T is for Travel

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A day behind; bear with me.  I’m trying to run around and work remotely at the same time!

Sometimes you have to travel to do research.  Reading about something or someone won’t cut it.  You want to hear sounds, see things for yourself, feel textures, and smell smells.

For example, you can’t describe the poofy marshmallow mountains of clouds until you fly right by them.

For example, you can’t describe the poofy marshmallow mountains of clouds until you fly right by them.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

You might notice I’m back in London.  I’m actually here because of an event my online soundtrack nerd pals and I will attend (more on that in a later post), but since I spent most of my holiday in autumn holidaying, I didn’t get much research done.  So I’m using this time to try and buckle down.

I’m trying to think of places my characters might go, things they might have eaten or drunk, etc., and visit what’s left of them, if possible.  Today, I went to the Museum of London and looked at their exhibit of things from 1950 and beyond.

I did find some things that my character(s) might have touched and worn and used, in addition to learning a bit about the era.  Thanks to a cheap notebook I bought in the gift shop (see, I told you I’m flying by the seat of my pants–how the hell did I get all the way over here without a notebook!?), I managed to jot down quite a few things I can check into further.

After a delicious sandwich at Pret a Manger (they’re everywhere), I walked up the street toward St. Paul Tube station and whoopy, there was St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I have never been to it, so I walked around it in the gardens.

Character 1 might have walked here one day, when contemplating, and looked up to see this.

Update 5/26/15:  I am SUCH a dweeb. I realized just now that I forgot to put this picture in the post.

Update 5/26/15: I am SUCH a dweeb. I realized just now that I forgot to put this picture in the post.

Though I suspect mostly tourists go inside, people do use the lawn and gardens when it’s sunny, as it was today.

It was around four-thirty in the afternoon, and I noticed they had a service scheduled for St. George’s Day, with a choir.  I’ve never been to an Anglican church–I grew up Catholic, so I thought, what the hell?

Look where I sat. 

Look where I sat.

Photo:  Sneaked on smartphone by Elizabeth West

Since my British character would probably have gone to church regularly as a small child, I wanted to see what the service was like.  It’s very similar to a Catholic mass and even has communion.  As St. Paul’s welcomes all baptized members of any denomination up to this ancient ritual, and as I haven’t taken communion in ages, I did.  Exactly the same as a Catholic one.

I even had an idea for a scene I could do later in the book, during one of the angsty parts.  Heh heh.  Thanks, God.  Hope you heard the request I put in with the little Vespers candle.

When I came out, this happened:

Delightful, no?

Then of course, the Picadilly line at peak time. Yes, it really is like a sardine can.  It doesn’t bother me that much, unless the train gets stuck or I’m wearing too many layers of clothing.

If you’re going to travel to do research, I suggest you become more organized than I am before you go.

  • Make lists of all the things you want to know about the place you’re going.
  • Try to choose the top ten and discard the rest, or save it for later.
  • Cull everything that you can research another way–online, at the library, etc.
  • Out of what is left, plan your visits with the time you’ve allotted.

Now it’s time for bed.  We have plans to lunch with a dear friend and visit Isabella Plantation tomorrow–I know I went there last time, but now it’s spring and the azaleas will be in bloom.

Good night!

S is for Sources

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Where do you get the information for your research?  You find sources.  You can read books, talk to people, find articles, etc.  There are two main types, primary and secondary.

A primary source is closest to direct subject knowledge.  For example, historical documents such as letters, official reports, or field notebooks could tell you what kind of activities your Victorian Egyptologist character would have been engaged in.  If your character is a police detective, you could talk to one about interviewing techniques, like I did for Rose’s Hostage.

Or, let’s say you’re writing a story about Neanderthals.  Our ancient relatives were experts in the art of flint knapping, so to authenticate your story, you want to learn more about how they made spear points, axes, etc.  Since there aren’t any Neanderthals around anymore, if you wanted to actually try your hand at it, you would have to find someone who practices the craft.  Quite a few people do it, and you can even take classes.  I’ve done it, in archaeology class–it’s fun.

A modern flintknapper shapes a stone tool. 

A modern flintknapper shapes a stone tool.

