Browsing Tag


Samurai Sh*t

This the fourth 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: Lyda Morehouse

This is a story of how I lost a day of my life to the history of toilets in Japan and learned something important about the nature of love while, literally, contemplating sh*t.

I’m an anime fan. Several years ago, I decided to try my hand at writing fan fic.  My professional contracts had dried up, but I still had a keen yen to write.  I ended up starting an epic gay romance soap opera set in the universe of Bleach.  All you have to know about that anime is that much of the action in Bleach takes place in the afterlife, which, for reasons of style and plot, is roughly based on Edo Period Japan. I was writing about characters who lived in this samurai-style Land of the Dead, and, there I was, composing a very humorous, drunken love confession, when one of my heroes, being overwhelmed with emotion, suddenly needed to barf…

I paused.

Where do samurai barf? I had no idea what toilets were like in Edo Period Japan.  

Thus began my deep dive down the research latrine rabbit hole.  

Into Google, I think put something deeply obvious, like, “Toilets in Edo Period Japan.”  The first place I ended up was here (Edo Toilets), where I learned about something this author calls “Soukouka (惣後架.)”  

I was immediately enchanted/horrified by the idea of a series of outdoor, public stalls where the door is some kind of half-wall thing that only covers the lower parts of your body. The author of this site also gives you this lovely image of early advertisement for various apothecaries plastered on the walls and the graffiti that you might find within.  

Fascinating imagery, but, alas, completely unverifiable.

In fact, if you put “Soukouka” into your search engine, all you get is a YouTuber in Japan who posts pictures of their cats.  

So, that was probably a bust.  Besides, I didn’t really want my paramour to have to run all the way down the street to a public toilet.  He’d never make it in time, for one, and, secondly, he was in the estate of an upper class noble.  So I was left with the questions: Indoor plumbing? Chamber pot? What?

Then I found the promising title: How to Poop Like a Samuraibut it turns out this is not an article about what toilets might have been like in samurai era Japan, but a manifesto of manliness (I kid you not) and how to be prepared for a mid-toilet battle.  

Finally, I found an article of the history of toilets in Japan called simply, Japanese Toilets , which introduced me to the concepts of “night soil,” “Asian squat toilets,” and a “wooden scraper” for cleaning. According to this source, I could at least allow my heroes toilet paper, since apparently something similar to the modern version made of thin, tissue paper like washi was in use by the Edo Period.

That was a relief.  The idea of trying to describe the ‘scraper’… well, it scared the sh*t out of me.

At this point my mind was swimming with toilet possibilities, but I still had no real sense of whether or not a high-class noble in the Edo Period would have a toilet nearby and what it would look like.  

But, like you do, I ended up getting distracted by the fascinating culture of toilet etiquette in modern Japan.  I found out, for example, in this light, fun article entitled 5 Kind of Strange Things About Going to the Bathroom in Japan that toilet slippers (separate from house slippers!) are required.  There are toilet paper vending machines! (7 Things You Need to Know Before Using a Toilet in Japan: There might even be urinals in the women’s bathroom or no walls around the men’s bathrooms.(

Then there’s this fascinating device called an otohime, the “sound princess,” that you can turn on when you need to cover the sound of your tinkle.  The discussion of that led me to this bit of toilet history from the Japan Times–which was at least from my target time period—Masking Toilet Noise May Date Back to Edo.  According to this article, for high-ranking guests a servant might be required to stand outside of the toilet deploying something called Otokeshi-no Tsubo (the urn for covering sound)–which apparently was basically a tub of water with a plug that could be released to make the sound of falling water.

In the course of all this, I find out, too, that November 10 is Toilet Day in Japan on a site called “Japan This!”.  Even though I never found out what one DOES on National Toilet Day, I finally got a visual of something I end up using later in my soap opera fic, which is a thing called the Nara Period squat toilet.  

At this point I start to wonder, what else can I possibly learn about toilets without ever finding out if chamber pots were a thing in Edo Period Japan?  

Then, on a site called “The Rumpus,” I stumbled onto this amazing memoir about toilets in Japan.  I kid you not, this essay is literally about how toilets in Japan are daily acts of love and respect.  I recommend reading the whole thing. It’s full of wonderful bits of culture and so, so much about toilets…including a  spooky urban legend of a female ghost that lives in toilets and how she disappeared with the advent of the modern flush bowl.  “The Japanese Toilet Takes a Bow: A Personal History.” 

But, did I ever find out if I could use chamber pots in my story?  No.  It was now midnight, and I’d spent the entirety of my waking hours reading articles about toilets.  So what to do?

