Tag Archives: Research

The Lost Art of…Lost Arts

Alethea MermaidLike many a work of prose, this blog post was born from the merging of two entirely separate ideas.

Idea Number One: I often joke to friends about certain “Lost Arts” of the twenty-first century — habits that are fading out of existence that wouldn’t normally cross the mind of anyone over the age of 25. A few examples:

Introducing oneself in person
Politely answering a house phone without caller-ID
Backing up in a car without a rearview camera
Nursery Rhymes

Idea Number Two: Researching is a fabulous rabbit hole. A writer can google “bird wing anatomy” and find herself hours later researching Native American snake myths. (Not that I’ve done this before…ahem…) A few times I have been temped to blog about my researching adventures, and the myriad of things I’ve discovered in my virtual travels.

So in researching what other folks might consider “Lost Arts”, I stumbled upon a few things I hadn’t considered.

The Lost Art of Handpainted Movie Billboards — there is an octogenarian artist in Greece keeping this alive.

The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter — Therapists recommend it, even Abraham Lincoln utilized this practice to keep himself calm. In today’s world of social media, it’s often In Brain, Out Fingers.

The Lost Art of Pickpocketing — Because, really…that’s just too much hard work.

The Lost Art of Quitting — It’s actually okay to let go of the things that don’t matter. Sometimes your pride is just bullshit.

The Lost Art of Sacred Art — No one has time to be Michelangelo or Fra Angelico anymore, leading to Churches of Ambiguity.

The Lost Art of the Baseball Signature — Famous players just don’t have time to sign legibly. (See also: Handwriting)

The Lost Art of Doing One Thing At a Time — Self-explanatory. And I kind of love it.

What are some “lost arts” you’ve noticed in your every day life? Anything in particular  you think might be going extinct in the next few decades?

RWA Nationals, Research, and I Think I’m Writing a Book about Firefighters:)!

One of the things I enjoy about RWA Nationals is that each year I not only meet new people and connect with old conference friends, but now I’m joining RWA Chapters and actually know why I’m joining them. And yes, it has taken me a while to get with the program.

Today, I’m writing about the RWA mystery/suspense chapter, Kiss of Death – KOD. Where have you been all of my life?

I joined KOD a couple of months ago after fellow Waterworld Mermaid Avery Flynn (the organization’s President-Elect) suggested I check them out since I was polishing my contemporary romantic suspense, CHASING DAMN. Well, I spent yesterday with the gals and guy from KOD, participating in the first leg of the KOD Conference – the TOUR (which was spectacular) and attending the annual meeting and dinner last night.

DSC_0284I believe I may be in love with RESEARCH – as well as the fantastic firefighters we met at the Station in Atlanta. To the left is my favorite photo taken yesterday (kind of dark, I know, but if you were there, you’d know this photo captures the energy of this man). The fire fighter was entering the building after returning from a call, taking off his coat, but the metallic-like fiber in his suit, caught the light.

photo copy 3

What is the biggest thing I learned about fire fighters and research? You don’t  need to be writing about fire fighters to get a lot of story ideas when doing research. The emotional toll of a profession, the sense of pride, and if you listen carefully, the conflict – passed off as humor or apologies for ‘getting too intense’ communicate a lot. So no, not adding a new contemporary about fire fighters, but hope to add the emotional context I heard and felt from all of the captains and lieutenants and fire fighters we met yesterday.

Then at the annual meeting that evening ran I sat next to another Washington Romance Writer (WRW) member – Gwen Hernandez. Also, at the table was the dinner’s special guest speaker New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author, Jenna Bennett (Fortune’s Hero) – see Avery Flynn and Jenna to the right.

Today is Literacy Day here in Atlanta. I will get in some swimming, shopping and writing. Will be back tomorrow with more news, and up very early – tomorrow the conference ups the volume to a roar! If you’re here – give me a growl:)!

Just Another Day


by Kimberly MacCarron

As writers, don’t we love to read interesting stories? Some people wonder where we get our ideas. Sometimes there is a random story or an idea, but other times it could be just a day. Just another day.

Take February 19th for instance. Google it. Research some of the most interesting things that have happened on that date throughout history, and you have yourself a story. During my fun research project, I must admit that I’ve read more than I ever wanted to about cannibalism and murder for hire. But it sure does get your creative juices and just plain curiosity running.

Wouldn’t it be interesting for a character to know some strange and random piece of trivia like the first prize was inserted in a Cracker Jack box on this date back in 1913?

