Research Bugaboos

The ever-entertaining Ken Levine is answering questions regarding his days as a writer for M*A*S*H. He talks about how the show had a medical advisor. How he and his partner, David, would insert medical nonsense when they didn't know a particular term. An example borrowed directly from Ken's post today (thank you, Ken)...

HAWKEYE: I think his freebazzber is ruptured.

BJ: You might have to gumenford him and eeknonoogle his interior norgalflagle.

Later the advisor would supply the with the correct terminology. I dunno. I'm kind of partial to Ken and David's snazzy nonsense. *g*

At any rate, this made me think about what I've been dealing with the past few days regarding my WIP. As you know, I'm currently working on my next western romance. It takes place in 1878. I'll be on a roll, typing away, when suddenly a historical bugaboo stops me cold. Once it was a letter. How did the postal service work back then? Did they have stamps? Envelopes? How was the mail delivered? I'm really glad I researched this because, for one, no, we did not use envelopes. One thing led to another and soon I was researching the typewriter. When was it invented? Was it in common use? Blah, blah, blah. All of this was important because the letter in question is a blackmail letter and very important to the story. I had to get this right. But between all of my research books plus the Internet, I did not find all of my specific answers quickly. I think it took an hour or two. I went through the same thing when researching shotguns, the telegraph, and most recently, yesterday, 19th century spectacles. Sure there's plenty of information out there, but I had very specific questions.

I run into this for every book. For instance when writing THE CHAMELEON CHRONICLES --ALL ABOUT EVIE (coming spring 2007 from HQN), I had to research con-artists and their world. I also learned a boat-load about cruise ships (ha!). Most of the first installment of TCC takes place on a cruise and I've never been on one. You can only take creative license so far. Readers will call you on mistakes. So I ended up researching everything from boarding procedures to lifeboat drills to law in International waters.

Still, the research wasn't nearly as time consuming as on ROMANCING THE WEST (also coming 2007 from Medallion Press). I didn't hit those bugaboo questions as often. I already knew that if my 21st century broke her eyeglasses, she'd just drive over to Lens Crafters for a new pair. My 19th century stuck-in-the-boonies-wild-west heroine, I ultimately learned, would have to wait for a spectacle peddler to roll through town. Except she had the bad luck of needing bifocals (yes, they had those then) so that was a whole new bugaboo.

What was my point? Ah, yes. The medical advisor on M*A*S*H. I've decided I want one of those. Only I need an all-around research advisor. I'd like a housekeeper, too, but I'll pass on that if it means hiring on someone to help with research. Oh, shoot, and I want a publicist, too. I really need to win the lottery or land a Stephen King like book deal to make some of these things happen. A person can dream. I'm dreaming of the day when I can type nonsense when I hit bugaboos, relying on an advisor for the correct term for norgalflagle.


Cyn said…
I do believe that our old friend, Benjamin Franklin, invented the bifocals. Thanks for answering where they came from in the 1800's. Very interesting!

Personally, I want a chef 24/7!
Beth Ciotta said…
Yes, indeed Cyndi, Mr. Franklin invented the bifocals in 1784. As I need them, I'm most grateful! i was surprised to learn that the first form of eyeglasses originated between 1285-1289. Amazing, no? Also, up until the latter part of the 19th century folks were pretty much responsible for choosing their own vision needs. When the peddler cam into town, they just kept tring on different spectacles until they found the lenses that cleared up their vision. In other words no formal exam and prescription. One thing about research, it keeps my brain buzzing. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Gads. Sorry for the typos, folks.
Mary Stella said…
I actually know the correct term for norgalflagle, but good manners prevent me from sharing that information on a public blog.

Tori Lennox said…
I love doing research! The problem comes when I spend more time researching than writing. :)
Beth Ciotta said…
Mary, you tease!

Tori, I actually enjoy the research, too. Most everything I research ends up fascinating me. My only problem is when it takes me too long to track down a certain fact. That's frustrating. I'd make a horrible research librarian. LOL

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