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Research Rabbit Holes


We’re entering the home stretch of this presentation, and today we’re going to cover an important point:


The video pictured above provoked one of my worst rabbit hole incidents of all–the Affair of the Sidewalks.

Right before I was supposed to turn in my second novel to my editor, I happened across this video. It’s notable in that it was filmed in 1896–possibly the first Portuguese film ever–and shows women coming out of a factory on St. Catarina Street in Porto after their shift.  It’s only a minute or so long, and has little merit other than it’s ‘first’ status.

However, when I watched it, I saw ONE THING…the women were coming out of the factory onto a SIDEWALK.

I immediately began to wonder how many streets in Porto had sidewalks at the time of my novels…how many of those streets had I mentioned and NOT given them a sidewalk????

I began desperately poring through pictures on the internet and making lists of which ones had sidewalks and which ones didn’t. I did this for a couple of hours before I came to the realization that NO ONE WOULD CARE.

It wasn’t important. It didn’t touch on the plot of my story. I could simply avoid mentioning sidewalks altogether. Because as hard as it was for me to find that information, who else would know?  Seriously? Is there a sidewalk historian who’s going to read my book? That’s about the only person who would even care…

And that illustrates my point. That’s two hours of my life during which I should have been writing, not researching something silly like that.

So…I came up with a rule:


Yep, if it’s obscure enough that I can’t fine it, then there’s not much chance that any of my readers will know the difference if I get it wrong.  I have to make the call and move on to things that are more important.

It’s harder to do than say. Rabbit Holes abound everywhere, and researching them is, quite honestly, fun. We wouldn’t tackle historical if we didn’t love that.

But we do have to learn to draw the line somewhere. It may not be an hour for you. It might be one day. Or one week. Whatever you’re comfortable with.  But whenever you do find yourself falling down a rabbit hole, try to have a safety line to pull yourself back to reason.  1 hour for me.


Next Week: What to do When You Make a Mistake


RRH Confession #11

I ignore the above rule far too often.




Research for Writing YA and Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy

This the ninth 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!


My day job was university librarian so whenever I needed to research a topic, I always *really research* a topic. I might start out with Google or Wikipedia to find some useful terms, but if something exists in this world, I want to know as much as I can about it before I start modifying it for a science fiction or a fantasy story. So that means books, journals and newspapers as well as websites, forums and blogs.

For my last book, Talking to Trees, a YA Fantasy, I wanted to briefly mention some tree diseases. I started with Dutch Elm disease, because there were photographs in historic newspapers of my current town of the main street lined by huge elms that are there no longer. The blight that killed off most of the chestnut trees in North America (four billion) was next, followed by diseases affecting oak trees. I used to be Periodicals Librarian at my university, so I know how to search the academic databases and the paper indexes for the older journals.  I had scientific articles filling my research folder as well as pages of newspaper articles. The ‘brief mention’ ended up being an important plot point, but very little of the pages of research made it into the book.  It didn’t have to.

For my current work in progress I needed information on comets and meteors. The main character may be 10 years old, but she’s more focused on astronomy than I was at her age (she has a telescope and a backyard in which to use it). Plus there has been more discoveries since I was ten. I already get The Planetary Report, and the university library had paper and online subscriptions to Science and other journals. The curriculum collection had science textbooks for the elementary and high school grades, so I could check what information was currently taught in schools.  Though since the story is set in the far future, there will be changes.

Research was the perfect excuse to watch the show Meteorite Men (2009-2012) (yes, the work in progress has been in progress for a while).

The university offered an astronomy class for retirees, and the instructor was a geologist who specialized in impact craters. I quickly signed up, and enjoyed myself. She had meteorites that we could handle, and examples of “meteor wrongs”.

A side rabbit hole I fell into was checking newspaper articles on science fair projects and robotics competitions. My justification was to confirm that ten-year-olds are indeed working on advanced science projects. And they are.

All the research I’ve done for this project is quite a contrast to an short story that I wrote while baby sitting at age 16, which was inspired by a newspaper article about predicted meteor showers that month.


kathysullivan1-06Kathryn Sullivan has been writing science fiction and fantasy since she was 14 years old. Having read her father’s collection of sf and fantasy, she started writing her own. The world set up in The Crystal Throne has been developing since then. Some of the short stories escaped into fan zines, print zines and ezines, but those were collected into Agents & Adepts.

