Posts Tagged ‘research’

I know, I know, I skipped out on last week’s posts. I had a really good excuse though: my oldest turned 10 last weekend, and it was kind of traumatizing. For me, not for her; I’m pretty sure she had the best damn day of her life, whereas I had to spend several hours inside a small room filled with bounce houses, screaming kids, an arcade where half the games were broken and employees who gave less than a shit about refunding the money we lost inside some of said broken games. I’m glad she had fun, but I still have a horror hangover. So that’s why I wasn’t around. (That and my mom came to visit for the weekend, and she lives in a different state – we only see each other a handful of times a year. Mom wins out over everything, y’all. Sorry.)

At any rate, I’m mostly refreshed and ready to go, so let’s dig in to part 2 of the lessons I’ve learned since starting this project (part 1 can be found here):


I came across a writing tip the other day, wherein the writer addressed the issue of research in writing, and what to do when one hits a wall in terms of knowledge: interrupt the flow to do the research, or skip over it and come back later? The tip was to insert the word “elephant” into the manuscript and keep going, so that one could simply run a search on the document after everything was finished and fill in the holes at a later date. It was a good tip, and it’s a technique I’ve used myself when I hit a plot wall, although I prefer to plug in an * rather than “elephant”. Whatever works, though.

I wish I could fucking do that now.

You would think, going in to my story, that it wouldn’t require much in the way of research. “Love story during the zombie apocalypse”, like, what the fuck could you be looking up? And I suppose I could have fudged on a lot of stuff, or eliminated plot points to simplify the process. But no. No, I prefer to know exactly how something works, like vaccine production or CDC quarantine procedures, and THEN I screw around with it, changing aspects to suit my needs and keeping just enough so that it could be plausible, maybe, if you tilt your head and squint a little bit.

Question: What did I research and where did it show up?
Answer: Damn near everything, and you probably didn’t notice.

When I first started, I spent hours reading about vaccine production and distribution, CDC history and policy, and accounts of real disease outbreaks and how they were handled by medical professionals. I looked at blood-born disease vectors versus air-born. I looked at cases of “zombification” in the animal kingdom, shit that didn’t even show up in the plot until this last chapter, and then it was a throwaway from an obviously crazy person. But there really is a parasite that hijacks the brain of paper wasps, which seems a bit like karma considering there’s a type of wasp that hijacks spiders and makes them build webs on their behalf. The more you know.

In trying to figure out if I could put an indoor fire escape in Vinnie’s building, I wound up reading pages and pages and PAGES of the NYC fire code, which is….even more boring than you’re imagining. The answer I came up with was yes….maybe….if it met certain code requirements and existed in conjunction with other means of code-compliant escape routes. So I just made the building old and the landlord a jackhole who didn’t fix shit, like the elevator or Vinnie’s broken escape ladder (a code violation!) and called it a day. I wish I could get those hours back.

I spent about two hours two weeks ago trying to figure out if street lights in certain areas run on a separate power grid from the one that supplies power to domiciles, without getting a straight answer. Although the city of New York really wants me to know about the new light bulbs they’re putting in their streetlights, so…yay for them?

I’ve spent so many hours looking at a 3-foot tall map of New York City that I’m pretty sure I could get around with my eyes closed, despite having been there only once, 13 years ago.

That just sits in my kitchen, to the right of where I write, and mocks me all day long. Bless my husband for not even glancing at me oddly when he happens to catch me musing over it at random times. He probably doesn’t even notice anymore. I’ve lost time looking at worse things.

Like the guns.

So, full disclosure: like Maddie, I’ve never seen a gun in person, let alone held or fired one. I’m working on remedying that, as I’d like to have the experience before I have her shoot one for the first time, but the shooting ranges in my area kind of frown upon random people just showing up and asking to fire weapons? What’s up with that? I just want you to hand me a handgun and shoot at things for an hour, I DON’T THINK THAT’S UNREASONABLE.

(Okay, no, it totally is. But I’m working on finding a solution.)

In the meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching Youtube videos where other people shoot weapons. And scrolling through websites dedicated to buying guns, to get an idea of the different types out there and how they’re constructed, loaded, broken down and put back together, cleaned, properly stored, etc. And, um, googling things that have probably ensured I’m being monitored now. Hi, NSA.

What else have I looked up along the way here? The population of New York City, obviously. Floor plans of traditional brownstones. Apocalypse survival tips, like how to open cans without a can opener and how to make a flashlight work without batteries. (The secret for the latter is tin foil. You’re welcome.) The structures of the brain. Hospital emergency codes. Drugs used in hospital treatment settings. Forensics – blood spatter, how certain causes of death are determined via physical evidence, that kind of gory stuff. How flooding affects the structural integrity of various types of buildings. (……)

The thing is, I like doing research. Even when I don’t use it, I enjoy finding out the answer and storing it away for possible use at a later date. But it slows the process down massively, like when I realize I just put a gun in my heroine’s hand, and she and I are equally clueless as to how to make it realistically go boom. I can’t just throw an elephant at the problem and come back to fix it later, when all the rest is done. And every chapter, or almost every chapter, something crops up that I decide I need the answer to, and I have to stop, head off into Google land and hope I don’t get caught in some terrible Wikipedia spiral where I started out looking up parasitic wasps and when I come back up for breath three hours have passed and I suddenly know a whole lot more about Costa Rica than I ever intended to.

Don’t look at me like that. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

This would probably be easier if I could just let certain things go, accept that it’s fiction and doesn’t have to have even a hint of realism about it, but I can’t. Lord knows why. So I fill notebooks with information I’ll never need again and turn my bookmarks tab into a horror show, scatter bits and pieces of real shit throughout the text knowing nobody will ever know the damn difference, and drive myself crazy while everybody else is like “Holy crap, when are they just going to FUCK?!” Which is a problem we’ll address with next week’s post on Romance.

But seriously: Weaponized parasitic zombie virus. That’s how it’s going to happen, you guys. Buy tin foil and be ready.

You can still be fancy in the zombie apocalypse.  Don’t slack.

(Also, final note: I have my fingers crossed that I’ll have the chapter ready for Sunday, but I won’t even lie, I have a SHIT-TON of school work to finish before Monday, so no guarantees.)