Tuesday, October 02, 2018

So, about your browsing history!

This weekend I was diving into a wonderful new manuscript. Part of my job as the second set of eyes is to ask questions. Since I work in history and biography, a lot of my questions are about when something was invented, or when it came into common use.

Example: dynamite. In conjunction with a book about building the transcontinental railroad, I was interested in how construction crews dealt with things that were "in the way." Turns out they blew holes (called tunnels!) in the mountains. But, in 1860, there was no dynamite. (That comes into use a few years later). The crews used black powder, which is like gun powder. I had a good laugh at the idea of a bunch of guys standing around shooting at a mountain to build a tunnel. (They didn't of course, but what an image!)

Other research topics: where and when were first sidewalks of New York?; where did ships land in New York?; who was the Queen of Belgium in 1924 (and was she a Queen, or a Princess)?; when was the partition of Palestine?; and, when did Standard Oil become Exxon?

I'm probably safe from a visit from the browser police for now, but there have been some days anyone taking a gander would wonder what the hell I was up to.

So, what's the weirdest thing you've researched recently (or ever!) and what were you researching it for? Tell us in the comments column!

58 comments:

CynthiaMc said...

Paraplegic and one-armed mountain/cliff climbers for the last contest.

When I was stationed in Colorado we often went mountain and cliff climbing. My squadron also worked with the Special Olympics. My favorite part was seeing people accomplish things they never thought they could do.

My original premise was a brother who was a Marine lost an arm in combat. His sister helped him, nagged him, encouraged him until he recovered. A few years later she became a paraplegic through an auto accident. She is in despair. He nags, her encourages her, etc until she gets her mojo back. Then I thought no, he was born with one arm he refused to be pigeonholed and did what he wanted, he just had to tweak it.

It was a bit much to get across in 100 words, but I might be able to get a novel or screenplay out of it.

Ashes said...

I am always paranoid about researching killing methods. Last week I had to research where exactly you could stab someone in their back to pierce their heart with minimal resistance.

It doesn't help that my sister told me a story about an at-risk student in her school that was visited by the police for googling some really grisly stuff (the example included the word 'peeling' in relation to the human body, enough said). He had apparently set off some sort of red flag. That the RCMP had that capability surprised me and made my paranoia about my browsing history seem justified. Though there certianly could have been more to the story than the staff was told.

I live on the East coast of Canada if anyone was wondering.

LinnetQ said...

Most recently - the physical properties of teeth.

There've been the usual sorts of weapon questions, quite a lot on making one's own ammunition. A few years ago it was all about amputation techniques of the 1890s. My best advice there would be if time travelling, try very hard not to lose any limbs.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Is it possible for someone in a coma to eventually rally and recover almost full abilities? Yes/no sort of, very rarely. Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius (misdiagnosed)for many years became my backbone of research.

If I were to list my decades long computer weird research subjects helicopters would be circling over my house right now.

OT - regarding last weekend's contest, sorry I could not participate. Wedding, death and birthday made the weekend a triple whammy of highs and lows. Strange how life does that sort of thing.

Kitty said...

I've always wondered if the writer who's writing their debut murder mystery worries about their browsing history. Years ago, when I thought I'd like to write a murder mystery, I bought the book "Deadly Doses: A writer's guide to poisons." Years later I realized I would probably never write a murder mystery, but what to do with the book? Do I really want to have that thing in the house? After all, I couldn't claim that I'm a mystery writer.

Steve Forti said...

I think my favorite one was about how you can hack into an insulin pump to kill a person. In general, writing crime fiction makes for an interesting browser history.

Craig F said...

A word to replace that archaic word "Cordite". It hasn't been used since halfway through WWII but no one had come up with a pseudonym for the three part crap now used to push bullets from the shell casing. Triacenitrocellulose doesn't quite fall trippingly off the tongue.

Life cycle of the blowfly (and other Diptera)just for fun. It bled on my contest too, but I didn't get good tension into the writing, didn't get the hook set properly.

Maybe it is because our oldest cat is failing rapidly.

celeste said...

