The Joy of Research

ElephantsI’m starting to do research for the third book in the Matthew and Epp series. Technically I research things constantly in a “Look at that guy! Could I use that guy in a story? Did you hear that noise? Maybe I could use that noise somewhere!” sort of way.

But recently I’ve started to actually do reading research to prepare for the upcoming books. I need to learn about ancient Rome, clothes, Australian penal colonies, and a few other tidbits.

A lot of people, when I tell them that I write fiction, get a mad gleam in their eye and say something like, “I’ll bet the best part about that job is doing the research.”

In their minds, if I have to research criminal under-lords or whatever, then I actually join some criminal society and rise up through the ranks, participating in dazzling jewel thefts and midnight gunfights aboard a zeppelin somewhere or god knows what.

In reality I purchase or download an absurd number of books and I sit and I read, and I read, and I read.

Yeah. It’s awesome.

Here is the book I read to research Isaac Newton for Probability Angels:

It was a thrill-a-minute page-turner full of explosions and sexy international intrigue.

Oh. Wait. No it wasn’t. It was the most boring book in the world and a good third of it was FILLED WITH MATH EQUATIONS.

But there were some good, invaluable even, nuggets hidden in this tome of boredom and the read was well worth it for my work. That’s what research really is for me, not an attempt to learn the topic I’m researching backwards and forwards, but a sifting process where I pluck out striking images, quotes, moments, and mindsets to graft onto my writing and give it the flavor of reality.

And, to be fair, not all of it is boring. The ancient Rome stuff has been full of goodies.

My favorite thus far? The Greek general Pyrrhus once attempted to intimidate a Roman ambassador by inviting him into a room where he had an elephant hidden behind a curtain and then, in mid-conversation, dropping the curtain.

Oddly the ol’ elephant behind the curtain trick didn’t work. The visiting diplomat didn’t even flinch when a fucking elephant appeared behind him out of nowhere.

Which is sad.

I really wish that trick had caught on.

I know I’m so using it if I ever hold office anywhere.

“So, you think there should be a stop sign on the corner of Main and Oak streets? Well have you ever thought to consider LOOKATTHISITSAGIANTFUCKINGELEPHANT!!!!!!”