This the sixth in a series of guest posts by authors who, like me, have found themselves falling down into a Research Rabbit Hole, often with hilarious results. Because this is the true danger of research…it sucks you in!
GUEST AUTHOR: ALLISON MULDER
About a year ago, I spent a semester in Chicago and went to Lincoln Park Zoo several times. It was free, I could walk there from my apartment, and it made a fun setting for a zombie apocalypse short story.
Except I didn’t come up with said short story until I was back in Iowa, with no reason to return to Chicago any time soon.
And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember which way the doors to the sea lion tunnel opened–in or out, handles or push-bars. In the context of the story, such minor details seemed crucial.
Zoo Friend got back to me re. Zoo-mbie Apocalypse short story.
Very helpful, yet alas. She ALSO does not remember which way doors swung.
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) April 15, 2016
See the whole thread: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/720833454435229696
I started with Google Image search, plus a quick jaunt around the zoo website. But oddly enough, most people’s pictures focused on the exterior of the sea lion pool, or–incredibly–the seals themselves.
Eventually, I shot off a quick email to another Chicago Semester student who’d interned at Lincoln Park Zoo, asking how she was, if she’d be willing to read a story draft, if she minded a zombie tribute in her honor, and–oh yes–about those doors?
Message to Former Classmate From Chicago Semester:
"Hey! Long time no see! Also you interned at zoo? Where do U think zombie would show up?"
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) March 14, 2016
See the whole thread: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/709437630933405702
She was good, willing, distinctly pro-zombie, but didn’t remember specifics on the door situation. She did turn out to be a valuable resource later, when it turned out my scattered memories had my characters going through one section of the zoo backward.
My quest continued. I trawled Google images with the steadfast determination of someone with way too much time on their hands. I planted not-so-subtle hints begging Chicago friends to visit the zoo on my behalf (It never panned out). I creeped upon YouTube vids of innocent families’ zoo trips, and when they, too, focused mainly on actual animals, or edited out all the walking from place to place, oh how I cursed them.
It's been a rough day on Twitter.
Here, look at this thing called a Klipspringer.
AKA: Bunny on deer legs, basicallyhttps://t.co/lXqlA8sqOc
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) March 19, 2016
See the whole thread: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/711040853137960960
I grew embittered. Ever more selfish. Though I did enjoy discovering video of a ghost tour which claimed old corpses are encased in cement under Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm.
Eventually, I wound up on a forum for zoo workers and enthusiasts. There, at last, I found a picture section with extensive shots of each exhibit, in order, as if walking through section by section. The lion exhibit’s moat which originally escaped my memory. The fountain in the children’s area, in full detail. The fake customs office and wall displays that everyone ordinarily cruises past. Floor materials were still not the main focus, but they were at least present, meeting my needs.
The only things missing were the doors on the sea lion tunnel. At which point I essentially said, “Screw it.”
In this zombie AU of Lincoln Park Zoo, the doors to sea lion tunnel open whichever way I damn well please. MOVING ON.
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) April 16, 2016
See the whole thread: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/721359460166295552
I revised my fun ZOOmbie apocalypse story, delighted the former intern with her grisly in-story fate, watched and livetweeted a terrible moviecalled Zoombies on Netflix (which wasn’t technically research, but was still rather fun). Then I sent my story off to the market I’d had in mind and waited.
One day later, I got a personal rejection with praise for the premise and character throughline, but accurately stating that the plot–“exploring the zoo”–wasn’t gripping enough.
This exemplifies the dark side of research. While I knew the treacherous lures of trying to include everything in your draft, I still fell into that snare at the bottom of the rabbit hole.
I mean I know doing ALL the research doesn't mean you have to put all the research IN the story, but I have 46 tabs up from this afternoon
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) April 27, 2016
See the whole thread here: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/725181153456607233
So, lesson [re]learned, I put my zoombie story into timeout while I rethink the plot in question (I do have some ideas, but no energy to overhaul it yet, and since there’s no shortage of zombie stories at the moment…).
At least I’d reached the bottom of that particular rabbit hole, and would never let such a tangent happen again.
Me: *recounting Zoombies to Lil Bro*
Lil Bro: Oh, ZOO. I thought the emphasis was on bees.
Me: … NOW I HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT ZOM-BEES, GDI
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) May 21, 2016
See the whole thread here: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/733821817891086337
If I had to choose between forums by zoo fans or by beekeepers? Zookeepers have better visual aids, but beekeepers have more entertaining anecdotes and a real gung-ho attitude.
"been stung on butt" x 11
"Can dead bees sting? Hang on a sec, I will go experiment at length, on myself"
— Allison MURDER (@AMulderWrites) May 26, 2016
See the whole thread here: https://twitter.com/AMulderWrites/status/735637148410335233
And by the way. While ZOOmbie story is still in limbo? The ZomBEEs story just sold at pro rates (announcement pending).
Have fun researching, folks. Enjoy your next fall down the rabbit hole, and mind the snares at the bottom.
For a fuller account of this particular descent into desperately-sought minutiae, I’ve compiled most of my research livetweeting into this Storify: https://storify.com/AllisonMulder/research-rabbit-hole-zoombie-story
Allison Mulder grew up in assorted small Midwestern towns, and credits the internet with nurturing her nerdiness. She writes fantasy, science fiction, and (often by accident) horror. She terrified several neighbors with her first pro sale, a creepy tooth fairy story published in Crossed Genres Magazine. Allison also has fiction forthcoming in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. With patience, sensitive equipment, and a fully-stocked backpack of granola bars, you can sometimes glimpse her at allisonmulder.wordpress.com . Or track her far more easily on Twitter at @AMulderWrites, where she broadcasts any significant life happenings, gushes over her current fictional obsessions, and uses far too many X-Files gifs.