Cheesy romantic ringtones - for a mobile phone, which starts ringing loudly and inappropriately in the moment when my jilted protagonist is holding her ex-lover/antagonist at gunpoint.
I'm delighted to say, there are more lists of cheesy love songs available on the internet than you could ever hope for, or stomach.
Here are my top three contenders but this is for a WIP, so dear Reiders, feel free to add your favourites. Soft rock or disco, I'm not going to go all judgey on you.
- the deeply heartfelt 'Hello' by Lionel Richie,
- the soaring saxophone solo of 'Careless Whispers'by George Michael) and
- the everlasting jaunty 'Top of the World' by the Carpenters (I'm on the top of the world lookin' down on creation..And the only explanation I can find ..Is the love that I've found ever since you've been around, doo be doo doo)

(my sincere apologies to Lionel, George and Karen, respectively)

Steve Forti said...

Haha. Celeste, that's a whole different direction of embarrassment I hadn't thought of. Nice.

celeste said...

Steve Forti - say you, say me, we say it together, naturally....

CynthiaMc said...

Celeste - our wedding song was "Let It Grow" by Renaissance (off the Turn of the Cards album). Many years later it's still a great song.

S.P. Bowers said...

I know there's been crazier stuff but I can't remember it now. So I'll go with the uses for goat dung and how long you have to let it dry before burning it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Rats eating living humans and paralytic narcotics. The evolution of indoor plumbing, specifically toilets. Porphyria. Axe-throwing - which I love to do. So much fun. Who knew?

Sorry I missed contest - had a bit of surgery yesterday. The entries get better and better - wow. The surgery didn't go too well - pain-killers make me vomit so nothing but Advil for this recovery and I am in massive pain. No fun. It's put me in a bit of a mood. Lots of my characters are in for a extraordinarily rough time this week.

Timothy Lowe said...

Steve - Funny, I too researched the insulin pump thing. Also, whether or not GPS could be used to locate somebody who was missing who had an insulin pump. The general consensus, if I remember it right, is that you couldn't murder someone by taking remote control of the pump, but it made for great fiction.

How weird is that?

Lately, it's been much more mundane. How much does a .357 Magnum cost, for instance. I try to do that research at home, not at school. The filter here nails you if you try to find out stuff about guns.

Sarah said...

So, in The Flight of Swans (that just released!!!) I have a character who is beaten with a cane. I was trying to research what sort of damage that does: bruise? Break the skin? Break bones?

I found a few police report sort of articles and then finally I found a blog post of exactly what I needed. So detailed! Then I realized it was a BSDM website. But it didn't look like what I imagined a BSDM website would look like! There was a simple pink and white background and just paragraphs and paragraph of info. And a picture of . . . a small picture of . . .

I squinted at the screen.

Yeah, we won't go into the picture. Definitely not appropriate for a middle-grade book.

But hands down, it was the best info I found on the subject of canings!

nightsmusic said...

I have two books by Douglas P Lyle on poisons and forensics. I gave up trying to find the information on the net, at least in the detail I needed. But I always wondered what my research trail would leave. There's been 'wound patterns by claymore/sword/dirk.' 'how to make a bomb'...yeah...lots of things like that.

Claire Bobrow said...

After reading these comments, I feel delightfully boring!

But I have spent a fair amount of time researching yak hair :-)





MK said...

Oh, man. Mine has stuff like, "How hot does fire have to be to burn bones?" and "Can diaries be used as evidence in murder trials?" and "What state are bodies in after floating in the ocean for a week?" and more recently I was thinking of basing this group of rebels in my fantasy world on the IRA so I spent a ton of time reading about that. So my browser history is rather violent and I hope I no one ever needs to look at it for anything :o

Sam Mills said...

I recently spent a lot of time with a time dilation calculator, trying to figure out how long somebody would have to travel at what speed to age 14 more years than the people she left behind. Thank you internet, because I'm not doing that math!!

Then I spent an hour filling out a spreadsheet with everyone's ages at different points in the story, cursing myself for giving the protagonist six sisters. I NEED EVERY ONE OF THEM.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I once spent a month researching brandy-making techniques.

BrendaLynn said...

What does bear meat taste like? Because I couldn’t remember.
Ew, EM, double ew with the rats. Otherwise I hope you recover soon.

Amy Johnson said...

These are great! Janet, if you're interested in learning more about black powder, you might enjoy a day trip to Hagley Museum down my way (if you haven't already visited).

Elise, I hope you're feeling better soon. Craig, I said a prayer for your cat.

Jeannette Leopold said...

[b]MK[/b], as a lawyer I really appreciate that you looked up evidence rules for your book! Nothing drives me as crazy as lawyers/judges in books/tv shows who get the law wrong.

Recently I've done some research into what a foot looks like when it gets frostbite, and how to start a fire in the snow.

