Saturday, June 16, 2012

Research (and search, and search, and...)

A few quick facts about me: I love reading, I love writing, and I love learning. Thus, writing research is one of my favorite things in the world.

Even writing picture books leads to quirky fun facts and fascinating ideas. When venturing to write a mid grade novel on a Christmas theme, I became so immersed in the winter solstice, bells, Planet X and the Yule Cat, it took me a good long while to drag myself away from studying to write the actual story.

Here are some favorite research tidbits I've dug up:

1. There really are people in the world who eat scabs. I know, I know...but it's best to be aware, don't you think?

2. The Navajo loom is symbolic of life, the universe and, well, everything.

3. There are no crystal skulls reported to be of ancient date that have actually been proven to be of ancient date. All that have been examined have been debunked as well crafted forgeries. There is one possibility, but in the middle of an investigation to prove the skull's authenticity, the owner snatched back her prize and now refuses to let anyone see it--unless she likes you a lot. She says she previewed the assassination of John Kennedy in it.

4. My favorite holiday legend? The Yule Cat. In Iceland (I think it's Iceland) if boys and girls were hard workers they received clothes for the holidays. Anyone caught without new clothes at the right moment would be promptly eaten by the giant Yule Cat.

Isn't that cool? Nothing like a creepy Christmas. I know this fabulous legend has helped my own children to work hard year round and show proper appreciation for those gifts of socks and underwear.

5. And finally, studying Planet X just raises more questions than it gives answers. Is it real, is it not real, and what does it have to do with Babylon? And Atlantis? And the end of the world? And is it the 11th planet or the 12th planet even though we’re apparently down to only 8 planets?

Yes, Planet X. A whole treasure trove of unending research. OCD research junkies like me should avoid the topic entirely.

But, you know, if you can control it, here's a link to get you started: Planet X.  


Friday, June 1, 2012

Be Careful What You Research...

Here at the cabinet we're collecting a different kind of curiosity--odd information.  Having the freedom to hunt down random facts and call it research is one of the more fun things about being a writer.  That's how I first learned about the art of pumpkin catapulting, how a raven's track in the dust looks diferent from a crow's, and what spices are used in Mediterranian foods.  I've also spent hours finding just the right 1930s mansion and pouring over its rooms, and sketched for myself how a dragon could use a dual stomach and oxygen to breath fire.
Like I said, not exactly a bust job!  The problem comes when the research spills over into real life.  After obsessing over viquariums, frogs, toads and turtles this last month, I found myself irresistably drawn to build a pond in my front yard and invite my aquatic nieghbors to come swim.  I picked up a used pond liner today, and hope to break ground tomorrow.  A little odd, but not so bad a thing, right?  Well, I've also given myself a healthy fear of snakes this last month, and something bordering on phobia where one particular snake is concerned.

The coral snake.  Native to much of the south, and found in some parts of NC.  Did you know that when a coral snake bites, you may not initially react at all?  The wound can look fine, and you don't have any first.  Just when you're likely to conclude that you're safe, the venom really hits you.  Dizzyness, vomiting, confusion and tremors are all possible.  But what's likely to kill you is a loss of neurological control over crucial parts of your body like your lungs.  In other words, your body forgets how to breathe.  Even better, the coral snake seldom bites unless handled, so even though it's a pretty potent snake the antivenom is being carried by fewer and fewer hospitals.  Odds are good that if you make it to a hospital, you'll have to wait while they locate and maybe go fetch the antivenom.  While all of that sounds utterly delightful, the clencher for me was a small detail.  Coral snakes don't have retractable fangs, so they don't come at you with a big toothy smile to leave tiny vampire marks in your skin.  No, when a coral snake bites, it gets a good grip and starts chewing.  It's goal is to get a good jump start on digestion and make sure the venom is worked in nice and deep.

Beginning to see why I'm not so keen on these things?  Of course, the fact that I cast them in the role of the bad guy--or bad lady, in this case--and tied them to a twisted spell, a ritual, and a fifty year feud probably didn't help.  But I still say, be careful what you research--that knowledge might raise its scaly head and come back to bite you.