sake of knowing them, which can make things difficult when I get side-tracked from writing by the research.

Take that little jaunt having to do with processing acorns. I started out just looking up information about how to process acorns so they would be edible. Then one thing led to another. If you'd like to know more about the great acorn hunt, check out the tab on my blog that has that story.

Anyway, I thought I would tell you about the top ten things I've learned through research (other than the Great Acorn Hunt).

1) Before there were archeologists, there were antiquarians. Back in 1812 the American Antiquarian Society was established in Massachusetts. It's still ticking along as a fabulous place for research. Check it out by clicking on the AAS above. Since my current book takes place in the 1830's, I needed to know what an archeologist was called back then. And I discovered the AAS by happy accident.

2) In the book before my current one (Shadows on Stone) I needed a medium sized cargo plane. After extensive research, I settled on a Skyvan for it's size and maneuverability. And then I stumbled on THIS IMAGE which gave me a wonderful idea for the Skyvan in my book. But aside from the way I painted my own plane, I also learned all sorts of interesting things about this very versatile airplane.

3) Before packaged yeast, how did people make bread and other yeasty products? Did you ever wonder? Well, I discovered a wonderful book titled Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Until I started delving into the subject, it didn't occur to me that yogurt was fermented. You learn the most amazing things sometimes.

4) In a particular survival scenario, I wondered if regular Superglue could be substituted for medical glue. I happen to belong to a SURVIVAL FORUM. I tossed the question out there for general discussion and received a picture via e-mail from one of the members showing a very long slash on his leg which he'd repaired with regular Superglue when he was injured while hunting. Several other members directed me to appropriate sites for other discussions on the same subject.

5) For another book I wondered what kind of house could you build with minimal tools AND minimal wood? For much of the world, the answer is mud. But where to go to find out about making such a dwelling? One of the finest books I found on the subject was The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley. It's a great book about how to build a cob cottage. And just for your info...there are cob dwellings from the 1500's that are still in use in Great Britain.

6) While researching RV's and other small homes, I stumbled on a site for the TumbleweedTinyHouse. And I instantly fell in love. This was a house I had to use in a book. I even knew exactly which book I would use it in--Phantom's Rest. I don't own a tiny house myself, but someday down the road, I would like to live in one. In the meantime, I enjoyed working out how to use it in my story.

7) In our extremely water-wasteful, germaphobic culture we've moved away from the realities of dealing with human waste. We use that nice shiny toilet and flush, using zillions of gallons of potable water to deal with the end result. But for most of the world, that isn't the way life works. In the process of writing several different books, I've acquired quite a library of books dealing with how to dispose of or use human waste. I have everything from books on waterless toilets to composting human manure. One such book is The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins. For those of you holding your nose with your lips curled back in a "Ewwwww," I would remind you that one of the first things to breakdown in a disaster is the plumbing.

8) Do ya wanna know about guns? Shooter's Bible will tell you everything you ever wanted to know. Of course, there are things you'll never know (how heavy that weapon is in your hands or what kind of kick it has when you pull the trigger) unless you shoot it yourself. There isn't any other way to know that. And I have to tell you, it's nothing like on TV or the movies.

9) Speaking of guns--there is a rifle peculiar to the American frontier--sometimes called the Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle. I needed some very specific information regarding this rifle. The American Longrifles site was one of many I utilized for my questions. I must say every single man I spoke to about this subject--whether from this site or another--was a patient gentleman. They answered the dumbest questions without lifting an eyebrow.

10) Finally, early clothing and weapons utilized leather. That involved tanning--so called because of the use of tannin. For a nice comprehensive article on TANNING I turned to Wikipedia. Surprised? Oh, I didn't stop after that, but I found it to be an excellent starting point.

So what have you learned inadvertently while researching? What's your most interesting research adventure?



  1. I don't research...I write what I know and have lived. That's the best I can do

  2. And that clearly works for you! Works well... :-)

  3. Bread turns into beer after a while and I guess beer can make bread...

  4. I believe you would enjoy the fermentation book. Very well written!

  5. You are the queen of research.
    I ran across a book on weapons that has been very helpful. Weaponry was the one that always had me on the hunt.

  6. That cat sounds like James Earl Jones in my head :)