Richard Gibson said...

When I was researching "What Things Are Made Of," (non-fiction) it was nothing BUT seeking things like that!

luralee kiesel said...

Miocene megafauna
Polycrystalline diamonds
Catgut- as in violin strings. Turns out it isn’t cat, it’s sheep.
Lobotomies
Elevators- specifically, how to crash them

Reaserching poisons did make me nervous. I ended up going with bleach instead, because it they were crazy and desperate, and now I’m putting off looking up exactly how that works because the idea makes me squirm.

Theresa said...

As a history professor and as a NF writer, I've been down a lot of these kinds of research rabbit holes. I've had to be especially careful when looking for historical information about sexuality--always very, very cautious about websites I clicked on. I made sure to delete my browser history after I finished putting together a lecture on terrorism. Probably the most bizarre search results I've come across where when I was researching the Philippine island of Negros.

Ray Rhamey said...

I researched the legal definition of death in California for my WIP, It has to do with whether or not a vampire is found to be legally dead (or not) in a trial. Turns out there are two definitions, and under one of them vampires are dead, under the other they are not. Worked very well for my trial scene.

Karen McCoy said...

Not a suspense writer, but due to a recent foray into middle grade historical fiction (with a fantastical twist), my browser history now includes "what mead smells like," "history of brain surgery" and "otter brain"*

*No otters were harmed in the making of this novel

Brigid said...

Cynthia, I loved that entry. It worked for me, I thought you did it.

Steve and Timothy, you scare me. In a good way.

I spend a little too much time on reddit's r/bestoflegaladvice.

In other news, I'm reading my first Jack Reacher novel. I'm about a chapter in and it's killing me that it's over there on the table and I'm over here doing work.

Cheryl said...

My weirdest search was also the most difficult: What does a burning human body smell like?

Of course firefighters know (apparently the smell is so distinctive they can tell from a distance), but most of them respond with "Why the hell would you want to know that?", as if anyone asking is a sick, sick person.

And not, you know, a writer looking for verisimilitude.

And as Sarah found out, you will never find people more knowledgeable about how much damage a human body can take than the BDSM community. It takes a lot of study, practice, and finesse to be a good Dom(me).

Julie Weathers said...

Hopefully, no one ever dies in suspicious circumstances around me.

Strychnine poisoning. Students in the 1800's used it in small doses as a study aid when they were cramming for final exams. It heightens awareness and senses among other things as well as giving great nervous energy. One student documented his accidental overdosing, which was invaluable for my poisoning the MC.

Maggots in wounds. Union doctors tried to keep them out. Confederate doctors figured out the wee beasties actually helped get rid of necrotic tissue.

Glow in the dark wounds. After one battle, men lay in the rain and swampy field for nearly two days before they were brought in to field hospitals. Many of them had wounds that began to glow in the dark. It was called angel glow. The ones who glowed recovered at a much higher rate.

Reflexes in severed limbs. I have a scene where the POV character is riding out with Col. Stuart to battle and they pass the field hospital. The fight has been going on all day. Limbs are stacked waist high. The doctor has just amputated an arm and tossed it aside. Baron (the pov character) notices the glittering golden wedding band and gets off his horse and removes it for the man. The fingers of the hand curl around his wrist. I had to make sure this could happen.

Civil War era perfume. Kiss Me Quick was popular.

Civil War era flowers like Love-Lies-Bleeding, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate and Love-In-A-Puff among various others and which roses were available.

Civil War era food. With the blockade, southerners had to get creative with coffee substitutes like parched and ground yams and parched okra seeds. I'll be trying these so I can describe the taste. Boston Cream Pie was invented by the Parker House and was known as Parker House pie. I have several period cookbooks to make sure my food is correct, like burgoo served at horse sales.

Chinese opium beds.

Fashion. Lawsy, what a rabbit hole to tumble down, but heaven help me I love those Worth gowns.

How to sew up a horse wound on a stress point with buttons.

Animal companions and horses for various companies and men. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest had a horse named King Philip who detested the color blue. He'd attack anyone wearing it, including the police and postmen years after the war. Gen U.S. Grant was given a Lexington son named Cincinnati. The man asked him only to make sure the horse always had a good home. Only Lincoln was ever allowed to ride him and Grant turned down $10,000 gold later even when he was in dire straits.

Spies, spies, and more spies.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

With 'safe search' FIRMLY turned on, I once searched for the girth to length ratio of a snake.