Image:  outdooralabama.com

The reminisces of commenters on the London photos page I mentioned are primary sources.  Not all primary sources are reliable; even memories can fade with time or become altered.  Judges and cops know that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, but it’s the closest thing we have to actually being there.

You could also read a book about knapping.  (I have one!)  Or you could read websites and articles about the people who practice primitive tool making.  These last would be secondary sources.

Just one or two anecdotes or an article reporting them aren’t enough, unless you’re already speculating.  For Tunerville, I found an article about something NASA is researching, and I extrapolated off that.  This flying by the seat of my pants wouldn’t have worked with Rose’s Hostage; for the police interview scenes, I consulted with a retired police officer.

Whatever you use, check it against several other sources.  You will undoubtedly have readers who know something of your subject, and they will tell you if you’re wrong.

R is for Replete (not yet)

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Today’s post was supposed to be R-read, but I’m too damn tired to do that one.  Besides, this bench I’m on is very uncomfortable.

I am not yet replete, because that will not happen until I actually get some real sleep and get some work done, but I’m getting there.

I’m traveling today–the American Airlines regional flight out of my home city was canceled, due to a hailstorm in Dallas (connection city).  They put us all on another flight through Chicago, but it got pushed back.  I had to rebook yet again to get back on the second (and last!) British Airways flight out of ORD to LHR of the day.  It’s a good thing I did, since I would have missed the first one entirely.

Now I have a seat in World Traveller Plus, which I originally paid for, and I’m at my gate.  Waiting.

And waiting.  But hey, free secret wifi.

And waiting.  But hey, free secret wifi.

 Image:  Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

Look for a post reviewing British Airways’ World Traveller Plus–I’m kind of excited about that.  I hear tell it’s nicer than average.  You might get two, since I’m flying it both ways, asleep going over and awake going back.

If you fly into Chicago fTIProm another American city and have an international connection, you’ll have to go through security again when you get to Terminal 5! So don’t shuffle your liquids around just yet.

They didn’t catch my contact solution in my backpack, heh heh.  But I did have to have my knee brace and hands swabbed.  Because apparently knee braces could hide stuff, I guess.  Whatever.

I’ll be back with you tomorrow for another exciting post, this time from London!

Q is for Quaver

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Behind again–this is April 21’s post.  I’ll do my best to get a post written between flights today.


Ever get nervous about a project?

I’m nervous about this one.  I’m quavering.  I feel as though I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, taken on too much, shot my arrow too high into the air, and it’s going to come back down and slice through my body like I’m made of butter.

This guy.  He knows.

This guy.  He knows.

Image:  tinta / drawception.com

It’s an odd feeling—I have no reason to be nervous about it.  No agents are breathing down my neck, and I have no deadline.  I do have a very strange feeling that I need to do it and do it now, for what reason I can’t fathom.  And it’s all mixed up with some very strange anticipation that revolves around my other work.

Am I getting vibes?  Is my brain trying to tell me that this is too big a project, and that I should be working on other things?  Is that the fearful, inadequate me talking?

I’m nervous about flying again.  Nervous about working remotely from so far away.  Nervous that I spent too much time and money chasing down something that will never happen (there’s Ms. Inadequate again).  This whole last week has been ridiculously crappy, with the knee injury, the broken elevator, and now some confusion about my flights.

So excuse my quavers, while I try yet again to have some kind of meaningful adventure.

P is for Plagiarism

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The unattributed use of a source of information that is not considered common knowledge.  In general, the following acts are considered plagiarism: (1) failing to cite quotations or borrowed ideas, (2) failing to enclose borrowed language in quotation marks, (3) failing to put summaries or paraphrases in your own words, and (4) submitting someone else’s work as your own.

Source:  http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/resdoc5e/glossary-of-research-terms.htm

Yeah, don’t do that.

Yeah, don’t do that.

Image:  knowyourmeme.com

When we were kids writing papers in primary school, the teacher always told us not to copy out of the encyclopedia.  That would fall under number 3.  Numbers 1 and 2 seem common on the Internet now, but they still fall under the plagiarism umbrella.

A warning appears on every college syllabus.  Most universities have pretty strict rules about plagiarism.  You can get kicked out for doing it.

