Archive for the 'Factoids' Category

Be Careful What You Research!
by Our Guest on January 15th, 2009

It started out perfectly innocent. I just needed a little information, nothing much, just enough to add that touch of realism to a group of scenes in Dark Temptation. My hero wasn’t feeling well and didn’t know why.

Slow acting poison. That was the culprit, and I needed to know about the various kinds and what their effects were. So I turned to the internet and typed in my query.

Holy crap!!!

Suddenly I had images of the FBI banging down my door, confiscating my computer and dragging me off to prison. Because as I perused the website I’d opened, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t an informative description of poisons and how they work, but instructions on HOW TO MURDER SOMEONE! Seriously. I felt as if I’d just descended to one of Dante’s levels of hell, where the real demons lurk and plot their evil deeds. I can’t tell you how fast I clicked off, dropped my computer cookies and decided books were the way to go. Writers Digest has volumes on everything, and I found my answers there. Phew!
So the lesson learned was be careful WHAT you research and HOW you research it.

Anyway, not all research comes second hand. Yesterday I mentioned something about fleas and castles. While in Ireland and touring Ross Castle in Kilarney, I learned a little something that, at least momentarily, blew all my romantic, fairytale concepts about lords and ladies. Seems they had a little system to help combat the vermin crawling in their clothes, which was to hang said clothes along the tiny passage that led to the privy in the lord’s solar. Apparently the acidic stench filtering back up from the cess pit (or moat), was enough to kill anything. I know! I’m sorry! But can you imagine how that clothing must have reeked??? Especially on a summer’s day. Still, I suppose that was better fleas and lice. For the most part I just put it out of my mind. It’s my romantic fantasy, and in MY world, lords and ladies bath regularly and their clothes are clean, anacrynisms be damned!

Another bit of research that blew my preconceived notions? Despite the Victorian Age being one of stuffy traditions and strict family values, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. From what I’ve read, after a grim, sheltered childhood spent in shabby surroundings, Victoria became quite the party girl upon ascending to the throne! But maybe it’s not so hard to believe. Imagine yourself an eighteen-year-old who has been overprotected all your life, and suddenly finding yourself the leader of the most influential country at the time, with a crown on your head, no less, and everyone bowing and curtsying every time you walked by. Might make you want to act out just a bit, huh?

Can we say, Power Crazed? Not that she abused her authority, mind you. She was at heart a sensible girl, but the first thing she did upon moving into Buckingham Palace was relegate her mother to rooms far, far away from her own. Victoria was free, and she intended partying until the wee hours of the morning! It was actually her husband Albert who instilled a steadying, quieting influence on the royal household, but Victoria had no problem going along with it by then because she ADORED him. Which leads me to my final reasearch surprise — her majesty did NOT like babies or young children. I know! In her mind, pregnancy and looking after infants interfered with time that could be better spent with her darling Albert, and she resented it!

So that perfect family image that lent its shining example to an entire era was, well, maybe not so perfect. The good news for me, though, is that while I came away a little disillusioned, it all makes great fodder for romance novels!

How about you? What surprises have shocked you, scared you, or just blew your preconceived notions out of the water?

Dogged Research
by Annette McCleave on January 13th, 2009

Research is one of the best parts of being a writer—there’s just so much information out there, especially on the internet. I’ve been known to dive into a subject looking for a single fact only to surface many hours later. It’s a tendency I force myself to control during a first draft, or else I’d never finish.

Sometimes the information I find builds on my romantic notions—King Alexander III of Scotland died when he fell off his horse into a ravine during a storm, while racing to return to the side of his beautiful wife Yolande—and sometimes the information dashes my rose colored illusions—roughly six percent of all murders in the States are one spouse killing another.

Sometimes, the facts are just not as fun as the made up stuff. For example…the image of the trusty Saint Bernard dog rushing up the Swiss mountainside with a keg of brandy under its neck, going to the aid of stranded travelers is heart-warming and theoretically body-warming as well. Truth is the rescue dogs were real, but there was no keg of brandy. No keg at all. The image we’ve all come to know and love seems to have originated strictly from the imagination of an early painter. How sad is that?


Worse, it’s been proven that drinking alcohol in frigid temperatures may actually increase your chances of freezing to death, because it dilates your blood vessels and lets the heat escape faster. Darn. There goes my excuse for slinging a wineskin around my neck on ski trips. Water is far better for you, but not nearly as romantic. Sigh.

How about you? Do you find the internet addictive? Do you click from link to link and get lost for hours? Or do you find the information overwhelming and boring?

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Shocking research
by Jessa Slade on January 12th, 2009

Currently working on: Transcribing chicken scratching longhand notes
Mood: Perplexed — I wrote this?!?

I was never much interested in the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It seemed obvious to me: Well, s**t happens.

More confusing was “Why do good people do bad things?” As if I could answer that question when generations of theologians, psychiatrists and weeping mothers haven’t. But poking at it was part of the genesis for SEDUCED BY SHADOWS, the first book of The Marked Souls which comes out in October. In the series, my heroes are possessed by repentant demons. I started reading about demons in mythology and the world’s major belief systems as well as the “demons” of purely human cruelty — genocide, serial murder, mental disorders, slavery.

But I thought those demons seemed a little removed from people like you and me. I mean, most of us will (hopefully!) go through our lives without ever needing a Roman Catholic exorcism. (But if you do, check out Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. Not precisely a DIY manual and critics argue the veracity, but it’s a fascinating read.) Most of those metaphorical demons feel safely confined to foreign news programs and made-for-TV movies. Then I remembered a psychological study we learned about in high school.

In Milgram’s 1961 social psych experiment, begun just three months after the start of Adolph Eichmann’s trial as a Nazi war criminal, volunteers were told to administer electric shocks in increasing 15-volt increments to other research subjects when questions on a verbal test were answered inaccurately. The shockees were actually accomplices to the researchers and the shocks were fake. But the volunteers didn’t know that.

Shocking (pun intended) factoid:
Despite simulated screams of pain from the “victim,” 65% of the volunteers continued to administer shocks to the 450-volt maximum (labeled ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ on the board the volunteers used). Only one volunteer stopped before 300 volts. A more recent version of the study (updated, ironically, to decrease potential post-experiment stress on the volunteers doing the shocking) found essentially the same percentages of people willing to pull the trigger on their fellows. If everyone tells their friends and family about this study, maybe the next time researchers perform this experiment, I bet we can lower the percentages a point or two.

It was a study about response to authority, to a voice telling you to do something that you know is wrong. What interested me was the quickness and completeness with which people gave up their brains, hearts and souls to someone else. The volunteers weren’t monsters. They weren’t serial killers or sadists or Enron execs in training. They were regular, normal people — people like you and me.

Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 1974 book about the study, “Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View,” said: Ordinary people…can become agents in a terrible destructive process. If this is so, then perhaps the opposite is true: Ordinary people can become warriors against destruction.

The heroes of my stories wield the power of the repentant demons to save the world. Have you ever had a little voice inside you — good or bad — influencing you? Did you listen?

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