Follow her: Website / Facebook 


This turns out to be a very basic section of my presentation. You know what sort of resources you need to pay for. The thing to remember here is that you should spend your money wisely.  So I’ll start off with a couple of suggestions:

  1. If you’re looking at a resource to purchase, check it out first on-line. Read the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon to learn whether other readers felt the book delivered. If you’re on Amazon, try the “Look Inside” function and check out the Index if there’s one there. You could also try getting it through your library first, just to see whether it’s useful. Due your due diligence before you lay out funds….if you waste money on a bad book, that may prevent you from buying the good book.
  2. If the book is from 1923 or prior, consider reading it on-line first. Since it’s out of copyright in the US, there are a lot of places where you can skim through that book (GoogleBooks is a good place to start) and determine whether it’s worth spending your money on. This can save you lots of money and time. (And you may decide just to keep using the online version instead of buying.)



If you’re looking for some basic resources, most people will start with Histories and Biographies, but let me also suggest the alternatives of Journals (or Diaries) and Novels that come from that time period. While I did read histories, I actually find that Journals and Novels give me a lot more atmosphere. They tell me what people were eating, what street scenes were like, how people felt about this law or that.

I read several novels by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, which gave me a great feel for the daily life of a young gentleman of Lisbon (including the fact that everyone smoked!), and how the houses would be decorated (the living room in the Pereira de Santos home looks a great deal like Eduardo’s office in Os Maias). I read the journals of a wealthy Russian serf and learned that he regularly ate pirogis for lunch.  Those are the sort of details that a history won’t give you.

In addition, I have purchased several travel guides. My favorite is the Baedeker I purchased for $50 (it was worth EVERY penny), and I talk a lot about using it here. Not only did that book tell me the price of cabs in 1901 Barcelona, the train schedules for crossing Spain, the presence of a hotel omnibus, where the embassies, post offices, and telegraphs offices were, they also told me what a visitor would visit…or NOT visit. (The Sagrada Familia didn’t even make the book in 1901.) I also found, in one of my travel guides for Saratoga Springs, the dinner menu for the hotel in which my character is staying (and thus I made her sit through all the courses with an overbearing man!) It was great!

And MAPS. I love maps. You can, quite frankly, simply download a lot of them online, but if you’re like me and prefer to see the period maps, you purchase them. Where do I purchase my maps? Surprisingly enough, I got most from ETSY. Yes, the vintage sale site also has a ton of period maps, most torn out of altases or guide books like the Baedeker mentioned above. It was a surprise to me to find them there.


Finally, you can take courses. The RWA in particular is good about offering online courses to its members on a myriad of historical topics. Some are available to non-members as well.  Community colleges often had history classes on various topics, and your research librarian friend might be able to hook you up with different classes of other sorts (like the once-weekly Farsi class they have in Edmond or the Fencing Class down in Oklahoma City). And an organization like the YMCA often offers unusual classes as well (I learned to sail via the YMCA).

So if you’re going to pay for a resource, do your homework before hand. It’s never fun to get a book in the mail only to discover that it doesn’t have what you want at all!


Next Week: When to Stop Researching and Fudge Your Answer


RRH Confession #10

I purchased and watched (several times) the movie Saratoga Trunk. It’s not a particularly good movie, despite having Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, but it was filmed in the hotel that I mentioned above…only a few years before the hotel burned to the ground. You can catch a few glimpses of the United States Hotel in this trailer.

How much it actually showed up in Snowfall is another matter…but I researched the snot out of that hotel!


It’s All Relative

This the eighth 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!



Way back before I really started making my mark on the prose writing world, I had a brief adventure working with an actor on the convention circuit. I learned a lot about how to be a good guest/professional at a convention, but I also learned a whole lot about collaborations, writing, and falling down research rabbit holes.

Part of this working relationship was developing a Pilot script for a television show we developed that has never seen the light of day. It’s still on a hard drive somewhere, maybe? We discussed what the project was, where it was supposed to go, and what we needed overall. I got to work on this pretty straight forward science fiction premise. Halfway through the first draft the actor says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a TIME TRAVEL ELEMENT!”


My stipulation to this brilliant idea was to say that our gimmick couldn’t be lame. This was not long enough after Star Trek: First Contact that all my tech/science friends were still bleeting, “What do you mean they just followed the Borg back?!?!?!” Actor’s response, “Okay, make it work.”