Having your work stolen concerns a lot of writers, and it’s even a newbie fear that circles around querying.  But most industry professionals aren’t looking to steal your story; they’re more interested in finding great books to sell rather than copy.

“I just sold Elizabeth West’s book for a buttload of money! Let’s all go shopping!”  Said no agent ever.  (yet)

“I just sold Elizabeth West’s book for a buttload of money! Let’s all go shopping!” Said no agent ever.  (yet)

Image:  stockimages / freedigitalphotos.net

On the Internet, however, it’s another story.  Work gets blogged and re-blogged, and eventually someone copies an article.  It might be a social media company scraping content, or someone with a tight deadline who didn’t bother to cite.  Many times, the person simply doesn’t know how to avoid it.

Or they don’t care.  Apparently, recipe plagiarism is a big thing in food blogging and the culinary world.

This article by Michelle Lindblom, How to Avoid Plagiarism when Writing for the Web, has some excellent tips.  Take your time and cite your sources.  Never say someone else’s work is yours; if it comes back on you, it can be career ending.


O is for Oddments

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Not every day can be a workday.  Research took a back seat to a sea of oddments and disconnected bits.  First, my knee, which had been getting better, popped in my sleep. I woke in agony at five in the morning.  I actually had to get up and go take ibuprofen.  Then it was back to bed and squirming around until the alarm went off at six.

It could be worse.  I could have had to chase this little bastard across the room.

I had to go to work because it was my day to cover the front desk receptionist’s lunch.  Up and down the stairs again because they hadn’t fixed the elevator yet (waiting for a part).  I finally gave up at three and came home to ice my knee.  Then I had to go to a beauty (ha!) appointment at five.

This evening, I went to a new-ish friend’s house and she helped my hopeless self with some knitting.  I’m trying to knit a washcloth for my mum.  I’ve been ripping it out for a year.  Obviously, I had no clue where I kept going wrong, but she set me straight.  I actually made some progress tonight, and what’s more, I don’t have to do it over later.

That’s pink, not beige.  Sorry, the hovel has bad lighting.

That’s pink, not beige.  Sorry, the hovel has bad lighting.

Photo: Elizabeth West

Today’s research (reading) had to wait.  Because I’m trying to get the knee to a functional state again, I won’t skate tomorrow.  Instead, I will clean house, pay the pet sitter, deal with the yard, read, start packing, and write more A-Z posts.

I hope you have a nice weekend as well, and I’ll be with you again tomorrow for P.

N is for Nomeclature

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Nomenclature is a system for naming things within a particular field or discipline.  The common terms and expressions ensure that the members of this group can communicate with and understand each other across the entire field.

When you do research for fiction, you will undoubtedly encounter unfamiliar words relating to your subject.  In some cases, context can help you figure out what these words and phrases mean.  In others, you might need the assistance of a specialized dictionary.

You can find these at the library or online.  Or online at the library.  

You can find these at the library or online.  Or online at the library.

Image:  Tulane Public Relations / Wikimedia Commons

With scientific fields, such as astronomy, archaeology, or medicine, the terminology is practical—that is, it relates to the actual thing in discussion and it may be the same across the entire discipline, or even multiple disciplines.  The language of research is pretty much the same everywhere.  The words sample, peer review, empirical research, citation, and abstract all mean identical things no matter what field you’re talking about.

With other fields, it becomes jargon, a set of terms that is unique to that particular activity.  Computers are a good example.  Hard drive, server, FTP client, and macro specify actual things used in computer science and programming.

In retail, companies use words like guests instead of customers, associates instead of employees, and open merchandising (where a customer can interact with products) to describe their environment.  You might have come across this in daily life—your own workplace may use specific terms for certain things that you don’t use anywhere else.

“We call it ‘rocket fuel’ here, Bob, because it blasts you off and tastes terrible.”    

“We call it ‘rocket fuel’ here, Bob, because it blasts you off and tastes terrible.”

Image:  stockimages / freedigitalphotos.net

Fields you might explore for a book can be anything, but common ones in popular literature include:

  • Law enforcement
  • Medicine
  • Security
  • Military
  • Science
  • Entertainment (as in Secret Book)
  • Niche groups such as gangs, fandoms, etc.

