Writing research, or this week’s list of reasons the NSA is watching me.


Behold, the dreaded spife!

Last week I posted a list of the items I researched while working on my latest thriller for The Resistance Cycle. This week, I continued to make slow progress on the manuscript, but once again, I needed to know certain … things. For example, can those lettuce knives you see on late night infomercials kill or maim someone?

Here’s this week’s list of questionable internet searches:

So, about those lettuce knives.
According to wisegeek, lettuce knives can deliver “deliver a nasty nick, although it certainly can’t cause mortal damage.” Boo to that.  And there are some hilarious five-star reviews of a plastic knife on Amazon, billing it as a great first knife for a child. Good-bye, possible plot device!

Okay, but can you really hurt someone with a plastic knife? And don’t give me “you can hurt anyone with anything if you really apply yourself.” I’m looking for a lethal plastic knife.
Yes. After reading many pages of Google results, I now know that apparently you can, if you file a plastic knife down. Or if you 3-D print a dangerous knife. But you really need to a) be up a creek and need protection of any kind to do this, b) really want a plastic knife, c) be a destructive, yet crafty sociopath. (Just imagine the Pinterest board.)

Fine. I need this to be easy for my protagonist. What are some dangerous office supplies?
And that’s when I ended up on the Bloomberg’s How to Weaponize Office Supplies infographic and lost 10 minutes of writing time laughing.

Okay, but seriously, guys.
Scissors, idiot, says the Internet. But this is not really what my character needs, so I’m not satisfied with this. Looks like it’s time for a field trip. If you need me this weekend I will wandering around Staples, taking notes.

The spife photo is by XenoL-Type at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Things you research while writing a thriller

Because I turn off my internet connection while I’m writing, I keep a written weekly list of the things I have to research for my books. And because I write political thrillers, the things I Google are pretty suspicious. Although, let’s be honest: nothing beats “where do senators park” search I did when I was writing The Eagle & The Arrow. I fully expected men in sunglasses to show up at my door for that one.

Here’s this week’s list of questionable things I’ve Googled while writing books for The Resistance Cycle:

Disposable cell phones – do they have cameras? Yes, they do.

Can you check into a hotel without a credit card? Sort of, depending on the hotel.

Okay then, how about a stolen card? The Internet says no, but I am skeptical because I believe the Internet doesn’t want to give me the tools to be a criminal. Listen, Internet, I already have a mother.

So wait. How do you use a stolen credit card without getting caught anyhow? Apparently it’s pretty labor-intensive. Scratch that plot point.

What are the protesters from Occupy Wall Street doing now? Lots and lots and lots of things. Or nothing. It depends on where you look. Guess I can make some stuff up then.

The things I never meant to learn.

It’s been a bad week for writing.

It happens. Other stuff requires attention.
Dogs need walking, kitchens need to be cleaned before the roaches find them, jobs expect you to punch in and punch out, mothers need calling, and students expect you to answer their questions.

That’s life. But still, it’s been a bad week for writing. All the prose I’ve managed to crank out this week looks like it was written by the same person who authored the spam caught by my bulk email folder:

“We are desirous of your good advices. Peoples shall pay numerous moneys for this exhibition. Glory!”

Luckily there are a lot of things for a writer to do when you’re not writing that still allow you to work on a project without actually creating anything:

You can network with other writers.
You can revise.
You can write the synopsis that you will someday hand to an agent.
You can beg a friend to read a piece and give you feedback.

b-52, beehive

This is a B-52 beehive. From the ’80s. Because there wasn’t enough bad hair then.

Or you can do my favorite thing ever: research.

I’m not talking about real research, either. I’ve done that. In fact, I’m doing a series of interviews for my book right now. It’s great, but it’s also hard work and requires a time commitment that I can’t always make during a busy week. What I’m talking about is my best virtual friend: Google.

I Google countless things when I’m writing a manuscript, and I Google even more when I can’t write. And often I learn plenty, but not what I set out to learn, thanks to the way that Google guesses, Mad-Libs style, what I mean to type.

I’ve been chronicling some of my weirder searches on my Facebook page, but why not share the wealth of unintended knowledge with everyone?

So here, for your own personal enrichment, are some of the things I didn’t mean to learn during my research this week:

90s lips

Eyeliner and lip gloss. Who thought this was a good idea in ’94?

• No two chemotherapy regimens are the same.
• A really big bottle of wine (15 liters) is called a Nebuchadnezzar.
• A really little bottle of wine (half a liter) is called a Jennie.
• Those big bottles of Yellow Tail though? Probably just called a Magnum. (But no one seems to know for certain.)
• Someone tried to revive those awful ’90s lined lips in 2011. Because black eyeliner goes with everything.
Lindsay Lohan’s Twitter feed is depressing, and occasionally, mystifying. At any rate she uses punctuation in exactly the way I’d expected.
• Gwen Stefani swears a lot in Hollaback Girl. Somehow I never noticed. I always wondered what those blank spots were in the radio edit. This is like when I heard the non-edited version of The Humpty Dance and realized that “Burger King” had been bleeped out. It’s bananas.
• A B-52 is a kind of beehive hairstyle (for which the band was named.) Think Marge Simpson.
• Medical cannibalism is a thing. It still happens. And it’s just as gross as you think it is.

That’s everything in my search history for now. May you have sweet dreams of cannibals with beehives and the lined lips of Chilli in TLC’s Waterfalls music video.

November: 2012 goals

Well, I should have posted this monthly update on my New Years goals/resolutions a good two weeks ago, but thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I’ve been abandoning my blogging duties this month. But better late than never. Don’t care? Have a distraction: Busty Girl Comics, which has been cracking me up all year.

On to the goals:

Finish the second draft of my novel by April (September.) This month, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to finish up my other project for Dec. 1. My novel is a little neglected, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing research, and that’s meant interviews with drag queens, documentaries about drag and transgender culture, and a lot of articles from the ’90s about drag culture.
I think my husband is a little tired, actually, of all the research I’ve been doing, because as we’ve been working to remove the mud from our belongings, or to truck waterlogged items out of the basement, I keep hitting him with drag factoids. For example:

“Did you know that voguing got its start in prison?”


“Whatever happened to Crystal La’Beija?”


“I am so not paying $3,000 for a VHS copy of The Queen. I mean, come on.”

He’s a pretty good sport about my research. I mean, he sat through something like 10 or 12 versions of Macbeth two years ago, but he’s going to be happy when this phase of research is over. If it’s ever over, that is. Because this stuff is fascinating.

Get it sent to agents before summer. It could happen.

Send out at least three short stories. Done. I’ve sent out three short stories and some chapters from my novel.

Read one two novels a month in 2012. Done! I’ve met my goal of reading 24 novels in a year, and in fact, am up to 29. This past month I read books written by people I know: David Fitzpatrick’s memoir, Sharp,  Nick Knittel’s collection of short stories, Good Things, The Whipping Club by MFA alum Deb Henry and Twilight of the Drifter by family friend and prolific author Shelly Frome. Then I moved on to manuscripts that haven’t been published yet by people I know.

And then the lights went out and reading was hard to do for a while. Now that we can see at night, I’m finishing a manuscript and then turning to The Count of Monte Cristo, which was recommended to me this summer by a friend. I’m really looking forward to that.

Make at least $20 off a piece of fiction. Done in March. I got my first royalties in July. I can confirm that I made more than $20.

Other goals: I also set to work on two of my big conflicts this year: My feelings about my faith and my issues with anxiety. All I can say is that in the last month I did some praying, although some of it was involuntary, and I was anxious.