Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Things Authors Know

Have you ever found yourself at a cocktail party quoting some new and interesting fact only to suddenly recall that it came from fiction? I’m always amazed by the things you can learn by books and the odd facts that authors know.

To really write a good book research is the name of the game. You have to know what kind of damage a hunting knife can really do or in what time period bloomers were really worn. You need to know what can happen to someone hit by lightning or have some idea of what wolf pack mentality is like.

Sure it’s fiction so things can be fudged a little, but to make fiction believable the facts need to be there and be made believable. I can’t imagine any book was ever written without at least a little research.

So tell me. What strange facts have you learned in your own research?



Mark Terry said...

That Peking Duck is now called Beijing Duck.

That biohazard suits used in hot zones are made by the same company in Delaware that makes spacesuits for NASA.

That there is an extensive series of tunnels and bunkers beneath Beijing (obviously I'm working on a book that takes place in China) called the Beijing Underground that most Chinese aren't even aware of. It was built in the 1940s and '50s and is now basically a little-used tourist attraction.

There are only 4 ingredients needed to make sarin gas.

The MP5 machine gun has a translucent green clip, has three settings--single fire, semi (3 rounds per trigger pull) and full automatic.

HALO stands for high-altitude, low-opening parachute jumps, where people (usually Special Forces folks) will jump from an airplane from 10,000 feet but not open their chute until 1000 feet.

You can buy a 60-foot Criss-Craft Constellation (boat, cruiser) used for about $60,000 if you shop around.

Most taxi cabs in Beijing are painted red and the price varies by model of car. The fancier the car, the higher the price.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Dara Edmondson said...

In researching a rare liver disease that requires a transplant, I learned if part of the liver is removed, it grows back. I had a character that made the decision to give part of his liver to a child.

I learned all the different ways to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and am probably now qualified as a psychologist. Well - maybe not.

Angie said...

I've learned that "djinni" is the singular and the plural is "djann." "Djinn" (however you spell it) is a Westernization. A female djinni is a "djinniyah".

A djinni is made of smokeless fire, as man is made of earth.

Djann are afraid of the sound of singing. (Handy to know! :D )

A ghul is a kind of djinni found in graveyards. They eat the dead, rob graves and prey on children. The English word "ghoul" comes from this term.

The Judeo-Islamic influence (connection to Abraham, Seal of Solomon, rebellion of the djann who refused to bow to Man when Allah commanded) came post-Islam and those parts of the stories are tacked on, much like the Christian parts of Beowulf.

Angie, researching a pre-Islamic Arab fantasy

2readornot said...

The Stone of Scone was 'stolen' from Westminster Abbey in the 1950s by four college kids -- who then dropped and broke a chunk of it off. The Stone was retrieved and sent to Edinburgh to be fixed, and some people believe it was never really returned (that a fake was sent in its place).

Researching a WWII fantasy.

Anonymous said...

I got to tour a crab boat, like the kind on Deadliest Catch, and learned the following:

1) The boat holds 50,000 GALLONS of diesel fuel. 50,000!
2) The boat has two FULL SIZED bathrooms w/regular toilets and showers and everything.
3) The captain gets his own "Stateroom" with his own bed and bathroom.
4) The crab tanks are positively HUGE. He pulled off a lid and I looked inside and wow.
5)The engine room is the biggest room on the boat.
6) The deck area, where they stack pots, looks bigger on TV.
7)Fisherman really do like swapping fishing stories.
8) Sometimes people are just really cool, and they don't have to be.

Josh said...

That we don't actually know what dreaming is for.

How to milk a rattlesnake, or other venomous serpents--in theory only. Have yet to do it myself.

Carnival lingo and operations.

Liz Wolfe said...

That stitch in your side from running is caused by landing on your right foot while exhaling. The diaphragm raises for exhalation and the liver drops down because of the landing of the foot which stretches the ligaments too far and causes the cramp.

Jolie Mathis said...

That the stone "Dogs of Alcibiades" statues weren't installed in Victoria Park (London) until 1912, after being donated by Lady Aignarth. I had hoped they were there earlier, to fit into the time frame of my mss. :(

C.E. Grundler said...

Let's see...

Sailing a gaff-rigged boat and navigation - no, I already knew that. Outboard motor mechanics, diesel (marine and tractor-trailer) maintenance and repair, driving a commercial truck, boat-yard operations, commercial marine transport... oh, wait, I've done all that, it’s called earning a paycheck.

Burn recovery, skin grafts, and rehab, lots of research there. ANFO (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil)explosives, more research. Drug transport, computer encryption, the price and performance of a Mercedes S600; that's definitely new territory for me. That's lurking somewhere in your slush pile, sent to Jacky back in May, and so far, no rejection. One can only hope.

Current work in progress, same cast of characters, but now they're faced with, among others, an embezzling masochist who will go to extremes to cover his tracks and uphold his social status, (again, new territory.)

Cynthia E. Grundler
Last Exit In New Jersey – submitted in query

Adrienne said...