You might also find multiple layers in authentic nomenclature.  Let’s say you’re writing about biker gangs.  Because they own and work on their bikes, they would have a command of the language surrounding motorcycles—their parts, the tools used to work on them, etc.

A closed criminal group such as an outlaw motorcycle club (one percenters) will also have a subset of terms they use to refer to any unlawful activities, such as drug dealing.  And finally, they’ll have jargon they use within the group, such as slang they use for members, cops, wives and girlfriends, and club activities.

We have been discussing this, and it is with deepest regret we revoke your membership in our esteemed organization due to your repeated extracurricular activities with our most revered leader’s marital partner. 

We have been discussing this, and it is with deepest regret we revoke your membership in our esteemed organization due to your repeated extracurricular activities with our most revered leader’s marital partner.

Image:  frank151.com

Fantasy authors engaged in deep world-building will make up their own nomenclature for things, but it still needs some basic organization so readers can relate to it.  If it’s done well, with good context, the reader won’t get very far before he starts to figure it out.  If it’s done poorly, reading the book will frustrate the reader, and he/she will abandon it.

Anthony Burgess’s seminal novel A Clockwork Orange is a good example.  The narrator Alex speaks in an argot, or secret language, called Nadsat.  It consists mostly of Russian-influenced slang words spoken by the teenage subculture of the novel.  Burgess, a linguist, also incorporated Cockney rhyming slang principles into the language, coming up with words like Charlie (prison chaplain—from actor Charlie Chaplin).

In 1984, George Orwell created Newspeak, a fictional language the totalitarian Big Brother state used to control the populace.  Words like thoughtcrime, doublethink, and duckspeak encompass the societal concepts but act to diminish the expression of any thought.  Characters are expected to speak and even think in these terms or face retribution.

I thought about a Twinkie today; they’re coming to get me soon.

I thought about a Twinkie today; they’re coming to get me soon.

Image:  blastr.com

Use of authentic nomenclature when writing about certain professions or activities can lend a sense of realism to your fiction.  Make up your own to enrich and deepen your fantasy world.

M is for Mistakes

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This will be a short post, because I need to ice my knee before I go to bed.  Yes, I apparently hurt myself–the doctor said I pulled a muscle.  No, I don’t know how.  And, he said no stair-climbing before I go to London.  Of course, the elevator at work is broken.

What mistakes can you make while researching?

Not starting early enough

If you have a deadline, this is the kiss of death. Your work will suffer.  You won’t be able to produce your best work.  Anyone who has pulled an all-nighter to write a paper that’s due the next day knows what I mean.


Image:  Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

Even if you don’t have a deadline, writing a book takes time.  You don’t want to be sick of it before you even finish.

Wasting time with the wrong sources

Figure out who you need to talk to or what you need to read before you get started.  I’m having trouble with this because the background for my protagonists is so broad.

  • The 1960s (I was alive but too teeny to remember it)
  • American Midwest (this part is easy)
  • England (not so easy but not so hard)
  • Wealthy English people (I don’t know any so I’ll have to fake it)
  • Theater and film in London and Hollywood (waaaaaaay too much information)

Taking your sources at face value

Anecdotal research is fun–who doesn’t like sitting round with your sources, perhaps drinking and eating, and recording their tales and stories?  In some cases, you’ll only have the anecdote and nothing else.  For fiction, you might get away with a tall tale or two.  You can adapt the story and plop that thing right into your narrative, and if it’s believable, it makes no difference.

Thanks for the beer, mate; everything I just told you was a huge lie.

Thanks for the beer, mate; everything I just told you was a huge lie.

Image:  stockimages / freedigitalphotos.net

You should absolutely double check what anyone tells you.  That person might have it wrong themselves, and worse, one or more of your readers could know it.  They will not hesitate to tell you that you’ve got it wrong.

Not verifying information

Verily, this goeth with the previous admonition.  Get thee hence and check out thine info, lest ye make a fool of thyself.

Sorry, I was reading about Elizabethan theater earlier and I got carried away.

Not using enough sources

Don’t just use one book or website.  You’ll miss a ton of good information, and you won’t get the whole picture.  No single source can ever cover every nuance of a subject.  Besides, different perspectives may give you a whole new angle for your story.

Not knowing when to stop

You stop when you feel as though you can write your scene and it will come off as authentic.