In a last ditch effort, I Googled: “chamber pots in Japan”… and found several images, including this:

By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Done in two seconds! Damn you, rabbit hole. Damn you.  But, now I feel well-versed should I ever need to take a leak in Japan!




lam2Lyda Morehouse is a science fiction and fantasy author. Her first four books, the LINK Angel series (Archangel Protocol, Fallen Host, Messiah Node, and Apocalypse Array), blend cyberpunk technology with unconventional religious themes. She is the winner of multiple national awards, including the Philip K. Dick Award‘s Special Citation of Excellence (2005),Shamus Award for Original Paperback featuring a Private Investigator (2001), and the Barnes & Noble Maiden Voyage Award for debut science fiction novel (2001)

(Bio via Wikipedia, Photo via Website)

Follow Lyda: Website / Facebook 



How Research Helped Create My Story

This the second post 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!


I’ve lived basically all my life in Auckland, New Zealand, so when I wanted to write a contemporary urban fantasy, I naturally set it there. This is the story of how Book 2 in the series arose almost entirely from research.

One of the criticisms I got for Book 1 was that there was too much incidental information about the city in it. One of the characters is a huge history nerd, and knows everything about the city, and she has a habit of tossing in irrelevant facts at odd moments. I responded to this in two ways: firstly, I trimmed a couple of the less germane references out and republished; and secondly, I turned it into a feature. People often talk about how, in urban fantasy, the city where it’s set can be like another character. I wanted to push that almost to the point of being literal.

To do that, I researched Zealandia. Not many people, even in New Zealand, know who Zealandia is. She fell out of favour after World War II, presumably because of a changing sense of national identity. She’s the personified spirit of New Zealand (the equivalent of Uncle Sam, if you like), the daughter of Britannia, and also one of the supporters on the New Zealand coat of arms.

NZ coat of arms (1911)

My plan was that Zealandia would manifest to my history-nerd character, Steampunk Sally, and act as a kind of wisdom figure, linking her to the power of the city and enabling her to save the day.

Now, when I started looking into Zealandia, I discovered that there was a statue of her which I’d walked past many times without noticing it – it’s on the opposite side of a memorial from the route I’d often taken after work, when I was working downtown and my wife was in the hospital. Nearby is Grafton Bridge, which crosses a gully to the hospital, and also sits partly over a Victorian cemetery. Here’s a photo I took on one of my walks, showing graves underneath the roadway of the bridge:

Graves under Grafton Bridge

Ever since I noticed that, I’d had a story in mind in which the people from those graves rose up and attacked the living people who kept driving above them. I was also aware of the mass grave beside the bridge, which holds the cremated remains of 4000 people whose original graves were dug up to make room for a motorway (freeway) in the 1960s.

All these elements came together and created almost the entire plot of Auckland Allies 2: Ghost Bridge. A necromancer is raising the Victorian ghosts to attack the hospital, using wedding rings stolen from the graves when they were opened 50 years ago. Only by taking on the power of Auckland, under the mentorship of Zealandia, can Sally help her team to contain the threat.

I gave my cover artist my photo to use as reference, and this is what he did with it:

Ghost Bridge cover

Not only was that book tremendous fun to write, it was a lot of fun to do the research, and to come up with a kind of “secret history” in which real-life places, objects, and events drove a decidedly fictional narrative. It’s the kind of thing I want to do again.


Mike Reeves-McMillan writes, as well as the Auckland Allies series, a steampunkish series about heroic civil servants and engineers (The Gryphon Clerks), and a sword-and-sorcery heist series that he describes as “Leverage meets Lankhmar” (Hand of the Trickster). You can connect with him on Google+ or Facebook, and read more about Auckland Allies at his website; he’s just published Book 3, which features Sally as Zealandia on the cover.


Follow Mike: Website/ Facebook/ Google+

Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #3

We talked briefly about how much research is needed for your book, and now we’ll just dive in.

I always start with my Number One GoTo Resource: THE LIBRARY

This is a seriously underused resource, and I want people who’ve never bothered with their library to reconsider that. Why? Because you’ve already paid for it. It’s free, and waiting there for you.

And there’s a magic person there called The Research Librarian who can make your burden so much lighter. (Sometimes they have different titles, but most libraries have a person dedicated to helping people find weird things.)

So lets talk about using the Library (Public or University):

Start off at home.

The vast majority of library systems now have their catalogs on-line, so if you join your local library, you can easily search to see what they–or any library in that system–have available on the topics you’re interested in.

