Research Beyond the Net–Way Beyond

Last night I had the Mac Daddy of all dreams.  That’s saying something because I dream often, I dream vividly, and my dreams are almost always off the wall.

Suffice it to say I slipped a mouse into my son’s overalls.  How he ended up one again eludes me, as does the exact reason for dropping a rodent into his drawers.  Except, it was on an editor’s request.  For some reason Editor felt it would be best if someone found out what would happen–before he accepted my manuscript. 

Apparently it had something to do with the novel I had pitched, though I swear I’ve never written about a mouse in someone’s pants.  Needless to say, a short time later, a very disheveled little field mouse tumbled out of Son’s bibs.  According to the idea behind the project, this was an epic fail, and I faced telling Editor the bad news.

I promise you, getting rejected in your dreams is no easier than getting rejected in real life.  Even for a reason as stupid as the mouse not staying put long enough. 

But I digress…

In terms of research, even a novel must be factually based.  For my fantasy-and I use the term very loosly-chapter book, I had to research ships for  my pirate family.  For my middle grade camp tale, I had to know how many kids played on a soccer team and what year root beer was first made.  I even researched how long it takes to start puking after sipping syrup of ipecac for my YA. 

I wanted to try it myself, just to know, but I truly feared the gut-wrenching stories I read about.  Note to self, syrup of ipecac is nah-sty.

My current WIP called on me to test color-making on paper using natural ingredients.  I spent an entire day smearing flowers and rocks, weeds and sticks, pork chops and grapefruit onto the paper to get reds, purples, yellows, greens and browns. 

So, my question is this: how far do you go to research your novels? 

Would you drop a mouse in your kid’s drawers?  Would you throw back a mouthful of Pop Rocks and swig soda just to see if it really explodes?  Have you cooked odd recipes for your historical fiction just to describe the taste and smell?

What is the craziest thing you’ve researched for your writing?  Did it turn out the way you thought it would?

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22 responses to “Research Beyond the Net–Way Beyond

  1. That sounds like an interesting dream, Cate. Perhaps you can squeeze a middle-grade tale out of it?

    This doesn’t sound very crazy, but I did research fossils of southeastern Ohio for my first MS. I found out about one creature that has only been found in that area, a diploceraspi, with a head shaped like a banana. (Can’t imagine why that species didn’t survive…) I learned a lot, anyway.

    • Layinda,

      Maybe the survival instinct rots away in the BananaBrained?!?! LOL.

      My oldest was a huge dino freak and I’ve never heard of the diploceraspi. Sounds pretty cool. Did you get to use it in your manuscript or is your head just filled with this useless knowledge?

      Also, I loved your thought-provoking post on rating systems for books. I hope more people comment on it, as it is so nice to read and ponder the different perspectives. Nice job!

  2. Strangest would be how to make beef jerky, natural and in the oven. It’s far easier than you would think. Best to do it in the winter when you don’t mind the house being heated up from a slightly open oven.

    In the same scene I learned how to roast chestnuts over an open fire. It’s such an insignificant part of the story; but I honestly wanted to get the details right. (Hugs)Indigo

    • Indigo,

      Both of those sound fascinating. What kind of book was this for, and what was the setting/time frame? I’ve never had roasted chestnuts, but every Chrsitmas season rekindles my desire to try them. Is this process more difficult than beef jerky?

      ~cat

  3. Cat, you read my mind.

    I’ve been writing about something I don’t know, and the research has been wonderful.

    I’ll go as far as I have to go. I needed to write about horses, and although I grew up on a ranch, it’s surprising how little I know about the critters.

    I had to look up the tack, the breeds, the terminology around the horse. I bought this horse encyclopedia for my daughter, because she loves horses.

    I borrowed it, of course. Immediately.

    Google and Wiki are open when I write. I reference them as often as I reference http://www.m-w.com.

    When I’m writing about an area of the country or the world that I do not know well, I’ll open Google Maps and look at the topography, view the snapshot pictures people take, read Wiki articles and whatever else I can find.

    I’m considering with my wife taking a trip to the Nevada Salt Flats. For research. She’s from Las Vegas, so it might be a good trip for us.

    Been a while since I held a real rifle, longer still since I held a Winchester .30-30, so I went to Bass Pro and asked to hold a Ruger .22 and a Winchester .30-30. Just to get the feel right. These were a big part of my last story.

