I’m doing research for a new book idea and for the next book in my current series, the Gethsemane Brown Mysteries. I also revisited some places that inspired events in Gethsemane Brown books 1-4. I’ve discovered things that made me wish eye bleach was a thing (websites run by people who want to resurrect the Confederacy and who think slavery wasn’t really that bad) and gone to places so creepy, I checked the gas gauge on my car to make sure I wouldn’t get stranded (an abandoned asylum and derelict prison). I even started my own podcast (Cozy Corner with Alexia Gordon) to learn what goes into creating those twenty minute-to-two-hour audio adventures—podcasters may figure in a future plot.
I asked my fellow Missdemeanors: What’s the strangest research you’ve done or source of inspiration you’ve used for one of your novels or short stories? Define strange however you’d like–weird, rare, fantastic, unusual, unpleasant, scary…
Cate: I took ballet for a year with ex professional dancers to write about the dance program in Dark Turns and create the competitive ballerinas in the story.
I had never taken dance before. Here I am in the recital doing a horrible version of whatever the person next to me is doing.
Connie: While researching my second book, A Legacy of Murder (coming Oct 8, 2019), I wanted to understand policing in Suffolk, England. My husband and I stayed for a week in an historic weaver’s cottage in a gorgeous Suffolk village and spent a day with a female detective inspector at Constabulary Headquarters in Bury St. Edmunds. That part was amazing. But I also needed to know if and how someone could get up on the roof of a stately home. That meant actually doing it—serious acrophobia and all. Fortunately, I was able to use the experience, and the fear, in the book.
Tracee: (First off, I should have replied RIGHT AWAY so I wouldn’t have to compete with Cate’s ballet story. Cate, I knew you took ballet for a year, but didn’t know you were in the RECITAL. Kudos to you. And I love the photo.) We’ve all done research into ways to kill someone – worried what our search engine history would look like. For Swiss Vendetta I had a firsthand account of what it felt like to be stabbed in the back with a stiletto-type blade—a patient my father treated in the ER. She worked in a school cafeteria and was stabbed in the back with an ice pick and knew exactly how that felt. Fortunately, she survived and was more than happy to share what it felt like. In A Well-Timed Murder the victim died of anaphylaxis after ingesting peanuts. The medical research was easy. However, I hadn’t predicted the reaction of a women who was a guest in our house for dinner. When asked what I was working on, I shared the general premise of my WIP. She went pale. Very pale. She has a serious peanut allergy and has been hospitalized several times as a result of contact. We knew this and had scrubbed the house clean of any peanut product. However, I believe she thought I might test run my method of murder that night. I swear she kept an epi-pen clutched in her napkin all evening…
Laurie: I am just dying at your fab examples! They’re so great – and I am having a ball imagining the recital, the climbing on the roof, the epi pen clutching…:-). You are so fun!
For me, I really enjoyed learning how to throw knives. I’m putting it in the category of “strange” because I’m actually quite good at it – LOL. I can’t throw a frisbee straight, but anything archery related and now apparently throwing knives, I’m pretty darn good. I learned about it, because my main character’s parents were spies in World War I. I was imagining how they would have raised her, what they would have taught her, how they would have prepared her for life… I am always teaching my boys life lessons and whatnot, so I figured spy parents would naturally teach survival skills. I wanted to give Lane a talent that would be interesting, yet something a spy could teach a kid, so I gave her knife throwing (practice knives are not sharpened). The first time I threw a knife, I hit the bullseye. SO satisfying. Especially when my teenage sons witnessed it! Hah!
Alison:What a strange world! My husband built a target for knife/ax/tomahawk throwing at our place upstate several years ago. He just replaced some of the wood because it had taken such a beating. (If beating is the right word for the damage done by sharp objects to a wooden target. Not sure.) It is so much fun! I say that even though I am absolutely, unequivocally terrible at it.