Libraries are great places to start for the basic information. You can borrow books on the location you’re researching, the historical period, the events of that time, the clothing worn, etc.  You can borrow DVDs and CDs to watch movies, travel guides, and listen to music that’s appropriate to your time period and location. Basic stuff.

The majority of the items you can get in your library are going to be newer books and DVDs. In some ways, libraries are like book stores, where a finite amount of space means that things that aren’t being checked out often have to go. The 100-year-old book on French crockery? Probably not available….right away.

But that’s the beauty of the library–the inter-library loan.

That 100-year-old book on French crockery? The can probably borrow it from another library pretty quickly. So you won’t have to purchase the thing. (Or at least can look at it to make an educated decision of whether you want to purchase it.)

But hey, you ask, how do I even know the book on crockery exists if it’s not in the library?

Well, this is one of the values of basic books. You can flip to the back of your DK Book of Cooking, and look through that author’s sources….and there you’ll find the gold: All the things that another author has already used and vetted for you.


When Researching, Stand on the Shoulders of Giants


(Photo by Eric Sala & Tània García, Wikimedia Commons)

Other people have surely researched these topics before you. Make use of what they learned.

If they thought a book was important enough to include in their listing of sources, that means the book might also be valuable for you. So flip to the back of their book and read through them.

Don’t start from scratch!


So library books not only have information in them, they also provide a pathway to other books. Those are the books that you might want to borrow from other libraries (if possible).

But I don’t know how to do inter-library loans, you cry…

Well, this is the beginning point for you to get help from your RESEARCH LIBRARIAN. If there’s anyone within that library who can locate a resource for you, it’s that person. Make use of them! Treat them well! Listen to their advice!

Let me tell you some of the interesting interactions I’ve had with Research Librarians:


I said, I’m looking for information on Pierce-Arrow Automobiles, circa 1910.  Librarian says, Oh, there’s a guy who lives just down the street who collects them. He’s part of an old car enthusiast group!  

Research Librarians often have information about local groups and specialists with whom they can hook you up. (She also mentioned to me a local SCA group that does fencing live weekly, and a group that had weekly meetings to study Farsi.  She knew EVERYTHING.)


I contacted the Local History Librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library and told her I would be in town on a Monday to research 1933 Saratoga Springs, particularly anything about the medical profession, the horse racing, and the town layout. When I arrived, she had multiple books and files pulled for me, many of which were not available for loan, such as city directories, newspaper clippings, and papers donated by local families. She also gave me contact information for several historical society people who would have pertinent information.

Research Librarians, especially in the locale in which your story is set, will know where to find exactly what you’re looking for, even when it’s not loanable.


I approached the Research Librarian about a journal article that I wanted to read, but it was behind a paywall. She said, No problem, we have a JSTOR membership…and she printed it out for me.

Research Librarians have access to a lot of pay-wall hidden resources, and if you’re nice to them and they have the time, they’re often willing to share.


All of those stories are evidence that the Research Librarians want to be used. Can they find everything you need? No, not always. A couple of years back, I emailed the LHL in Sartoga Springs and asked a very specific question: Were women allowed in the hotel gambling rooms in 1909?   A few hours later, she got back to me and said, “I’m sorry, but I have nothing about gambling in 1909 in my gambling file, which is very odd.”

As it turns out, there was a reason she had nothing in her file, and I stumbled over the answer a few days later, but that’s a story for another slide.  The point, is, however, that they can’t do ALL your research for you, but they can do a lot.

So use your library…and your Research Librarian. Stand on the shoulders of those giants!




Next week: Talking about the Internet, #1



RRH Confession #3

When researching for The Shores of Spain, I kept reading books about sailing because I knew that a good deal of the book (as outlined) would take place on a yacht. I wasn’t ‘getting it’ so I actually learned to sail by going to the YMCA and taking a summer sailing course. (And yes, I hate natural bodies of water.)

As it turned out, this only affected a couple of scenes in the final book because I ended up taking out most of my sailing travel in favor of train travel!  But I did learn a new trick ;o)


Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #2

When giving my spiel on Historical Research, after listing out my credentials, I then proceed to the most important question. How much research do I need?

Below there’s a screen shot of the slide I use, but I’ll put it at the bottom because I usually address these points one at a time. So I’ll start with my very first consideration:

#1) I am not Isabelle Allende…

I pull this point from an interview I heard with her on NPR several years ago where she talked about taking 4 years off writing to research her next novel.