If I wanted a snake 6 inches around at the widest point, how long would it be?

That's where I learned I needed to decide if my snake was a constrictor or not. Constrictors are beefier.

Wendy Qualls said...

Does fanfic count? Because "what percentage of a human's surface area are the genitals?" would probably be the weirdest :-P

My current book is a M/M romance about engineers at NASA, and I'm loving that my husband is a space geek because I don't HAVE to Google "what spacecraft took the best fly-by picture of Mars recently?" which would probably take WAY too long for a throwaway line (This painting looks just like the actual New Horizon flyover photos!")

Lawson Reinsch said...

My second-most weird/suspicious research project was finding a country with great broadband, a Mercedes dealership, and no extradition treaty with the United States. Because reasons.

Most likely to get me on The List: I needed to know about encryption for the Secret Service's radios. On a hacking site to which Google will not point you, I landed on a complete list of the exact frequencies they use. Oh. I didn't see the line before I crossed it, but I have definitely crossed it.

Coincidentally, the week I perpetrated the radio one I had dinner at the home of a former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the DOJ. I asked how much I should worry. "Not much. Evaluating threats, they're pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff." So, we've got that going for us. I'm totally relaxed now. Chillin' on the Chaff List.

BTW, insulin pump folks, you might be interested in pacemaker telemetry. Good times.

Barbara Etlin said...

I know how to land a 747 KLM jet, at least on paper. Maybe not so weird, after all. But after feeling confident about researching that, I felt I could describe ANYTHING.

Marty Weiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marty Weiss said...

All I can say is the research on the recipe and preparation of Russian Cabbage Borscht gave me a painful case of heartburn.

JeriWB said...

When I was drafting my novel a few years back, I searched for information on how long it would take a body to break down in a 55-gallon drum of diesel fuel and what sort of condition it would be in twenty years later. I never found anything definitive. If I go back to revising to it, I'll have to take up the search again.

Craig F said...

I also researched the formation of covalent bonds in plasma.

The section of my brain that recorded it was asleep when I wrote the last comment. The math was so boring it changed my brain chemistry almost as much as time dilation as you approach the speed of light.

C.M. Monson said...

Train derailments- I was going to put one in my book so I googled the most effective ways to derail a train and then watched hours of footage so that I could describe it as accurately as possible. Ultimately I decided not to use it.

Dictators and terrorist cells in Africa- I needed a believable acronym and leader name.

For my last book, I can't even tell you how many times I have googled military weaponry and US defense agencies, such as DARPA.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Lots of crime writers in this reef!

Geography of the Caspian Sea
Climate around the mouth of the Volga
What is blood pudding?
Mongolian cuisine (horrifying!)
Siberian flora & fauna
Dates of last eruption of volcanos on Kamchatka
Pacific salmon life cycle
What happens to a person who jumps into a super hot spring, e. G. At Yellowstone
Can you really die from breathing pogonip?

KDJames said...

No doubt I'm on any number of watch lists. If they haven't come for me yet, the rest of you are probably safe. As long as none of us tries to actually purchase supplies . . .

I was telling one of my sisters all the things I researched for a recent ms and she stopped me, horrified. "Are you CRAZY?! Don't even say that on the phone. What if they're listening?" Most likely, they'd be thinking, "Oh, it's just her again."

The most frustrating search was trying to figure out whether you could wrest control of a helicopter from the pilot, while in flight. Maybe I was wording it wrong, or maybe I got no helpful results because that simply isn't a thing. Best I can tell, it's a really bad idea, unless you want everyone on board to die. Luckily, I had a Plan B.

Arri Frranklin said...

Just the ones I can remember at the moment:

All manner of medieval weaponry usage. I still have to get around to that staff fighting video...

Geosynchronous satellite orbits

Long term effects of large doses of non-fatal (somehow) electricity. Really, just a bunch of stuff about electrocution. Do I have a problem, maybe?

Acetylene explosions

What it's like to be a sociopath.

And (sigh...) the minimum amount of restraints required to render someone completely immobile. Yes, that was one to not look at the pictures.

Emily McCosh said...

These days, I ask my awesome online writers’ group (Codex) about disgusting/disturbing stuff, so my browser history *probably* won’t get me arrested.

