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The Funny Things You Find Doing Research
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011 5:42 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Today I'm in hardcore research mode on my Salem series and reading through the actual court documents from Salem Village in the 1680's- 1690's.  Since the Salem books flip back and forth from the past to the present I have to be sure it's historically accurate. 

The things these people used to be charged over in colonial America, it's amazing.  The number one charge, one that showed up fifty-eight times in one year? Fornication.  One married couple was charged because their baby was born six months after they were married.

Another case was over a loose bull.  A prize bull owned by the richest farmer broke loose and got into a pasture of a poor man's cows.  The bull owner was trying to get compensation for the free stud service.  That battle went on for two years.

Yet another case involved two men who were fighting over undergarments.  Man A accused Man B of stealing his off the clothesline. 

There's no real point to this post other than to share the tidbits that made me laugh.  It was like reading Colonial Jerry Springer.

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 3:41 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

This is actually a great thread to start! I hope more people will leave examples of the odd things they run across during research!
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:34 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Thanks Colleen, I wasn't sure if this was an appropriate topic for this location!

Here's another juicy morsel...

When the afflicted girls in Salem, MA were interrogated about who was the witch they had the girls urinate into bread dough. The baked product was fed to a dog who was supposed to lead investigators to the real witch.

I don't want to think about how that smelled while it was baking.
MB Mulhall
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 8:32 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 81

Those poor dogs! That's like animal cruelty.

Researching often leads to weird things. I don't have anything quite as comical, but I did find recently that they actually have websites devoted to the top ten most popular clown names. You know, in case you're planning on becoming a clown and need a name.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 10:50 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Actually the ammonia and other nasty byproducts in urine would burn off in the cooking process.

Clowns...is there anything out there that is creepier? Does anyone actually like them in some way other than as a fetish? My kids flip a nutty if they even see one across the fairgrounds and demand to leave.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 6:20 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

I like a good clown. I was actually considering becoming a clown as a side gig for a while.

My wife, otoh, fears and despises clowns. And spiders. And her favorite actor is Tim Curry. So she's flicking channels one day, and sees tim curry, stops to watch, and he turns into a clown, and she starts flipping out. then the clown turns into a giant spider, and ... well... apparently she was unable to watch Rocky Horror for almost a year afterwords.
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 11:52 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I'm with you there. Clowns give me the heebie jeebies. (Though, oddly, rodeo clowns do not.)

When researching for one book idea I have in mind, I came across a website. Some people have a lot of time on their hands.


Very handy for what I was researching. And a rather fun domain name.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 8:24 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416

speaking of long domain names, there exists www.abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.com (the alphabet, in order, twice). They give you email address, that are basically only of use from a few mail clients, as most email programs for one reason or another can't handle that long of a domain.

Karen Engelsen
Posted: Saturday, April 30, 2011 7:07 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 1

My odd tidbit of research: Germanic Pagans and Norsemen ritually consumed horsemeat, as the horse was considered a liminal messenger between the worlds. Pope Leo outlawed the practice in 732. Henceforth eating horsemeat was considered the mark of the heathen.

Which is probably why we in most English speaking countries feel an inexplicable revulsion about the idea today.
Angela Martello
Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:01 PM
Joined: 8/21/2011
Posts: 394

Interesting tidbit about eating horse meat! I was in Italy last month and had dinner one evening at a fabulous pizzeria in Padua . On the menu: horse meat pizza.

We didn't order that. . .

Alexandria Brim
Posted: Saturday, March 24, 2012 5:16 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353

I've been doing research for a new historical project and discovered that the Patriots in New York were quite tyrannical in their rule. It was either their way or the highway, with Loyalists being threatened, jailed or boycotted if they didn't comply with them.
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 3:42 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438

I love this thread!

I'm curious, how does the funny/horrifying/surprising information that you unearth change the way you craft your story? Are there times when you get sudden spurts of creative energy because of something really interesting you came across?
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 9:03 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

One of my original books workshopped on this site involved a celebrity who had a stalker.  I did a lot of research on that type of stalker and found out they're the most volatile and dangerous.  They usually have delusions and a fantasy world in their mind.  After reading case files I changed the last third of my book so that the stalker was more dangerous.