I was a Radio/TV/Film major and an English minor? I took high school biology, would’ve failed college Freshman Chemistry if it weren’t for the statistical curve, and had some hours in Geology (too many hours in Geology). What I DON’T have is a Physics background. Or a math background. Because, let’s face it, Physics is just Fancy Math. What’s a writer to do?

I approached my engineer/science friends who worked at Lockheed and said, “Hey, you hated the Borg thing, give me something you DON’T think is lame.” One group spent lunch hours trying to build me a time machine. Sadly… I had to turn to books.

Thank goodness for used bookstores.  I bought a bunch of books on Einstein and Relativity. Discovered I really like Brian Green (despite Sheldon Cooper’s opinion) and Kip Thorne because they put a lot of their fancy math in the BACK of the books.  I read theories of relativity FOR THREE MONTHS, until Kip Thorne saved my life. His was the last book I read.

His Black Holes and Time Warps confirmed the direction I needed to go. His personal theory confirmed it. It’s all about the Worm Holes, baby. His ideas gave me the idea to link time travel to a hypothetical Faster Than Light drive that harnessed Worm Holes. Yay, Worm Holes!!!! So useful, so versatile, so never been disproven! I may have even emailed Dr. Thorne weeping for joy.


(Photo via Pixabay)

To this day, I have a slight twitch when anyone starts talking Relativity. But, hey, I’m not completely lost during Big Bang Theory. The actor and the project are still out there somewhere – maybe on the event horizon of a black hole. Every so often there’s a mention of it or him, but nothing major. I appreciated the exercise at the time, but man, thank goodness for Google and Wikipedia now!





qscn2ozi_400x400Rhonda Eudaly lives in Arlington, Texas where she’s ventured into several industries and occupations for a wide variety of experience. She’s married with dogs and a rapidly growing Minion© army. Her two passions are writing and music, which is evident in her increasing horde of writing instruments.

Rhonda has a well-rounded publication history in fiction, non-fiction and script writing. Her first novel, Tarbox Station, is now available through booksellers everywhere.

Follow Her: Webpage / Facebook / Twitter

Research for Writers of Historical Fiction #8

One of the things that I like to talk about whenever I’m suggesting places to look for research sources is….ta-da! Social Media.

To be clear. NOT ALL SOCIAL MEDIA. There are, however, a couple of things I’ve found surprisingly useful. So to begin…

Remember that you can use your social media platform to ask for your friends’ and readers’ suggestions.

I did this when stuck on a research problem for Book 3 (The Shores of Spain). I needed to have a book that a young Portuguese-speaking boy might read in 1900.  Unfortunately, I was rather stumped as to writers of action/adventure stories for that time period in Portugal.  So I threw the question out on my Facebook.

I was quite surprised by the number of people who had opinions and suggestions. As it turned out, one of my friends suggested King Solomon’s Mines. I didn’t know if that was available in Portuguese, though. Another friend sent me the link to the Portuguese National Library and when I went there, I discovered that the book was translated into Portuguese (and serialized) around 1890. So for my 1903 setting? Totally acceptable for that to be the book…and thus my social media buddies saved my bacon.

(It actually turned out to be an AMAZING CHOICE, by the way, because it was a truly loaded issue between the Portuguese  and English at the time, so the book was widely read in Portugal despite the author being English.)


But social media can also be searched, and that can turn up all sorts of helpful stuff.*

*Caveat: Search functions are iffy. For example, Facebook has a surprisingly good search function, whereas Tumblr???  NEVER SEARCH TUMBLR, or if you do, have bleach nearby to clean your soul afterwards.


So…my story links back to that desperate search for a department store in Porto in 1902. I knew there had to be one, but I hadn’t been searching under the correct words. This is how I discovered that.  I searched Facebook for Porto 1900.

I was surprised to find that there were Pages dedicated to the history of Porto, including the wonderful Porto Desaparecido (Vanishing Porto).  That Page collects vintage photographs, drawings, and paintings of Porto and has them carefully sorted into albums, most pictures having notations as well. It’s a group labor of love that included this picture below:


Yes, there it is, an advertisement from Herminios Department Store, or Grandes Armazèns Hermnios. I checked, and that store did predate my novel setting. I had finally found the name of the department store…the day after I turned in the manuscript!