How the hell do I recognize when it’s authentic?

How the hell do I recognize when it’s authentic?

Image:  stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’ll know.  It will make sense, and your characters’ actions, dialogue, and motivations will have a realistic feel.

Besides, if you spend all your time doing research, you won’t have any left for writing.


Related link:

The 10 Stuff-ups We All Make When Interpreting Research

L is for Libraries

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The library!

When I was a child, this was my favorite place to be ever.  I’ve always been a reader.  Some kids freak out when you punish them by taking away their TV (internet) privileges, but if you wanted to get me where I lived, you said no library.

This huge building is the British Library, the national library of the United Kingdom, located in London.  I’m quite certain a good reason exists for me to go there.

Shortest URL ever, for a building full of words:  www.bl.uk

Shortest URL ever, for a building full of words:  http://www.bl.uk

 Image:  Jack1956 / Wikimedia Commons

 Not only does this magnificent place hold thousands of books and reference materials, it houses collections of historical significance.  I am such a museum nerd; if one lurks nearby, I’ll go see it.  The Treasures of the British Library exhibition has been on my list for a while.  I think I should combine a visit with a little looky-uppy action, don’t you?

I’m sorry I missed this:  today is the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, and they had a special tribute to Anne Frank, who died there along with her sister Margot.

Today also marks 103 years since the sinking of everybody’s favorite ocean liner, Titanic. Normally, I would watch the film tonight, but one of the main reasons I’m going back to London so soon is to watch it at the Royal Albert Hall, along with a live orchestra playing the score along with the film.

Let us pause for a moment to remember the lost souls of both Bergen-Belsen and the Titanic.


 Image:  unknown / Wikimedia Commons


Image F.G.O.Stuart/Wikimedia Commons


Image:  phanlop88 / freedigitalphotos.net

Okay, now that we has a sad, back to libraries.  All different types abound.  I’ve listed some of them.

Public libraries

In most municipalities, anyone who lives in the area can get a library card, free of charge, and check out materials.  Books, DVDs, sometimes even CDs and record albums, though the last two may have gone the way of the dodo.  Here you’ll find fiction, non-fiction, and general reference.

The library where I live has several branches; one of them, built in 1905 in the midtown area, is an original Carnegie library.  Click the link to find out more about those.  A few years ago, they restored it to its former glory.

Academic libraries

You will find most of these at universities and colleges.  Usually, you have to be a student, alumni, or faculty to check books out, but it may be possible for residents to use the reference sections.  These libraries contain mostly periodicals, journals, and scholarly works.

School libraries

Despite the evil librarian, I spent many happy hours in my primary school library.  I remember particular books, including one collection of sci-fi stories that I would kill to find, but I can’t recall the name of it.  I only remember one of the stories–about a kid who found this crystal and there was a spaceship with a weird crablike alien.  I can see the cover in my head, but I don’t remember the name.

Maybe I should try hypnosis.

Image:  justananimefreak123 / deviantart.com

Research or special libraries

The British Library is one of the former, in addition to being the largest library in the world by items catalogued.  These libraries may specialize in particular subjects, such as military history, science / technology, or medicine.

National libraries have extensive works relating to the history and development of their respective countries.  Presidential libraries are archives of records and artifacts of one particular president and his/her administration, so that people may study them.

The Library of Congress in the US, another special collection, houses the world’s largest law library and the Copyright office in addition to being the US national library.

Anything you need to find, you will probably locate it at a library.  In addition to books and other materials, public libraries these days have many resources you can use for your work:

  • Computers with internet access (you’ll have to sign in and wait your turn)
  • Study rooms with a door you can close
  • Copy/scan/fax machines (bring your change)
  • Free or very low-cost wireless–you might need to visit the information desk for a password
  • Gift shops–buy a tote bag to carry your loot
  • Some large libraries have cafés, tearooms, or coffee shops where you can refresh yourself. Don’t spill anything on your book, or you might end up owning it!
I don’t understand.  How did haggis get in between the pages? 

I don’t understand.  How did haggis get in between the pages?

Image:  Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

Links of library stuff:

The 10 Biggest Libraries in the World

British Library

Library of Congress

Learning to research in the library  (this site is for teens but very informative)

Now go on out there and book!