One scene was inspired by a case file where a stalker photographed a celebrity while jogging every day.  In my book the stalker would photograph her victim every night while sleeping.

Alexandria Brim
Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 4:14 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353

The information I found helped me shape my characters' family, staunch Loyalists. I wanted to make them sympathetic as I feel many Revolutionary War era novels prefer to cast them as the villains. The information I found gave me ideas of how my characters would react, what they would be feeling, and more.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Friday, June 15, 2012 9:02 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

I was researching economics in Europe in the early Renaissance as additional background for one of the current groups of books and ran across the fact that merchants sometimes (illegally) carried dies so they could counterfeit the coins of a state (city state or nation state)  they were traveling to, rather than paying the tax on changing foreign coins.  That led me to research counterfeiting, which I already knew was sometimes used in war, to destabilize a country's economy.   

The character who wants to rule the world (or that part of it) was already engaged in various ways of weakening the city states in the story, so I added counterfeiting to the mix, and suddenly the band of brigands infesting an area my mercenaries were supposed to protect had a reason to stick around even with regular troops nearby. 

Old legal codes are fascinating and add depth and reality to settings...I think it's in the Lombard Laws (I forget whether it's that one of the Burgundian Code) where the person who ties sticks to the tail of a horse owned by someone else is held responsible for damage done by the horse, rather than the horse owner.  Livestock and liability is a common theme--bulls getting in with the wrong cows, dogs chasing sheep, horses kicking and injuring/killing someone: who's to blame?   If the well sweep breaks and the counterweight stone falls on someone, who's to blame?  Litigiousness is nothing new.

Sumptuary laws defining what adornment different classes were allowed to wear (a peasant in furs was assumed to have stolen them.)   The width of a collar, the width of velvet or fur that you were allowed to have on a garment...all defined by social class and/or occupation. 

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012 4:52 PM
Joined: 6/13/2012
Posts: 13

One of my favorite tidbits I picked up while researching my book was the occurrence of people who exist today with new and very interesting genetic anomalies.  Probably the most famous is a family that has super-dense bones.  They can't float, but the first man to be discovered with it survived a horrifying car wreck without a scratch.  Another trait is the occurrence in some women of tetrachromacy.  Basically the affected party has four different cones in their eye for detecting color, which allows them to see into the ultraviolet spectrum.  This is the article that really got me excited bout tetrachromacy in humans; http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/health/some-women-may-see-100-million-colors-thanks-to-their-genes-450179/  ; The last one I found was the fact that about 1% of Caucasians have a mutation in their genes that makes them immune to AIDS and HIV. 

I'd also like to put my two cents in on the clown bit.  I actually love clowns, since my older brother worked as a clown for a while.  He's twelve years older than me and used to let me watch as he put on his makeup.  After that every time I saw a clown I didn't just see the costume and scary makeup, I saw someone who could be just like my brother.  I still get warm fuzzies when I see clowns to this day.

Timothy Maguire
Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012 6:36 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 272

One I'm loving at the moment is the 'cosmic censorship hypothesis', which I wiki'd my way to trying to answer a question else where on the forum. Basically, it's an explanation of why we can't/ won't find a naked singularity (basically a black hole without the event horizon preventing light from coming back from it). The whole concept descends into complicated PDQ, but I just love the whole name. It's like the universe is just embarrassed to admit they exist.

The other one I'm still turning over in my head is the Hilbert Hotel story. It's an explanation of the nature of infinity and it revolves around a hotel with infinite full rooms adding an infinitely large number of guests (it devolves into equations quick). Things only get confusing when you start adding in a transfinite number of guests (that's a number bigger than infinity...).
Posted: Saturday, October 6, 2012 1:13 PM
If you like the Hilbert Hotel story, you'd love the novel "The House of Leaves".


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