Or maybe one of the 800 people killed by one of the sixty tornadoes in the southern U.S. in 1884 was the great, great grandfather of the character in your book. Or—even better—the reincarnation of one of them.

If you’re into murder and suspense or a legal thriller, you might be interested to know that on this date in 1859 Daniel Sickles was the first man acquitted of a murder charge on the grounds of temporary insanity. And you should definitely check out that story! It seems that scandal in political circles was big back then as well. He killed the son of Francis Scott Key, who was the district attorney of the District of Columbia, and happened to be having a little thing on the side with Sickles’s wife. I guess Sickles didn’t much like that, so he shot Key right in front of the White House. Good times. Good times.

For those with a little thing for a mob story, you might be interested in the demise of Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando at the young age of thirty-two. This contract killer for the infamous Murder Inc., gang was executed at Sing Sing in New York on this date in 1942. Guess Dasher didn’t dash fast enough to avoid the electric chair.

Probably the most disturbing story of this date involved the famous Donner Party. And this wasn’t a party with streamers, balloons or tuxedo-clad men serving champagne. It’s sad. It’s disturbing. It’s tragic as tragic can get. After starting out from Missouri in May of 1846 on their way to California, this group of ninety got trapped in the snow in the Sierra Nevada. After starvation, disease and injury took the life of many in the party, most of the survivors resorted to cannibalism. Only forty-eight survived. The first of the rescuers reached them on this date back in 1847. Yes. You read that right. More than nine months under those awful conditions! While reading this story, I wanted to cry. There was an account of a young girl who actually took part in eating her own mother and sister. This story is a testament of what human beings will endure just to survive.

But on a happy note, how ‘bout that Cracker Jack fact?

I’m not saying that my next YA will be about cannibalism or mob activity or even a plea of temporary insanity, but researching a specific date might just get that creativity flowing.
Happy Birthday to Amy Tan, Victoria Justice, Jeff Kinney, Smokey Robinson, Seal, Jeff Daniels, and Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543)! Come on! I know he’s dead and all, but the guy discovered that the earth is round. We have to include him!

Happy February 19th, and may you all have an endless supply of Cracker Jacks.

Now you pick a random date and research it. It’s fun! I promise!  Report back and tell me one interesting thing.  🙂

Research: Not Just Another Dirty Word

The Waterworld Mermaids are very excited to have fellow WRW member and super awesome chick, Kimberly Kincaid, guest blogging today. Besides owning some of the coolest clothes around and leading us in an amazing yoga session during WRW Retreat, Kimberly writes contemporary romance novels that split the difference between sexy and sweet. She is a 2012 Marlene winner, and a 2011 Golden Heart and Golden Pen finalist. Kimberly is proud to be represented by Maureen Walters at the Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

Take it away, Kimberly… 

Today's Guest Blogger, Kimberly Kincaid


Research: Not Just Another Dirty Word

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. I was a bit of an aberration in high school. Was it my gravity-defying hair or my odd penchant for John Hughes movies? No, love affairs with Aqua Net and Jake Ryan were strangely the norm back in my teen-angst days. But I was definitely the exception to the rule when being given huge school projects, because while my peers were moaning and groaning about all the hard work, I was doing an inner touchdown dance of joy.

My confession is this: I love research.

Now, I’m the first person to admit that research can be pretty grueling stuff. Yes, it’s cool to gather and discover new information, but being up to your elbows in reference manuals or looking at a daunting 246,000 hits on a Google search can be pretty overwhelming stuff. So what’s the best way to make this part of the writing process not just easier, but fun?

Funny you should ask.

Plan, and then plan again. When we’re just starting out with our manuscripts, laying the research foundation is crucial. After all, what we turn up will likely impact our plot and characters, so having a good game plan is key. Outline your characters’ occupations and situations. Will your hero be a business owner? Your heroine a paramedic? Has one of your characters lost a spouse? Narrow these things down as you plan, and let them guide you into solidifying that first layer of your manuscript.

Play online. Repeat after me: Google is your friend. Let’s go with that hero who’s a business owner. Plugging “business owner” into an Internet search engine is likely to give you enough hits to break the six digit mark by a landslide. But if you play around with your keywords (“small business owner, Philadelphia” or “family owned furniture shops”, for example) will knock your numbers into the manageable level. Yes, you’ll still have to weed through the results, but the payoff will help cement that foundation into place.