    I get it. Readers appreciate the work you put into the details. One thing readers like is this: TO LEARN.

    Teach em right.

    – Eric

    • Eric,

      Good points and great ideas for researching. It doesn’t have to be difficult, just thorough.

      I once read a quote (now, horribly paraphrased by me) that stated much of what we know is wrong. We believe that by growing up on a ranch, we know all there is to know–and inevitably get things wrong. It’s nice to see that you go beyond your call of memory and delve into the facts. Your readers will love you for that.

      ~cat

  4. As a devoted reader, and definitely not a writer, I appreciate attention to detail. Cat, you have written about many things that distract readers attention, but getting the details wrong drives me mad! I can look beyond bad editing and typos (barely), and I can live with words that I have to look up in the dictionary, but writers must get the details right. When I know a writer has the details wrong it distracts me from all other parts of the story because I am constantly wondering, “what else did she miss?” Fiction or non-fiction, the details really matter to this reader.

    • Becca,

      You (a reader) are the reason we need to be so vigilant in our writing. As soon as we feed our audience an untruth, they will be pulled from the story in a way we can’t allow. Make too many of them and we’ve lost our readership for good.

      Thanks so much for providing your perspective. It helps us better understand the impact of our words.

      Hugs~ cat

  5. I do tons of research for my writing, too. The types of trees native to a certain area, viewpoints from certain places (so I get the scenery right), etc. But I think the strangest thing I’ve done for research (my kids would agree) was with men’s cologne. When trying to describe a certain scent in my story I found the description fell flat. So I bought some men’s cologne and went around the entire day sniffing it and trying to pinpoint the exact spices and earthy smells I could identify. I thought it was a good idea and quite normal – but I guess in retrospect, it looked like I was sniffing for ‘other’ reasons. :)

    • LOL! I can just picture you spritzing the air then crossing off your list of spices.

      I would guess our erratic behavior is what leads people to believe that writers are a crazy breed. If only they knew the half of it…

      Nice research project. I’m sure the kids got a kick out of it.

  6. As I don’t have children, I would definitely drop a mouse into their drawers. Most of my research has been through books, but occasionally I put the ol’ husband in a headlock or something if I’m trying to research a fight scene. (I never squeeze. Ah trust…) A friend of mine who writes thrillers once asked her husband to lock her in the trunk of her car for a few moments, just so she could get a feel for what it’s like, but he wouldn’t do it.

    • Barbara,

      I trust…

      Too bad your friend’s hubby wouldn’t follow through. It would have been interesting to see how that turned out. I think it is so great to know first hand what your characters are going through. Even to the point of headlocks!

      ~cat

  7. I don’t tend to not follow through on crazy research ideas. Though I do read about other people doing crazy things to find out how it worked before.

    • Cassandra,

      Any research is better than winging it. Readers demand knowledge and they can sniff out a fake truth with relative ease. Research is so much easier now with the internet that sometimes it’s like experiencing things first hand without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.

      ~cat

  8. I tried to free myself from a situation where my ankles were duct-taped together and my wrists duct-taped behind my back. I didn’t actually get taped up, but I kept my hands and feet in position and wiggled and stretched to see if I could do it.

    It didn’t work out. I had to tweak the scene to make my protagonist’s escape possible.

    • Nice research, Patricia. Were you home alone for this experiment, or did you haven an audience cheering you on? I can just imagine trying something like this in front of my family. I would be laughed at for a month of Sundays!

  9. I do some research. I haven’t done anything too off the wall…yet. I did go see the Wynken, Blynken and Nod statue in Denver’s Washington Park so I would have a good idea of how to use it as a portal in my YA novel.

    • Lisa, that sounds pretty cool. A portal is always exciting, and seeing it in person makes it much more real. I can’t wait to read about it someday!

  10. What a great post! Love the dream – glad it all worked out okay for your son :)

    Strangely I don’t think I’ve done anything too wacky for research. I’m gonna have to correct that real soon… :)

    • Over at our AQ chat, we just discussed checking out the tampax dispensers in bathrooms…and other fun things.

      You’ll have to try something out of the box sometime, it’s actually quite fun!

      hugs~ cat

  11. I took a detour through downtown Detroit with no fear whatsoever because that was where my MC was from and I was so into him I wanted to feel what he felt and go where he went. About the rodent….wouldn’t this have entailed having to “touch” it? Now that, dear Cat, I could not do.

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