But! Off the top of my head, I have one that falls into the category of Google-didn’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-question. It was something along the lines of “ancient Japanese herbal remedies for preventing infections in wounds.” It didn’t end up in the short story as much as I thought it would, but the story is coming out at Beneath Ceaseless Skies soon, so wound research for the win!

Laura Martin said...

I took a deep dive into the "Red Coat" uniform during the American Revolution. Specifically...the buttons. Time travel books are tricky tricky beasts.

Lennon Faris said...

Most recent?

- best weapons found in a bathroom

- handwriting traits of a sociopath

I feel much more normal after reading all of the above, ha. These just cracked me up.

Mary said...

"how much prison time would you get for setting a fire"
(that's all I am going to say about that)

Arri Frranklin said...

Oh, just remembered! How long it actually takes cyanide to kill you, and how it does so. Various methods of instant death.

Writing is just the best, isn't it?

Mary: I really should have looked that one up before I semi-accidentally tried to set the science lab on fire in high school...

Lennon: Agreed.

Megan V said...

I've had to do a ton of weird research, but the weirdest for me was researching fetishes for the victim of my fictional homicide in an adult mystery I was/am writing. Trust me people, it is not a rabbit hole you want to explore.

Dena Pawling said...


I once spent an entire week watching U-Tube videos of people using prosthetic arms. Then the technology changed and now there's 3D printing, so I have to do that research all over again. Sigh. You know publishing moves glacially when technology speeds by and you haven't even finished your second draft.............

Celeste - I've had Top of the World in my head most of the day. Curse you!

D.H. said...

- how different cultures have historically viewed autopsies

- clocks--and what we used before them. I learned a lot about candle clocks. Like the fact they existed.

- The Great Fire of Old Seattle. There's an entire city underground current Seattle. A working man (John Back) accidentally tipped some oil, it caught fire, and Seattle burned for dayyyssss. Or hours. I forget which. Anyway, rather than fix it, they thought, "Hey, let's build a whole city on TOP of this one!" They literally built the current streets above house level of Old Seattle. A lot of people died climbing the ladders to get to and from work during construction. A lot of those deaths were also alcohol-related. Also, lots of opium dens and prostitution houses are still semi-intact down there. A small part of it is safe for touring and run by a single family.

Ann Bennett said...

I think looking at the personals on Craigslist was the weirdest for me. I also follow a few Facebook groups because the members give you a glimpse into their mind which is useful in developing characters.

One thing I have learned is to buy a book and not rely on the internet. There is more depth. Also going to a conference that is focused on content like the Writer's Police Academy.

Ellen said...

I had to find out how long the date rape drug Rohypnol ("roofies") can be still be detected in someone's body.

Also, I had an editorial client who wrote a book about an elaborate terrorism plot. It required searches I'm afraid to even list here. Pretty sure the NSA has a file on me now.

Cynthia Paige Aaron said...

This is a great list! Mine seems boring, but here goes:

How to administer morphine into an abductee without the usual hypodermic needle (circa 1926). I found information on the syrette used during WWII. Apparently, there was a surplus, which fit my story perfectly.

The difference between a mausoleum, a crypt, and a sarcophagus (in cemeteries, of course).

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Let's see, varying perhaps-odd searches, for projects mostly unpublished as yet:

dog training, molten salt reactors, Polish handguns, the dates for the Anglo-Boer wars, dates certain rifle actions and ammunition became available, equations for escape velocity and force multipliers thereof, methods of reaching escape velocity, what color the skies on varying bodies in our solar system would be, freediving, rogue waves, common dogs names in Poland, the length and location of Detroit's Greenways, heirloom apples and when they became cultivated, prepackaged emergency/survival rations, the care and maintenance and dismaintling of various handguns, horseshoe crabs and how their blood is scientifically/medically used, diamond tracking and provenance-proving, the Dead Hand system of Cold War Russia, types of guitar owned by varying rock stars, modifications one might use for said guitars, how to destroy a computer hard drive, social engineering

Laina said...

Most recent mildly interesting one was when netflix streaming came to Canada and was it old enough that my teenage character would have had it as a preteen.

12 hours of two documentary series for one line about the ocean. (But actually because I needed to figure out the migratory patterns of mermaids.)

Lots of research about living with one kidney.

Botanist said...

For my second novel: The topography of Greenland under all that ice, driving snowmobiles across open water, and the survivability of a small tactical nuclear blast :)

Pericula Ludus said...

The blood splatter pattern when you slit somebody's throat. Repeated watching of a rather grisly ice hockey video worked wonders.