(If you notice the address line of the browser, the option to translate the page is there in the right corner, although it won’t translate the words on the photograph.)

But that success led me to check into some of my other settings. Below you see Facebook Pages for Porto Desaparecido, Barcelona Desapareguda, Lisboa Desaparecida, and even a Page for Saratoga Springs, NY.  While the mileage varies on these, they can be helpful.



In addition, I used several other Porto-related pages found by searching Facebook, so I recommend giving that a try. If you’re interested in a setting, the chances are good that someone else is, and has a Facebook Page set up for it.

I would also suggest trying out Pinterest. Now, Pinterest is, for most people, a place for storing pretty pictures, but authors are using it more and more to store their links to various pages, almost like a Browser Bookmark but with pictures. That makes it somewhat easier to search through at times. If I put in “1900 Porto Portugal”, I see photos, some of which might lead me to useful articles.

And while we’re online: a strange place to look that isn’t quite social media? Stock Photo and Video collections can offer you glimpses into your setting.

Flikr and Getty Images will likely have old pictures (and new) of a setting, as well as (and other old picture sites.)

For short videos of a place? Try Pond5 or Shutterstock.

And YouTube has a persnickety search function that will sometimes turn up gems. The best part about this is that a LOT of old film has been put up on YouTube. I’ve found footage c. 1902 for Porto, New York, Barcelona…

So when you’re online researching, look in the usual places…but also keep your eyes open for others.


Next Post (11/29): Let’s Start Buying Stuff!


RRH Confession #9

I actually read King Solomon’s Mines in both English and Portuguese. That turned out to be a bit of a rabbit hole as I discovered discrepancies between the English original and the Portuguese translation. They were small differences, a sentence added here or there, or a couple of details thrown in that didn’t appear in the original…

As it turns out, the colonization of Africa was a hugely political issue in Europe at the time, so the author who did the translation actually did an ‘adaptation’, wherein he stretched the original novel just a little bit. (A lot of historical quibbling over this one.)


This week’s installment on the Using the Internet portion of Historical Research will be short and sweet.  (I hope).

After looking for the usual suspects (as listed last week), you can move on to more esoteric resources. One of those things you can use is to find the webpage of someone with a singular passion. See that webpage reproduced below?


First of all, be careful about these pages, because you don’t know the person maintaining them. They could be completely wrong about everything, so it helps to do some double checking. But once you’ve decided their information is sound, they can be incredibly helpful!

The page above is maintained by a person in the Netherlands who maintains several websites for tram history. They have a site for the trams of Coimbra, Lisboa, and…cities in the Netherlands, too.

This particular site is quite extensive, with maps of the different lines, when each ran, when they were converted from mule-drawn to electric. For me, with characters taking trams all over the area, this became a vital resource.  I used this person’s maps quite a bit.

Now imagine my horror when, just as I’m doing edits, THE PAGE SHUTS DOWN. EEEEP!!!  It took a couple of weeks before I could find it again, with a new address.

So this is where one of the pieces of advice I gave last week comes in.

If you think it’s something that might be vital during edits, save a copy–screencap, word file, printout–but make sure you don’t loose access to the page if  you might desperately need it later. 

And one final word on this kind of site. If you use it a lot and the option is there, donate. Even a dollar or two can help these people defray their costs, and it’s simply the nice thing to do.


Next Week: Using Social Media…no, seriously…


RRH Confession #8

I spent far too long researching whether or not electricity had been run along certain streets in Porto by 1902. It’s interesting to know that the newer parts of the city had electricity first, but the old center of town? It took much longer to get power into those parts of the city.

In the end, I made a judgment call and simply said no, the Street of Flowers wouldn’t have electricity yet and blamed the prince for that.  Lisbon, however, I knew to have power at the time. So that worked out to be one sentence in one book.

(Note all the wires strong under the windows in the pic below…yep, that’s how power got to the old houses. They were mostly granite buildings, so drilling holes through the walls is tough. Hence this compromise, still going on over a century later.)





When your research goes to the dogs…

This the seventh 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!



‘Research rabbit holes’ is an apt phrase for the latest thing to intrigue me. I’ve been chasing dogs and finding any number of scents to follow.

