Featured image by National Cancer Institute.
Last month, I shared a survey asking what types of articles are of interest to fantasy readers. The number one response I got was the random stuff I had to research for my writing. Enjoy some tidbits about topics I’d never dreamed I’d have to know about.
Researched for: Through the Mirrah (Amazon link)
Why: Architecture is Aideen’s passion. Seeing some of the structures in the novel through her eyes, I didn’t know how to describe what she noticed. So naturally, I had to learn.
From orders of Greek columns to Victorian mansard roofs, I learned more than I probably needed to know. But I hope it helped paint the pictures of Coby’s house, the Brown Ostrich, and the other buildings in the book.
Actual architecture-related terms:
- Bumwad: thin tracing paper to sketch building detail on (the term comes from the paper’s similarity to cheap toilet paper)
- Dentil: small, rectangular blocks (resembling teeth) that are used for molding (used to cover transitions between surfaces, or just for decoration)
- Rustication: refers to a number of different masonry techniques to provide textures (like leaving stones or brick rough, or polishing them so they’re smooth).
Forest, Active Directory, Root Domains, Schema
Researched for: Through the Mirrah
Why: Why, indeed? Sounds like pretty boring computer-y stuff to me. But I had this phrase in my head, “Kill the bugs, fix the roots.” I dove down the Google rabbit hole to see what it would come up with.
This is another case of learning more than I needed (a common theme for me). I didn’t end up using much of this information, except the idea that a forest has a single root domain. I made the one root Rag Man and Aideen needed to fix the control for the whole Northern Forest.
Some of my actual notes:
- “Anhinga has figured out: single root controlling forest, causing tricks (bugs/glitch). Can’t get rid of it, but can change/reprogram it (repair). Helps Aideen do this—no more tricks?” (Anhinga was the character who originally helped Aideen with this, but he was cut. Sorry, Anhinga.)
- “LOL: Aideen has an ax, can hack into the root.” (Spoiler: I didn’t end up using that idea.)
Researched for: Through the Mirrah
Why: Because why not? 😈 I started in mythology, looking for some ideas on interesting obstacles in the Northern Forest. (Side note: I ended up cutting most of the obstacle scenes I wrote.) How I ended up on demons after gods, I can’t quite remember, but the most obvious information I used was that about Aamon (aka Amon, who inspired Imuhn in the book).
Aamon vs. Imuhn:
- Aamon is said to have an owl’s head, a wolf’s body, and a snake tail. I kept Imuhn simple: blue jay head and man’s body.
- Aamon gives knowledge of the past and future to those who make a pact with Satan. Imuhn will give knowledge (among other things), no pact with Satan necessary. You will need to make a deal with him, though it may take some negotiating.
- Aamon and Imuhn both appear when called.
How to Make a Frozen Planet Inhabitable
Researched for: On the Edge
Why: Being my most science-y sci-fi story to date, On the Edge is set in space and the future, so I had my work cut out for me. I based my planet, Sikstu, on Kepler 62f (get it? 6-2?), but then didn’t know how to make it work.
I read for hours and hours, and to be honest, more half of what I read went over my head. I don’t know if what I ended up with is at all believable, but it worked for me. (Side note: It blows my mind how much knowledge we have of faraway planets.)
Some cool science facts:
- Kepler 62f is 1,200 light years from Earth, with an average surface temperature of -22 degrees F. It’s sun is a red dwarf, so it is smaller and dimmer than the Earth’s sun.
- Kinetic bombardment refers to sending a projectile (usually a tungsten rod, about 20 feet long and 1 foot in diameter) from space onto the planet. The projectile is long and dense to prevent excessive loss of velocity.
- Calcium Carbide (CaC2) is made from lime and coke. Added to water, it creates acetylene gas. The resulting fuel makes ice look like it’s burning. The fire will melt the ice, creating more reactions. (Bonus fact: CaC2 smells like garlic.)
Researched for: An unpublished spec script for The Simpsons called The Hunt for Mrs. Moe
Why: “Research” is probably a strong term for this one. I needed a numismatist (coin collector) for the b-story, where Bart found a rare coin then was tricked into selling it to Comic Book Guy for less than it was worth. Marge convinces Comic Book Guy to sell the coin and split the proceeds with Bart.
Gretzky is the prospective buyer. Once I learned he was a coin collector, I just googled his name to get some details to play with in the script.
He really does collect coins, or did in 2007, when I wrote it.
I took some liberties in describing his house. To my knowledge, none of the following are true:
- His front hallway is all ice and he answers the door wearing ice skates.
- His front hallway is lined with Wayne Gretzky wallpaper.
- He naps on his couch with a Wayne Gretzky pillowcase and sheet.
Researched for: Various user guides
Why: I don’t always write non-fiction, but when I do, it involves research (for example, this entire blog post). For a while, I was helping my dad out while he was in charge of a hazardous materials (hazmat) response team. One of the many things I did for him was create user guides for some of the equipment.
As a result, I know how to use:
- Gas Alert Micro 5: a portable gas detector (see my user guide here)
- Kestrel 4500: a weather meter (Apparently, it was discontinued in 2015 and replaced by the Kestrel 5500.)
- Ludlum 14C Survey Meter: a radiation detector (The battery lasts for over 2,000 hours!)
Researched for: Everything!
Why: While it may not be unusual for an author to research names, there are a variety of ways to handle it. Some authors just use names that sound good for their characters. Some dive deep into meanings and cultural use to find a name that fits the character and/or situation. Some, like me, do both.
- Desher (an homage to the Egyptian name for Mars, Har Decher or “The Red One”) and Jupita (for Jupiter) in On the Edge, my set-in-the-future space sci-fi. Why not name space-y characters after planets?
- Aideen Fitzpatrick (Aideen because it’s a good Irish name and Fitzpatrick in honor of my grandfather, Patrick) and Sterling Falcon (after a typewriter and a football team, à la Remington Steele) in Through the Mirrah (Amazon link), matching names to the feelings I was going for around the character.
- Deangelo Ventura (Deangelo means “of the angels” and Ventura means “fortunate”.) The former is pretty accurate when we meet him; the latter is ironic or cruel, depending on your take on the end of the story (Fickle Flesh of Fate). And Skelly? Well, he’s a skeleton! 💀