Thursday, November 30, 2006

Research Factoids Can Be Strange

Awhile ago we had a group of friends over for dinner, and as usual, I had a research question for one of the folks. This time I hit up the resident doc. I’d been researching hematology issues—which types of blood from parents can make which types of blood in the children. Due to recessive/dominant issues, for example, two A parents can make an O child (O is the most common blood type), but two Os can’t make an A. Did you know that? I didn’t. How fascinating. (Doc Mabry—I know you’re out there. If you find something wrong with this research, better tell me quick.)

Anyway, I ran this past the doc at our dinner party, who confirmed my research was correct. Another man at the party looked at me and said, “I understand why he knows that, but why on earth should you?”

Because I’m a novelist, that’s why.

It’s amazing the factoids I’ve gathered. I know tidbits on all kinds of things. Sometimes the weirdest of things. All because at one point or another, I’ve needed them in a book. I got to thinkin’ about some of the information I’ve needed and questions I’ve asked of experts for various books. The entire list would take me a week to type, but here’s a few off the top of my head.

1. Do teeth ever float? (dentist question, of course)

2. Who’s present at a C-section? (doc question)

3. The moon phase on a certain night one year in the future, when my book is taking place. (online research. Great web site at:

4. What time the sun will rise/set on a certain day in a certain town a year in the future. (online at: This site also gives moon phases.)

5. What times the tide will go out/come in on a certain beach on a certain day a year in the future. (online:

6. How does strychnine kill you?

7. What would a judge do if he/she heard someone had threatened a jury member?

8. How does a forensic artist recreate a face from a bare skull?

9. How does a detective make a mold of a footprint?

10. How does a mass spectrometer microscope work?

11. What are the exceptions to the hearsay rule in law?

12. What’s the procedure for doing a sweep of a room for bugging devices?

13. What are the various ways to bug a phone?

14. How can you track someone’s whereabouts through their cell phone?

15. How many officers serve on the police force of a town of 1700 people, and how do they run their shifts?

16. How do night vision goggles work, and what are the choices in buying a pair?

17. Does a car rental agency ever make a copy of a renter’s driver’s license?

18. In Idaho, can you tape record a conversation when only one person in that conversation knows it’s being recorded? (Answer: yes. This is not true of many states.)

19. How is Pitocin (drug used to induce labor) administered?

20. How long before a cigarette in a couch burns a house down?

21. What’s the frequency for Oakland, California air space?

22. How do forensic anthropologists determine gender/age from scattered human bones?

23. What’s the procedure for a private adoption?

24. How long before wild animals eat a corpse in the woods?

25. At what stage of development was DNA in 1992?

26. What kind of little wild animal might steal bones?

27. On car dealership lots, where are the keys kept for all the new cars? (Answer: in a lock box on the car. The sales person carries a key to get into the lock boxes.)

28. Are the windows in the parking lot shuttles at a certain airport tinted?

29. Where do out-of-state media get their big news trucks?

30. Under what conditions can a single hair yield useable DNA?

Okay, better stop.

Readers—did you ever stop to think of all the things novelists have to learn just to write one book? Writers—you have some interesting research questions of your own? Lay 'em on me. Who knows, maybe you’ll mention a factoid I'll need to know some day...


Jenny said...

My research has been mainly historical but of late I'm trying my hand at something more contemporary and learned that there have been basketball leagues (serious ones) in the mid-east (Saudia Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, etc.)for decades. Didn't know that one before.
Also, back to the historical part, I wrote a scene where King Louis XIV was playing matchmaker and then did the research (it was a fun premise and didn't think it had to be true to carry the story) and it turns out, he enjoyed playing matchmaker with the nobles in his company. Nice to know I knew my character so well (ha!)

It's the little things, ya know?

Abundant blessings,
Jenny Cary

Anonymous said...

The research can seem endless!


I had to know the orientation of a constellation in the sky at a certain time on a certain date.

