Research Isn’t a "Distraction"

At least, not always.

I was reading a novel the other night—can’t exactly remember what it was about. I won’t say that this forgetfulness is a comment on the quality of the writing, the plot, and/or the characterization, though it’s possible. I think, though, that it’s more that I was taken out of the story by irritation at an unforgivable mistake, due, it must be, to lack of research.

I do remember that it was a mystery/crime story, and it dovetailed a bit, past and present. The past was in the 1960s. And here I was, reading along, in the 1960s portion, when I came across a line that mentioned something about the detectives, and their ability to possibly capture the criminal because of a “new technology” that was just being tried out, called…fingerprinting.

Sigh. Now, being a little ageist here, I imagine that the writer was young, and that, to them, the 1960s were almost the Jurassic Period, but still. New technology? (I feel like repeating that, over and over, with an increasing number of question marks, but I will spare you.)

I’ve mentioned before that I read a lot. And I like mysteries, though they are not my main love at the moment. Still, some of the mysteries/crime novels/police procedurals I’ve read were written about a hundred years ago, and they were talking about fingerprinting for criminal identification way back then.

But, say the writer of this book was not really into reading all that old stuff—even so, two minutes of Google search and reading would have brought them to any of a gazillion sites, all ready to tell them that fingerprinting for criminal identification was first (officially) used in 1858…not 1958. It was very rudimentary, sure, but the process was used and (sort of) perfected over the decades by police departments around the world.

It’s still not a mistake-free process even now, but by the 1960s, it was at least one that Greater Los Angeles area police departments were well familiar with. It was NOT “new technology.” Okay, got that off my chest (though I still grit my teeth every time I think of it. I know. Issues.)

But I believe it illustrates my point about research. It’s true that it’s very easy to use the need to research to get distracted from writing. I know this, because I can lose myself for hours looking up stuff that interests me. On the other hand, it’s obviously just as easy to lose your reader if you don’t take the time to research.

Or to edit. When I came across a line in one book, right at a suspenseful moment, that stated that the blood-splashed room was also splattered with “grizzly parts”… well, you can imagine the picture that formed in my mind. I spent the rest of the reading time not invested in the story, or caught up in the suspense… but giggling inappropriately at the mind-picture of a dismembered bear scattered across the room. Not that I have anything against bears, but, you see?

It’s not even an uncommon mistake. In fact, I came across it so often in self-published (and, on rare occasion, even a supposedly professionally edited and published) novels that I went and looked up the word to make sure it hadn’t changed meaning on me. Nope.

So, those are my public service messages for today.

Fingerprinting was not a technology invented anywhere close to the 1960s.

And if you are writing a tension-filled scene that is gory and and disgusting and soaked with blood, keep your readers in the mood by referring to it as “grisly.”

Grizzly is a bear.

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An Experiment–the year in words

Like most everyone else (claims to,) I poo-poo New Year’s resolutions and promises to “change.” Also, like a good many others, I sometimes secretly mutter something like “This is so NOT a resolution, but… ” to myself. And make them anyway.

Or, at least, one. This one. To write something here (or wherever my blog space is at the time) every day of this year.

The “here” part is important, because I usually write something somewhere every day—a ghost blog or article for a client, journal entry. Sometimes, amazingly enough, I even work on my book. But all that is a different sort of writing, using different muscles, so to speak.

All that is also, it’s important to note, primarily not public. I mean, the blog posts and such are, but they are not under my name—so, public, yet not. And that’s really where I sometimes have the most trouble. Writing ‘out loud,’ as me, where anyone can read it.

So, my resolution, and a few rules and well… no, not loopholes. Not exactly–

  •   The post can go up at any point within the 24 hour period. As long as it falls on the right date, it’s okay. Which is good, because I don’t have a proper work or sleep schedule.
  • The post must be more than 300 words to count. Why? Because, otherwise, I’ll try to get away with just throwing together a pretty picture and an observation and call it done.
  • It really should be about something, though there are no promises for this. Sometimes the words simply don’t want to come, and one of the best remedies for that is to just write… something. Anything. If that happens, that’s what I will do. But, no more than once a week. Maybe once a month. The rest of the time, the post must have a topic of some sort.
  • This is NOT a loophole, at all. Sometimes I lack internet access. There are wifi spots a couple of miles from me, but if the weather is bad, or I am sick, or simply don’t want to go (I walk, usually, or take the bus—both can be tiring) then I must still keep my promise to write for here that day—but will publish the post when I can. Probably manipulating the date so it appears that it was posted on the day it was written. But it must be honest—if I just didn’t write for that day, for whatever reason, I can’t later publish something and pretend I did. I think that’s fair.

I should mention that this is not, as they say, my first rodeo. I’ve made this resolution before, but this time I think I will keep it. Or will do better at it, at least. my mind is in a different place now, and that may be the key.

Topics might be the most difficult part. I will go ahead and list my interests so that I can refer back to this post should I get stuck for something to say.

Writing, of course. Writing about writing is something I could probably do every day, but as this is not a “writing blog,” I probably won’t.

Black history. I have ideas on this, and actually a separate blog for a sort of series I am writing (short posts, historical fiction—kinda.) I may talk about that, or about the research, or the best way to set up the site and so on.

Creativity. This is sort of self-explanatory, but I might write things about being an aging creative. So often, creativity is considered the province of the young, and when we olds come up with something, we’re sort of looked on with a mixture of pity, horror and awe. Unless we are famous or rich, and I am neither. So maybe I’ll talk about that.

Designing your own life. I have ideas here—might as well flesh them out.

I used to be more politically and socially involved, but the older I get, the more I find myself drawing… inward, maybe. Or, at least, withdrawing from the rush and thrill of political arguments, or fury at this or that injustice, and things like that. Not that I am not still aware or don’t care, it’s just that my focus has changed. In a way.