That Chinese Dragons can take human form.

And that pirates elect positions on the ship democratically.

I think a lot of people who are into that kind of stuff already know that, but that was a really cool discovery for me.

Travis Erwin said...

I really hate to say this on here without y'all knowing the context, but I've been researching bull semen and the very interesting ways it is collected.

I am slated to visit a ranch and actually witness the collection later this fall. Now doesn't that sound fun?

Angie Fox said...

I've learned there are several tried and true ways to attach a small dog to a Harley. And I have photos to back it up!

Griffins mate for life (so never, ever consider a taloned and feathered shapeshifting griffin for a casual fling).

Deborah K. White said...

The Roman Infantry could march about 3 m.p.h. under most conditions, but their armies only moves about 10-12 miles each day. Why? Because the armies where so large when baggage wagons, servants, pack mules, etc., where taken into account. A 6 legion column would have been 22.5 miles long. The first soldiers set out at daybreak, march for 3 or 4 hours, then start setting up the fortifications for their new camp. Part of the column is still back at the old fort at this point. The last baggage train would arrive at the (now completed) new fort 12 hours after sunrise.

Researching "ancient world" warfare for a fantasy.

michelle said...

That crowbars have been in use since at least 1400 - were originally called crow bars (then the word was combined later) because the split in a particular variety looked like the feet of a crow - the most common crowbar is actually a variety of the crowbar called a wrecking bar - they were sometimes referred to as crows and Shakespeare mentions them in some of his plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, when he refers to an "iron crow"

flushing toilets weren't commonly used until the early 1900s - one slang term popular in 1700s England was "house of office" - and John Crapper did not invent the flushing toilet though he was involved in plumbing - as the term "crap" predates him, the slang term "crapper" probably didn't derive from his name (but how unfortunate is that name!)

Tula Neal said...

That there are resorts men can go to in the Dominican Republic where men can go and be paired up with escorts for the duration of their stay or for a day or two - whatever suits their fancy.

That a soup made from the penis and testicles of a bull - cow-cod soup - is considered an aphrodisiac in certain Caribbean countries.

Good stuff for an erotic guide to the region!

Marianne Harden said...

Men are six times more likely to be struck by lightning than women. (Hmmmm, some sort of natural justice system?)

In Memphis, a woman cannot drive a car unless a man warns approaching motorists or pedestrians by walking in front of her car. (If I were her, I’d speed up)

Owls are one of the only birds who can discern the color blue. (What a shame. Blue, black…nearly the same at night)

Eliza said...

On July 6, 1901, people rioted in Central Park. They rioted over chairs.

It was the hottest recorded summer since the Weather Bureau had been founded in 1871. In the week before the riots, there had been 797 deaths from heat. And that was just in Greater New York. They say people began to go mad, and nothing made them madder than when searching for relief from the heat in that expansive park, they found they suddenly had to pay for the privilege of sitting down.

There were new rocking chairs up, see. They were sturdy, comfortable, and painted an appealing green. There were even classes for the chairs: the “modest” chairs only cost three cents to sit in, while the nicer ones with arms cost five cents. It doesn’t seem like much, but in 1901, six cents could get you a bed for the night, or a full meal.

-- gleaned during research for my WiP.

jodi said...

lol, I must be doing the same thing as Mark.

I do know that a helicopter door is called different things in different branches of the service, and "how" to use the knowledge.

I also know that not everybody can fit in a sewer. You pick up weird things...

Becky Levine said...

Not only aren't manta rays slimy, they actually feel like nothing so much as hard, solid muscle under your fingertips.

Precie said...

That one of the things that sparked off the Indian Mutiny in 1857 (against the East India Trading Company and British colonists) was the introduction of the new Enfield paper cartridge. The end of the cartridge had to be bitten off prior to its loading. The cartridges were allegedly greased with animal fat and hence were regarded by Muslims and Hindus as unclean.

Julie Rowe said...

Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray research was instrumental to understanding the structure of DNA. It was used without her permission by Watson, Crick and Wilkins. Men who were awarded the Nobel prize without ever acknowledging her essential contribution.

Chumplet said...

That the Guardia Civil is not the only police force in Spain. That not only is the Basque country fighting for autonomy, but also the Catalan.

That you have to put the bullets in a 9mm handgun facing forward.

That there are no snakes in New Zealand.

That this is just the beginning of my research for my WIP.

That I have Basque ancestry.

Jean M Fogle said...

How about the Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood .It occurred on January 15, 1919. 21 people were killed and when the molasses tank burst, the wave that rolled through the streets at 35 mph.Even pushed buildings off their foundations.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Great topic...
Lawrence Sanders (especially in the McNally mysteries) hooked me up with the idea of Ockham's razor which is attributed to a logician... the principle states that all things being equal, the simplest solution is probably the best one. Useful? Maybe not. But I did get a chance ONCE (so far) to use it in conversation when a bunch of the neighbour girls were trying to figure out an issue...

Mary Witzl said...