I hiked over 60 miles through the mountains of Montana and 10 miles in the snow in West Virginia to find good places to do a setting.

I wanted to know the look and feel of flight in a certain kind of airplane, so I contacted a regional airport, found an owner of that particular plane, and hitched a ride for a short flight around town.

I went to England and drove over a thousand miles to visit all the King Arthur sites and interviewed the locals about the legends.

I could go on and on. The research can be tedious, but sometimes it's also fun, and it always helps your story come to life.

Bryan Davis
Dragons in our Midst

Anonymous said...

Brandilyn, this is fascinating.

I wish I had the money to travel extensively. Instead, among other things, I rely on webcams, real estate sites, detailed street maps, internet radio, foreign newspapers, and natives or recent travelers.

Here's a couple of research items:

What was an Alazan rocket origninally used for? Can it be used as a dirty bomb? How much does one go for on the black market?

How long does it take to get from downtown Prague to the suburbs?

Where in East Germany did Putin work during the cold war?

How/where do they sell off women when they traffic them for the purpose of forced prostitution?

What's a typical day for an anarchist? What exactly is their platform?

What is the flying range for a lear 45XR jet? How long of a takeoff runway do they need?

What do they eat for dinner in Afghanistan? How many working airports in the country?

How long does it take to get from Marseilles to Paris?

That's only a few. Since I write intrigue, the research is endless. I sometimes spend more time researching instead of doing other things. Like writing and cleaning the house. I've learned a lot of interesting things, and my brain contains a vast wealth of varied and useless information. Some of it is scary and heartbreaking. And there's a lot of things I can't even talk about, of course. :-)

Kristy Dykes said...

Boy, you're smart, Brandilyn!

I'm a trivia type person--love to find out nuggets about various things--so research is a joy for me. For instance, when ICRS was in Atlanta, I toured the Margaret Mitchell home. I was reading the nonfiction book Road to Tara at the time, which said Mitchell had her beautiful, 2-story childhood home torn down because she didn't want people gawking at it down through the years. But the "joke" (sadly) is on her: people now tour the tiny rented apartment she lived in when she wrote Gone With the Wind. I had a lump in my throat thinking about that as I walked through the rooms she once inhabited and wrote in.

For my historical Heartsong Presents novel, The Tender Heart, I had to research horses. I needed a horse illness that would make a horse "nigh unto death" but then get better.

I read James Herriott books and interviewed my s-i-l and a couple of friends who own horses, and I read children's library books about horses. Finally, I found just what I needed.

For my first published novella in American Dream ("I Take Thee, A Stranger"), I studied All Things Scottish since my heroine was newly arrived from Scotland. Wedding customs. Sayings. Wee girl. Bairn. Lass. Ach. Songs. I'll take the high road, and you'll take the low road, and I'll get to Scotland a'fore ye.

I love research!

Sorry this was so long. Guess that's what research does to you.

Cara Putman said...

I love resesarch! Almost too much. I've had to slow it down and right the proposal this week. But things I've been researching since conference: How were K-9s trained in WWII? How much training did you need to become an army nurse? )Anyone know the answer to this??) How did one get into the Army Nurse Corp? Uniforms of soldiers at Ft. Robinson (just learned last night they wore jeans and cowboy boats -- how cool is that detail! How many POWs at Ft Robinson and when? How many POWs at Camp Atlanta and when? What did the soldeirs do for entertainment? How did the locals react to everything at the Fort? Etc. Then for the contemporaries I'm working on: What's the value of duck decoys? How would a military institute be set up? Who would work there? What would make it different from a regular ole university? And I'm still working on the crime, so I'm sure a whole host of questions will be generated in that process!

CHickey said...

Aren't these questions fun? My husband gets a bit nervous whenever I'm researching a new way to "kill" someone. LOL!

Nicole said...