Tracee: Okay, seriously! Knife throwing? I am now so envious… I wonder if my neighbors will freak if we build a knife target… probably only if I miss a lot. (Maybe if I put it on our barn… yes, we live downtown, a block from the courthouse and police station and post office yet have a two-story barn. Welcome to small town America!) Knife throwing. Fun!
Connie: My husband gets nervous when I have a kitchen knife in my hand. I tell him he was stabbed in a previous life. So, no knife-throwing for me!
Robin: My dad taught me to throw a pocketknife when I was little. Who knew it was such a popular skill? I’ve spent so long investigating Internet-land, there’s not much that’s strange to me anymore. One of the entertaining (to me) research things I’ve done had nothing to do with technology, though. I wrote a police procedural about a serial killer in the art community years ago (unpublished, currently in my “revise & update” file because I still really like the story). If I give you details, I’ll give away the ending, but suffice to say I spent an afternoon covered head to toe in paint with the floor of my garage partially covered in canvas to test the accuracy of my description of a series of events.
Me: Robin, this is what that makes me think of:
Robin: What can I say? I was ahead of my time.
Alison: Strangest research or source of inspiration? Mormon history. For Blessed Be the Wicked, it’s blood atonement; for Death in the Covenant, polygamy. From curious current practices–like baptism for the dead–to long-forgotten ones–like penalty oaths, Mormonism provides a deep well for murder research. (And, yes, I’ve been baptized for the dead in both the Swiss and Salt Lake temples.)
Susan: I so wish I had learned to throw knives, but I didn’t. I did have a character in my very first novel (as yet unpublished) who was a pianist. I wanted to get across his character in an authentic way, and so I took piano lessons for ten years. I can’t say that I ever became a great pianist, or even an adequate one, but it did create in me a love of classical music and I’ve often drawn on that in my short stories. In fact, I had a story in a Malice Domestic anthology that drew on weird information I’d learned about the composer, Alexander Scriabin. So it is absolutely true that nothing is ever wasted, which I believe Paula said in her most recent Career Authors post.
Michele: I love doing research for a book, especially taking a field trip to authenticate the setting, although I haven’t gone to the extent Connie has. But I may yet. So I’ll go with sharing a “weird” inspiration for a book. I had a pair of ratty, old terry-cloth slippers, I was very fond of and wouldn’t throw away. They had seen me through some very tough times, brought me comfort, and deserved better than being tossed just because they were no longer in their prime. Even when teased by family to get new slippers or wear the ones I had received as gifts to replace my pink slippers, I resisted. I decided they would be the star of a book I would write. “My Pink Slippers” was never published but was a finalist for the Minotaur Malice Award. It opens with the protagonist strolling down her street to the beach stark naked, wearing only her pink slippers on her way to walk into the frigid winter ocean. Alexia, you did say we could share weird, right?
Me: Weird is good
Connie: Michele, what a story! No wonder you were a finalist. Those pink slippers. Do you still have them? Photo??
Alison: Oh, Michele! A naked woman in old pink slippers is so utterly delightful. I, too, know the love of well-worn house shoes. My weakness is for boiled wool slippers from Germany. I wore a pair (purple with deep fuchsia flowers) for at least two years after my big toes had worn holes through them. I weighed the holes against the fact that the soles fit the bottom of my foot to perfection. I decided I could live with the holes.
Paula: Wow. This has been very entertaining reading. I love research. For Blind Search, Book Two in my Mercy Carr series (pubbing in November), I got to do all kinds of research. The novel takes place during hunting season, so I had to study all manner of weaponry and trapping contraptions and poaching methods. But the best part was the bears. We have lots of black bears in New England, thanks to successful ongoing efforts to repopulate the species. I even attended a lecture by the Bear Project Leader in New Hampshire called Bears in Your Backyard. It was awesome. Now I know what to do if I meet a bear on our property. And what Mercy will do when she meets a bear on hers.
How about you? How far have you gone to get the information you needed? Done something weird, spooky, oddball, or over-the-top intense? Comment on the blog or join the conversation on social media.