Some months ago I went to a lecture by an academic, Peter Mitchell, whose area of research is the worldwide impact of the horse on indigenous societies, after 1492. That’s a fascinating area for study on its own, but as he explained, before European colonists brought the horse back to North America, the Plains peoples used dogs as beasts of burden? To haul the poles and hides for their shelters as they moved from place to place, to drag the travoises that carried those too young or too old to walk. To carry packs and panniers with utensils and supplies. When these indigenous people devised words for ‘horse’, one variant simply meant ‘a bigger dog’.

Though some tribes took a long look at the horse and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Granted, horses graze but the best fodder, especially in winter, is in short supply. Horses don’t do so well in the bitter cold either. That limits winter camps to river valleys, where there’s competition from other horse nations. Meantime, dogs can hunt down prey that can be shared with people. Dogs are better at guarding a camp. Dogs can come into a shelter when the weather turns cold and share their body heat. Granted, horsehide is useful, but so is a dog skin, and it’s warmer. If needs must, you can eat dogs just as easily as you can eat horses – and dogs reproduce themselves a great deal quicker and with more offspring.

Why do I find this so fascinating? Because I’m working on stories set in a new fantasy world. Now that I’ve got the River Kingdom pretty well established, I’m wondering what’s off the edges of the splendid map I’ve had drawn. To the north, there’s the high plateau. Who lives there? I immediately knew one answer to avoid was ‘nomad horse clans’. You know the sort of cliché that bedevils epic fantasy; loosely modeled on Central Asian peoples or the Plains tribes as re-imagined by old Hollywood movies. But nomad hound masters and mistresses? That has all sorts of possibilities.

So I’ve been learning a lot more about dogs. We had dogs as pets when I was little but since I’ve lived with my husband, we’ve always had cats. So stuff like the differences between sight hounds and scent hounds is all new to me. Discovering the various uses that people have made of dogs over the centuries is equally fascinating. A hundred or so years ago, dogs pulling small carts were a familiar sight in US and European cities, hauling milk and bread for delivery, or street food and drink for sale. Did you know the Rottweiler was originally famous as a butcher’s dog, strong enough to haul a heavy cart of meat to the market place to be sold? Where the money went into a purse hung around the dog’s neck to discourage thieves…

Then there are the recent insights into the dynamics of pack behavior and the ways in which humans can interact with dogs on their own terms. I had a fascinating conversation with urban fantasy author Suzanne McLeod about all this on the train home from a convention once. I’ll be emailing her for a recap when I find the right story to take someone from the River Kingdom up through the hill country to reach that high plateau. Because that’s the thing about research. It’s so easy to find fascinating things that aren’t actually relevant to what you’re actually working on…




Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. shadow-histories-of-the-river-kingdomLoving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels, from The Thief’s Gamble which began The Tales of Einarinn to Defiant Peaks concluding The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, she’s re-issued her backlist as ebooks as well as bringing out original fiction in partnership with Wizard’s Tower Press. She reviews for web and print magazines and writes diverse shorter fiction when interesting opportunities arise.

Follow Juliet: Webpage / Twitter 


Learn more about the River Kingdom here



ZOOmbie to ZomBEE, an Accidental Flight Path

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!



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.

See the whole thread:


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?

 See the whole thread:


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.

 See the whole thread


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.”

See the whole thread


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.

See the whole thread here:


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.


See the whole thread here:


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.

See the whole thread here:


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:



boajvjak_400x400Allison 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 . 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.

Follow Allison: Webpage / Twitter 




The Eventual Emergence of Extinct Animals Epic Fantasy

This the fifth 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!



Creating the world of the Devil’s West was an education in ways I hadn’t planned – western North America pre-1803 is not the world of gunslingers, cowboys and cardsharps quite the way people think of the Old West, and even though I’d known that I hadn’t quite understood it until I started checking the sorts of guns and supplies that would be available back then…

But this isn’t a story of that kind of research.

The magic of the Territory is one that manifests itself within the natural world – you can’t create something new, only modify what already exists.  So when I had to create magical threats, I had to stay within those parameters, with the additional limitation of using – whenever possible – mythology from the American continents.

Act-of-God events, check. Digging into local weather patterns, playing with the ideas of tornadoes and earthquakes and all the natural phenomena the land mass is heir too.  But I needed living, breathing threats, too.