Am I the only one here who dreads research? Reminds me too much of history. Since my novels are contemporary and character-driven, I haven't had to do a lot of research. Interviewed one state patrolman, one architectural designer, one film critic all over e-mail, read a book on my favorite actor (which was fun, not tedious). Yes, a question here and there of people who provided answers for my characters, plots, etc. but mostly not much research. Praise the Lord.

C.J. Darlington said...

Ah, yes. Writers truly are a breed all their own.

I was particularly pleased to find a book with detailed color pictures on how to perform a c-section on a cow. I even bought the book from England just for those pics. I almost bought a $100 instructional video for vet students in which they actually performed one. If it had been just a tad cheaper ... all that for one stinking scene in my novel!

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Okay, so far Bryan and C.J. win in my book (pun intended). Bryan for all his travels, and C.J. for pics on a cow C-section. What glorious photos those must be.

Nicole, I actually don't like the research. I want to just write. But with what I write--I can't. There are so many facts to be checked. I do like HAVING researched. Once I learn things, the unexpected facts open up new avenues for the story.

Nicole said...

Definitely understand, BC. Your books are so air tight, too. I appreciate the degree of research you do because it shows up in your writing--only not as research. It shows up in the flow of the story, and I appreciate both your skills and your ability to gather accurate information.
I love to write, gathering the facts makes me crazy sometimes. (Crazier, I should say.) That's why it was so easy in essence to write my first book about horse racing. I lived it for over 30 years.

Richard Mabry said...

Why couldn't you have medical questions that a simple nose-picker (pardon...a simple ear, nose & throat specialist) can answer?
Yes, you're right on the blood types. O can produce A, but not vice-versa. It would take too long to explain. Just email me if you still have questions.
Pitocin, used to induce labor, is given as an intravenous drip, monitoring carefully for effects like raising the blood pressure, or catastrophic effects such as uterine contractions that are so severe as to possibly rupture the uterus.
A C-section starts out like any surgery: anesthesiologist, surgeon, maybe another doctor or PA (physician's assistant), scrub nurse, circulating nurse. Then a nurse needs to take charge of the baby, usually along with a neonatologist (newborn specialist). At least, that's my understanding. Otolaryngologists are rarely called upon to help on sections.
Strychnine is generally given by mouth. It used to be given in small doses to stimulate "failing" hearts, and for all I know may still be availabe in some pharmacies. Its action is generalized excitation of the entire central nervous system. It starts working in 15 to 60 minutes, causing hyperexcitability progressing to severe convulsions. These are painful because of the magnitude of the muscle contractions, and the contractions of the facial muscles give rise to the "rictus" expression of those who die of strychnine poisoning. The cause of death is generally asphyxia, with cessation of respirations after a severe convulsive episode.
Hope this helps. Now back to lurking in the background.
Richard (The Doc from Duncanville)

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Doc, you rock!

Yeah, that strychnine--that is one baaaad poison. I used it in Dead of Night.

Oh, man. I forgot to mention in my post all the info I had to learn about spiders for Web of Lies. Now that was some creepy research.

C.J. Darlington said...

What about a cow c-section, Doc? Don't answer that.

Richard Mabry said...

Sorry, CJ, no knowledge there. "ENT" doesn't stand for "English longhorn, Normande, and Tarentaise." (All breeds of cows). And BTW, if you want to know how many different breeds there are, go to this source:
Seriously, Brandilyn, I thought the material I gave (which you already knew) might help other members of your blog community.
Over and out.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Oh, Doc, I'm sure it will. It's great having you around. You know what you've done now, don't you? Every writer with medical questions is gonna be after you. :] Your lurking days will be long over.

Anonymous said...

I've not written a complete manuscript, but I think I knew most of the answers in your list. (That was scary) LOL

When we drove our semi, I used to listen to books on tape during my mindnight shift (every night) I loved true crime and Stephen King.

You learn a LOT about people when you travel the United States as we did. You should see my file of characters from the truckstops.

Anonymous said...

For answers to questions regarding bugging and electronic surveillance try