That might be yet another topic.

So. The year in words. We’ll see.

Random thoughts while the day lingers

Few of my online friends have blogs these days. Some are scattered between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Tumblr; others are simply not around anymore at all. I’ve tried, with all of those sites. Have had accounts at all of them for years, but… here I am, back on a blog, doing things “they way we used to.” It appears I might, sadly, be an old dog.

Some of us Californians do have them, and I just want to say… “weather” and “seasons” are overrated.

I’ve almost completed the outline for part one of my book (yes, I am writing one—isn’t everyone?) I will probably be talking about this project and process a lot on here, as it tends to consume my thoughts. Fair warning.

I was having trouble organizing the thing (in my mind, or on the computer) until I decided to break it up into parts, and work on each part separately, writing the first draft of part one, then outlining and writing the drafts of parts two and three as they come along. Bite at a time of the elephant and all that. Plus, the sections need to lead into each other and sort of dovetail, even though they are in different time periods, so this just makes sense in my mind. In true “am I doing this right?” fashion, I was at first worried about doing it this way, but whatever works for me is what’s going to work. Hopefully.

It’s all one book, I should note, just broken up into three parts. If I ever get this written (or once I get this one written—positive thinking!) I have plans for more in the series. Nice full books, though. I do read, sometimes, those books that are designed to be read one after the other in order to find out what happens, usually events occurring within a short space of time, but I find that I rarely read the rest of the story with books like that. Unless, that is, each book in the series (especially the first one) is full and meaty and captivating and satisfying—and worth coming back for. The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, for instance. Or, I guess, George R.R. Martin’s series, though I got tired of even those after the first few.

I usually try to start the morning writing—at least, that is a habit I am trying to form. Writing before checking the news, blogs, email, social media, so on. Not only because I am easily distracted and might put off writing for hours, if not the entire day, though that’s a good reason. But it’s also because, if I do otherwise, I fail to capture the morning feelings or thoughts. Once I’ve gotten my fill of whatever disasters are going on, or what’s happening in larger and smaller worlds and circles, I’m in an entirely different mood. So, write first, even if it’s simply blather.

What made me think of that is, I may also make a habit of writing last, at the end of the day (and not only to ensure that I write something on the blog each day.) A way to clear the mind for dreams to fill, perhaps.

First Thoughts

Time to begin blogging again. With intent, this time. As opposed, that is, to simply using the space as a stream-of-thought journal, that is. Blathering, as I called it, in my previous blog space, during the days when I was unsure of my direction and what I wanted to do. I’d wandered away from the online magazine I’d published for 10 years and was at a loss as to where I wanted to go next. I bounced from idea to idea, creative venture to creative venture, before realizing that what I really wanted to do was write. Well, to create through words—I can build and destroy worlds on my own without needing someone to help with programming or development, or even hammering in nails.

Unfortunately, this was no easy decision, since I’d managed to convince myself pretty thoroughly that I was “not a writer.” Meaning, I’d not gone through creative writing classes, or an MFA program (or had a lot of formal education at all,) or sat at the feet of one of the greats. What I have done, since I was very small and following along after my mother’s or older brothers’ fingers, is read. Lots. And, everything. Once I was able to make out the words for myself, it was impossible to keep me to just “children’s books.” No, as I grew, I read everything I could get my hands on, from Mad Magazine to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare… I have guilt about that. Not guilt about having read the work, or about not always understanding what I read—I was young, after all, and reading on my own. No, my shame lies in, well… I don’t know that they are around much anymore, but remember book clubs? They advertised in the pages of magazines, or sometimes with these little postcards that would fall out from between the pages and just tempt you with books, books, BOOKS! Free books! Six or eight of them, sent right to your door. (As long as you agreed to purchase so many more a month, sent automatically, for however many months.)

Who could resist? Certainly not a nine or ten year old bookworm, who would rather read than do most anything else. So I filled out card after card—Doubleday book clubs (romance, mystery, etc.,) Mystery book club, the Classics book club, Ellery Queen, a huge, white Bible with padded cover and gold-embossed writing, and last, but not least (especially in price,) the Shakespeare book club. I loved all my books, but the Shakespeare set—they were beautiful and I loved them the best. Bound in red faux leather, with the title and author in gold writing. And inside, whispery thin, white pages sorted out into sonnets and plays, a black satin ribbon to rub my fingers across while reading, and then flip over to hold my place. No paper bookmarks or dog-edged pages in that volume of books. I want to say there were about seven in the set, but, while I know Shakespeare was prolific, I can’t imagine he was that prolific. These weren’t skinny chapbook type things, but thick tomes, with tiny writing. Except, they weren’t the full height of a hardback—somewhere between a hardback and a paperback.

In any case, the walls of my room were filled with shelves of books, most of which (besides the ones I picked up and those my mom bought for me) no one at all had paid for. Yet. I can’t imagine what I was thinking. Even though I was not yet a teen, I knew that we didn’t have much money, and that my mom worked and worked (she had her own business, as a reweaver.) We simply could not afford all this. And what were these companies thinking? My handwriting even today is not the best; my hand as a nine year old was… well, very young and unformed and should have fooled no one. Yet, on the authority of my shaky signature, they sent all this product. I’m pretty sure they were paid for none of it. Certainly not by me.

Thus, my guilt. Not so much about the book clubs and their possible lack of payments, no. If they are going to send out stuff to children, more fool they. More at the thought that my mom might have been harassed about payment, though they didn’t have her name, so it may never have come up. I hope that is the case.

So, that’s me. A pilfering reader who writes. Or, in other words, a writer.