Ask around. Research can—and does—happen in the most unlikely places sometimes. Your baby-sitter, your spouse’s co-worker, the guy detailing your car, all of these people are potential treasure troves of research. Don’t be afraid to casually mention that you’re writing a book about a small business owner. Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at who comes out of the woodwork with a friend/cousin/neighbor/great aunt Bessie who runs her own business. Case in point: I was ankle-deep in my first foodie manuscript when a friend of mine mentioned she knew a local restaurant owner. Which brings me to my next point…

Go where the pros are. If you want to write a realistic small business owner, things will be leaps and bounds easier if you can meet up with one to bounce questions off him or her. I like to go with a few open-ended questions like, “What does your average day look like?” and “Tell me about the biggest challenges you face in your profession”. Seeing your pro at work can also be incredibly beneficial. Remember that paramedic heroine? If you want her to be realistic, ask your local volunteer rescue squad if you can do a couple of ride-alongs. Seeing them in action will give you a sense of some of the things your character should be doing. After I sat in the kitchen of that local restaurant owner I met through my friend, I was able to create a colorful and realistic backdrop for my story, as well as enrich my chef characters with attributes that never would’ve occurred to me if I hadn’t seen the real pros in action.

First-person is sometimes best. For those of you writing about serial killers, skip over this one! For everyone else, consider putting yourself in your characters’ shoes. Does your hero have a rock-climbing hobby? Find a company that offers lessons for beginners. Is your heroine an artist? Pick up some brushes and paints at your local art supply store and play at home. You don’t have to be good at it, but if you’re able to accurately describe the burn of your muscles as you try to pull yourself higher or the smell of the oil paints when they’re fresh out of the tube, you’ll create scenes that will put your readers in your book right next to your hero and heroine as they do those things too.

So you tell me readers! What are some of the most fun things you’ve done for research? What are the things you dread? Do you go for the paper research, or are you an experience junkie? Tell us your most tried-and-true methods!

In the middle of "research"


Thank you for swimming in the lagoon with us today, Kimberly!

When she’s not sitting cross-legged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber”, Kimberly can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to eclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.


Hillary Clinton Retired!!!!

Are you surprised to read that?  I was too a few weeks ago when the words splashed across my TV screen as I sat watching a Spanish language news channel with my mother-in-law.  Mi suegra (my mother-in-law) is much more comfortable with her native language so out of respect to her, when she comes to visit, we become a Spanish-speaking household. 

Back to Mrs. Clinton—I couldn’t believe it when I saw the short bit of her giving a speech which had been mostly muted by the news station and the word retiro below her.  When I later found my husband to tell him about the shocking retirement, he—a politico junky—obviously didn’t believe me.  I insisted I’d just seen it plain as day on the news.  I told him in Spanish, “Hillary Clinton retiro!”

He said, “Gueras (blondie—my hubby’s nickname for me), that means she went on vacation.  As in a relaxing retreat.”

“Oh.”  Ooops.  And I consider myself fluent in Spanish

Are you like me?  Fascinated by other cultures, hypnotized by different accents?  Are you prone to introducing your American girl-next-door to the ultra-magnetic Aussie, Brit, or Latino?  And when they enter into conversation, have you researched your characters enough so that you are confident they are not saying something their great-great-grandparents might have said back in, oh I don’t know, the really old days? 

And is internet research really enough?  I once wrote about an Aussie who was supposed to be from this century and in a rock band.  I could hear his voice, with all the rhymey things he did to the end of his words, but I wanted the phrases themselves to be authentic.  The online Australian urban slang website I was using to find these terms spit something out at me one day.  It said, Carlene, try “Fair dinkum.”  I don’t know about you, but does a guy who wears his wallet on a chain, Doc Martens, and has a neck tattoo peeking out from his always black t-shirt sound like he’d utter the words, “Fair dinkum, mate.”?

Exactly.  There was only one way to be sure.  Accost the mom on my son’s football team who happened to be from Australia without seeming like a crazy person.

As far as I can tell, living breathing people are my best tools for researching authentic cultural dialogue.   But when there’s no one in your rolodex from Ireland, Jamaica or Brazil, what do you do to ensure you’re getting it right?  Seriously, I need to know!  Please do tell.

And for the readers visiting this blog, do you worry about this when you read a story?  Or do you leave it to the author’s artistic license?  Is it really that important to you?

The first person to leave a comment answering what FIGJAM stands for gets a Mermaid surprise!