Okay, I said to myself.  Natural world.  Actual history. Dangerous entity. How hard, in the wilds of north and south America, could it be to find something….

Bears, okay, meh.  Bison, no.  Cougar/mountain lions….  They were all too…familiar.  Too obvious.  I wanted something different.  Unexpected.

So I opened up the Great Rabbit hole that is the American Museum of Natural History.  And then the US Fish and Wildlife Service website.  And good-bye about a WEEK.

Look, let me be your Object Lesson.

Seriously.  Unless you have a laser focus, just don’t go there, not in person, not the website, not in Google search: don’t.  Block them from your browser.

Did you know the Eastern Elk (now extinct) had an antler rack of up to six feet?  SIX FEET?   That there’s a very large salamander species called “hellbender?”   I lost almost an entire morning playing with that idea.

On the longer-ago-extinct side, did you know that there used to be a massive (seriously, one-ton massive) armadillo waddling across north and south America?  And a 10 foot long ground sloth?  (Ten. Feet. Long.  2,000 pounds.  It doesn’t HAVE to go fast at that point, it just has to SIT on you).  I tried to get that into the book, I swear, I really did.  Maybe in a short story…

And that was before I even got to the pterodactyloids.

Some day, damn it, I’m going to write an extinct animals epic fantasy.  Because I’ve got about 30 pages of notes and a dozen bookmarked sites cued up….






Laura Anne Gilman is tcold-eye2-coverhe author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus urban fantasy series of novels and novellas, and the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy.  Her newest project is  the Devil’s West series from Saga / Simon & Schuster, beginning with the award-nominated, Locus-bestseller SILVER ON THE ROAD, and continuing with THE COLD EYE.


THE COLD EYE will be on shelves January 10th, 2017.  Read an excerpt here or pre-order it now


Follow Laura Anne: Website / Twitter / Tumblr / Facebook




So for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be talking about some ways to use….Wikipedia.

I know, I know, some of you don’t approve. If you look at my slide below, it makes the point straight off: You have to take Wikipedia with a grain of salt. 

The truth is, Wikipedia is moderated and updated by a bunch of volunteers, a small handful of whom have an agenda. They change and alter things to fit their whim, thus rendering a great site occasionally problematic. If you’re ever curious about what goes on in the background (and all the infighting about sentences and sources and changes) click on the tab that says “Talk” and you’ll see where the administrators have been discussing possible changes to the page in question.

But that aside…

Wikipedia has a LOT to offer. Seriously. I donate to Wikipedia because I use them so much.

But I know some of the tricks. So in the next couple of weeks, I’ll show you some things to look for.

The slide below is, by the way, much cooler in my presentation because it’s animated, and all the little arrows appear in turn. Here’s what they’re highlighting.

    • Words in blue indicate a link to another page within Wikipedia OR a link outside.
    • Words in red indicate links to stubs…articles with almost no content, so kinda useless.
    • REFERENCES links take you to original source material. Also, look for OUTSIDE LINKS
    • LANGUAGES takes you to versions of this page in other languages. (I’ll talk more about this later, but it was invaluable to me.)


All of those things can be very useful. They can link you to other information about your setting that may (or may not) be pertinent to your research. They can kick you to other sites, ones that give you MORE information. And they can help you get an inside view on other people’s perspectives on the same place/event/person.

(For example, when working on After the War, I spent a lot of time reading the various language pages regarding The Battle of La Lys/Operation Georgette. The English version, the Portuguese version, and the German version were all quite different–particularly in how many words the Portuguese got.)

So what one needs to do is think of Wikipedia as a stepping stone. It get you somewhere else, and that in itself is worth a few dollars a year for me!



Next Week: More Tactics for Wikipedia


RRH Confession#5

I spent a ton of time researching the Igreja de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. That church only appears in a few sentences in The Golden City, but I wanted to get it right!  It was only when I actually visited Matosinhos in 2012 that I realized…….

…..that I’d described the Igreja de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos IN BRAZIL!


It turns out that there’s a church with the same name in Brazil, named for the statue that resided in the church in Portugal. The statue itself is the BOM JESUS DE MATOSINHOS (because it was fished out of the ocean near Matosinhos), not the BOM JESUS de Matosinhos. (Fine distinction there.)

Here’s the one I wanted, in Portugal:


Fortunately, I was able to catch the mistake in edits by removing a sentence. Whew!