Most writers do not make nearly the amount of money that Allende does. We don’t have the option of taking 4 years off. In fact, when I was writing for Penguin, I produced a book roughly once every 9 months.

9 months. That includes all the time I had to research.

Most writers have to work at a very fast pace, so we have to learn to research efficiently. We can’t spend time learning everything about a topic. We have to learn just enough to write the book. Because every moment we spend researching is time we spend not writing.

So how does a writer know how much to do?

#2) Estimate how much time you have.

This is much tougher than it sounds. Until you have a few novels under your belt, you probably don’t know how long it takes you to write one. But after a couple, you’ve got a better understanding of that.

For me, I always gave myself one month to research and plan the book. I admit, I generally fudged on that number, and started writing before the month was up. But I had a limit set, and that was the important part. I knew when I had to set aside the full-on research and move on.

#3) Be familiar with your genre’s demands.

Readers of some genres are famously picky.

Here’s an example I usually use:


Here are partial covers for two Romances: A Regency Romance (Georgian, actually, but…) on the left, and a Historical Romance on the right.

The readers of Regency Romance novels (L) are notoriously picky about the day to day period details included in the book: The clothing, the social events, the mores. If you get a character or dinner or historical event wrong, they’ll skewer you for not having done your homework. Don’t have your characters go to Almacks on Thursday for the ample dinner buffet.

The readers of Historical Romance (R), are far less picky. They’re more concerned about the romance than the period history.  In fact, although the book on the right is set in the same time period (Georgian Era) you honestly can’t tell. There are a few mentions of the hero not having powdered hair and one or two about the clothing, but otherwise, it’s fairly indistinguishable from other HR books set in the Regency period or the Victorian period. When I looked at a few of the 1-star reviews on that book, none of them remarked on the book’s historical accuracy or lack of it. That wasn’t why they were reading it.

(BTW, I thought the book was charming, so don’t think I’m bashing the author. I read all of her books.)

Basically, the two genres, although set in the same time period, simply have different demands. So you need to know that when you start working in your genre.

How do you find that out?

  1. READ YOUR GENRE to see what other authors are doing as far as accuracy and research.
  2. JOIN A GROUP that specializes in that genre, so you’ll have someone to be your sounding board. If you’re not sure whether or not you need to research, they can tell you what’s important.

#4) Different eras/items require different levels of research. 

Where, when, and what you have in your story can affect how much research you need to do.  So I’ll put in some examples here.


What does your character travel in? I did a google search to see how many times two travel options come up on Google. The results gave me an ‘ballpark’ idea on how many experts there are on either topic.

Buckboard: About 62,900 results

Pullman Train: About 10,500,000 results

For every webpage that mentions buckboards, there are 166 times as many pages that talk about Pullman Train Cars. You can extrapolate this as meaning that if you have your characters cross the state in a buckboard, any mistake you make is far less likely to be noticed than if they travel in a train–far fewer buckboard experts than train experts.

vecror-page-decor-and-text-deviders_08[1]Some time periods/events are far more richly studied. If you set your story during the American Civil War in Georgia, you will find there are a gazillion people who’ve studied that period and setting extensively, and therefore can poke holes in your work.

If you set your story during the Spanish-American War in Guam, you’ll find far fewer people who can contest your setting details.

(Having set things in 1902 Portugal, I find there are very few American readers who can argue about anything I wrote. While Americans might know about 1902 America–and possibly 1902 England–they generally don’t have a clue about Portugal at that time. I could have said almost anything and gotten away with it, I suspect.)


Finally, what about your time period? Are there still people alive who remember that period? If so, you risk running afoul of them. Be choosy about when you set your stuff.

I discussed with another author my idea of setting a short story on 12/29/1940 in London, the height of the Blitz. The other author told me that the British are very touchy about American writers writing about Their War (as she called it). She is American (but lives in Scotland) and has written a couple of award-winning books set in WW2 England, so she has experience with how much work it takes to get every detail right. For a short story, the amount of research I probably would have had to do so as to cover the topic properly…would not have been worthwhile.


#5) Have a Beta Reader who’s familiar with your setting/genre.

This isn’t always possible. I currently am without a beta reader, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend having one if possible. They can save your bacon (and therefore cut down on the amount of research you’ll have to do.)

Why? Because you can’t count on your editor to catch mistakes.

With my first editor, I had the eye-opening experience of her pointing out a sentence in the text and asking…“You say she’s wearing a suit. Do you mean a suit with a skirt? Or a pantsuit?