That a few allied POWs of the Japanese were killed before they could be liberated by crates of canned peaches dropped in care packages; that many POWs of the Japanese ate rats, frogs and grass they were so hungry. That pumpkins were virtually the only food available in Japan towards the end of the war; that many of the worst Japanese war criminals bought their freedom, while some innocent men were found guilty and executed.
I also know how to transport human ashes via airplane, and that when people divorce, there is no shared custody of children in Japan.

And now I know all these interesting bits and pieces that other writers have written...

Antony said...

That Elvis impersonators, when they get together, refer to each other by the names of characters that Elvis played in movies. This way they can differentiate themselves without resorting to using their real names.

Like all the best research, I didn't know it was research at the time. It was six months before I started a new work and thought: 'Hmmm... what if this character was an Elvis impersonator...?'

Chiron O'Keefe said...

What research taught me...

Bone china has to have at least twenty-five percent actual bone ash. Bone ash is why the china is both translucent and durable.

The English habit of pouring milk into tea cups first was a means of cooling down the cup to prevent the china from cracking.

The custom of Afternoon Tea began because the Duchess of Bedford needed a snack to sustain her. Since dinnner was typically served late at night, she began with tea accompanied by bread & butter. This expanded to include pastries, finger sandwhiches, desserts and clotted cream. It became all the rage.

This is not the same thing as High Tea, which began later in the evening, around six. More substantial, with meats and cheeses, High Tea was a definite meal.

Afternoon Tea was a social diversion for ladies. High Tea was considered more common, more suited for the hearty appetites of men.

Southern Writer said...

Taurine, an ingredient in energy drinks such as Red Bull and Rockstar, is the bile of bulls. Yum. Also, cats must have taurine in their diets, or they'll eventually go blind.

Oh, and Marianne, it's also illegal in Memphis to back your car out of your driveway. And for a man to be in his front yard without wearing a shirt. And for a bar patron to carry their own drink anywhere in the bar. Anyone drinking is supposed to be sitting, and only servers should be mobile with alcoholic beverages.

Francesca Hawley said...

I've learned that talking to your friends about your discoveries regarding dead bodies and how long it takes for someone to bleed out as a result of a slice to the axillary artery will make their eyes glaze over. Also, such discussion if not immediately halted inspires a wild eyed look which sharply resembles that of an animal contemplating whether or not to chew off a limb to escape a trap. It's irrelevant that the friend is a large man active in the SCA and currently wearing armor.

BrennaLyons said...

That tigers are one of only four cats in the world that can roar.

That a cat can EITHER purr or roar but not both. It all depends on the hyoid bone in the throat and whether the animal has a soft (cartilaginous hyoid bone, which allows a cat to roar) or calcified/bone one (which allows purring). The three other roaring cats are lions, leopards and jaguars.

That the roar of a tiger can be heard for more than two miles.

That tiger tracks are called pug marks.

That a tiger kills small prey by grabbing the head or back of the neck and shaking or snapping to break the neck. That a tiger kills large prey by suffocation, by grabbing the front of the throat. That a tiger will often loosely bury prey, as a dog does, to save portions for later.

That a tiger's stripe pattern is not only unique but the skin beneath the fur has the same markings, meaning that when a tiger loses fur in a fight or from illness/parasites, the stripe pattern remains as camouflage, and scarring is the only true way to change the pattern...short of tattooing the skin, as long as the fur doesn't cover it, or dying the fur...IOW, artificial means.

That tigers love swimming and lounging in water but often hate immersing their face and having water sprayed in their eyes.

That tigers have (on average) 3-4 inch claws, five toes on the front paws and four on the rear.

That tigers are NOT completely colorblind. Like most other cats, they can see some colors in the blue-green range.

The smallest (and usually darkest in color) tigers are Sumatran tigers, found only on the island of Sumatra. The largest is the Siberian tiger (also known as the Amur).

That tigers will often fight each other to get milk, even into adulthood. Tigers are VERY fond of milk.

Only eight types of tigers remain today. The rest of the sub-breeds are extinct.

In every sub-breed EXCEPT Siberian, the male travels into the female's range to mate, at her fertile cycle. In the case of Siberians, the female often travels to the male, if no male comes into her range.

Tigers are solitary animals, each to a range, usually a female with many males bordering her. The male leaves the female's range or the female the male's range, in the case of Siberian tigers, and raises her cubs alone for several years, at which point they strike off and make their own ranges. When you see adult tigers sharing a cage in a zoo, it is an unnatural setting for them.

There are two types of tiger/lion cross-breeds, a tigon (sometimes called a tigron) and a liger. A tigon is the offspring of a male tiger and a lioness. The liger is the offspring of a male lion and a tigress. Ligers are more common, because the lion has the weight and strength to subdue the tigress more effectively than the opposite.

And, let's not get started on brain functionality, seizures, US Navy submarines (snicker), and all the other things I've learned.

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Such discussion if not immediately halted inspires a wild eyed look which sharply resembles that of an animal contemplating whether or not to chew off a limb to escape a trap