I was flabbergasted. My book was set in 1902 Europe. Gentlewomen in Europe didn’t wear pantsuits, nor did their maids.

Clearly, my editor didn’t know that, which told me she knew little about the time period in which I was writing. If there was a mistake in the setting, she was not going to catch it. That wasn’t her job. Editors aren’t there to fact-check.

So if you can get someone other than yourself and your editor to double-check you, that’s extremely helpful and will save you research time.




 Chose carefully, and you can get away with doing far less research.


Sorry this one was so long! But if you want to start researching, you need to have some idea of how much you’ll have to do!

Next Week: Getting Started!




RRH Confession #2

When I started working on novels set in Portugal, I realized that most of my characters would be Catholic. (Portugal at that time would have been 95% Catholic). So I bought a copy of Catholicism for Dummies and read it pretty-much cover to cover.

Yes, there really is a book called that. It’s well-written and was very helpful.


Research for Writers of Historical Fiction, #1

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a research junkie.

I generally have to rein myself in to keep out of the Research Rabbit Hole. It’s a warm and cozy place  to be, but one where we’re not getting writing done.

So I often talk about this conundrum at various conferences (This year at the DFW Writers Con, Roanoke Writers’ Conference, and early next year at a North Texas RWA meeting.) I try to keep my presentation about the topic under 55 minutes, although a lot of that comes with me talking at full El Paso speed.

For some time, I’ve been meaning to post what I have in my presentations along with the thousand other (hyperbole) resources that I have.  So without further ado, I’ll kick off this fall with the first of my posts on RESEARCH FOR WRITERS OF HISTORICAL FICTION!

(That should be mentally pronounced in your head by James Earl Jones.)

The first slide is, of course, my cover:

Not terribly exciting, I admit, but I had to start somewhere.


This is where I usually discuss what sort of historical research I’ve done, so here’s my research CV:

  1. Russian and Chinese culture of 1200, for a series of short stories about an alternate history where the Golden Horde was wiped out by dragons in 1120 or so. (The Dragon’s Child)
  2. 1905-1909 Saratoga Springs, NY, for three novellas set in the horse-racing world of that time. (Iron Shoes)
  3. 1902-1903 Portugal and Spain, for three novels and a novella set then (The Golden City series)
  4. 1920 Portugal, for a novel set post WW1 (After the War)
  5. 1815 Russia, for a novella set at a dacha outside St. Petersburg (The Sparrow in Hiding)
  6. 1918 London, for a short story set in the Third London General Hospital. (Masks of War)
  7. 1820 South Pacific, for my pirate story in Shimmer’s Pirate Issue. (A Hand for Each)
  8. (unpublished) 1933 Saratoga Springs (which is a different place than 1905 SS)
  9. (unpublished) 1909 Portugal Submarine Race story (yes…actually about submarines…not a euphemism.)

You can see which time periods and locales I favor here, and therefore my information may not be as applicable to your particular areas of interest. If you’re writing about a medieval weapons maker, my advice won’t be as on point as if you were writing something set post-1800, for example, or in Russia or Portugal.

However…my basic ideas should be able to transfer across the spectrum of research.


I am, as a researcher, trying to accomplish four things. I want to:

  1. Research the setting/time enough that my reader will feel grounded in it,
  2. But quickly, so that I have time to write, and yet
  3. Making as few mistakes as possible
  4. Without making the research overly-obvious (and thus a distraction from the story).

So this is what I’ll be discussing in this series….how I try to do that.

Your mileage may vary.


And next week, slide 2, where I discuss whether or not I am Isabel Allende…



RRH Confession #1….When I was writing my pirate story, I made myself watch all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies because I didn’t want to have anything in my story (already written by that point) to resonate with that series.





Free Ebook: Iron Shoes

I have iscarousela free promotion going on over at InstaFreebie for an ebook copy of the Iron Shoes trilogy.

The trilogy is a series of Historical Fantasy novellas set in 1905-1909 Saratoga Springs, and in keeping with the racing history of that town, they’re also about….horses.

Well, not your average horses, because Imogen Hawkes has a secret: she was fathered by a puca, an Irish horse shape-shifter. That secret has shaped every part of her life, even though she’s always tried to hide it. But now trouble has come to her farm and her horse has to win the big race in order to save it…

So if you’re game for a group of novellas set in that world (two of which are also Romance) then you might want to give this freebie a try.

(This is the first time I’ve used this service, so I have no clue how this will play out. If all the books are gone quickly, I’ll add some more.)

And please leave a review if you like it! Reviews are how other readers find writers they like!