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Blog Chain: How I Research

For this blog chain, Kat chose the topic:

How do you do research for your settings, your story and your characters' quirks? What interesting tidbits about yourself and the world you live in have you learned along the way?

Before the Internet, I did research the old-fashioned way: I went to the library.  Yep, there I was at 16 years old, checking out books on medieval weapons so I could learn what the parts of a broadsword were.  (Did you know the groove down the middle, sometimes called  "blood groove," is actually called the "fuller"?  Or that it's not meant to carry blood at all, it makes the sword stronger?)
And gun enthusiast books -- I wanted to learn the differences among calibers and gun manufacturers, how they worked, all of it! Today I'd probably get flagged as a potential school shooter.

I've also collected books I use -- I have EMT books (okay, I covered up the nastiest pictures with Post-Its) so I can figure out just what happens when you shoot someone in the chest and collapse a lung.  I have a couple of great books on poisons.  I have a book on how lawyers, courts, and courtrooms work, and photocopies of what goes on a crash cart at the hospital.

These days I mostly start with Google.  Just over the last two days I've learned what "candy-flipping" is (it's mixing ecstasy with LSD) and what "trail mix" is (it's mixing ecstasy with Viagra).  I've been relying on the internet pretty heavily to help me understand what a candy-flipping trip feels like.  Oh, and for the same scene I needed some dungeon furniture for an S&M club -- you know, ball cages, saltires/X-crosses, suspension bars.  Wait, you didn't know that's what those things were called?  Well, neither did I, but I found out!  (Now I'm just glad nobody uses my laptop but me, because I have a verrrrry interesting browsing history!)

I also love to pick people's brains about their lives and their jobs.  I ask everyone about their jobs, from the Red Cross worker who takes my blood to the bank teller who takes me back to my safe deposit box.  And I pay attention to how things work and ask lots of questions along the way.

Thanks to the fact that I research all kinds of crazy things, I have a lot of interesting tidbits in my head about unrelated things.  But that also helps me understand the world better, and I like that.

As for what I've learned about myself along the way -- well, that I'll ask about anything (and that most people will answer just about anything), and that being really open to really listening will take you a long way. 

Be sure to check out Sandra's answer before me and Kate's after me!

And of course I want to know about you, dear Reader.  How do you research?  What have you learned?

Work in Progress Wednesday 6/18/09

I really should write these things on Tuesday night rather than Wednesday night.  Then they might actually get published on Wednesday!
I have been working hard on the nonfiction book.  I finished up a chapter on mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders (including bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia) and have been working hard on a chapter about childhood disorders (like autism and ADHD), eating disorders, and dementia (like Alzheimer's disorder).  I'm still going to try to at least get a good start on a third chapter before the beginning of July, so I've really got my nose to the proverbial grindstone!

Obviously if you have questions or thoughts related to those areas that you want me to be sure to include in the book, now's the time to tell me! 

I've also discovered that while it's easy to find movies and books that make mistakes when talking about things like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, it's not so easy to find ones that even address things like ADHD and anorexia.

I've also been brushing up on the Sopranos so I can talk about the show in the book.  I also got copies of In Treatment from my library, since I don't get the premium cable channels.  Kinda looking forward to In Treatment.  (I mean, let's face it, I could definitely do worse than having to look at Gabriel Byrne for an extended period of time.)

On the fiction front, I am nearly done with my NaNo novel -- or at least, done enough to have my readers take a look through it and start hacking it apart.  Alas, it is shorter than I want it to be, but I'm vaguely aware of some parts that might be strengthened, and if my readers notice the same things (and hopefully have some suggestions to help me figure out how to make those things better), that might add a few words.

Once people are reading that, I'll have to get back to work on A Touch of Madness.  I've decided to switch the whole damn thing into third person.  If that doesn't work...well, let's just not even go there, shall we?

For more information on Work In Progress Wednesday, you can visit Kate's blog -- she's the one who started this madness.  And definitely feel free to tell me all about how your WIPs are going in the comments below, or to leave a link to your own WIP post!

Psych/Writing Q&A: Therapy in the 1960s

Want to use psychology to give your story authenticity? I'm going to start answering reader psychology/writing questions on the blog. If you have a question, feel free to send it to me using the Q&A form on

Disclaimer: The information on this site is provided as general educational information to readers and should be not be understood as specific advice for any particular individual(s). People who are seeking help for "real-life" problems are advised to consult a local mental health professional.

My protagonist is in therapy with a psychiatrist in 1961. I'd like to know more about how therapy was performed in that time period. Perhaps you could give me some references for research.

Honestly, therapy was done similarly to how it is today. Thethree major "forces" of psychology, around which most other theories were developed, were in place by the 1950s. (The three major forces are psychoanalysis [which became the broader "psychodynamic therapy" in the 20s and beyond], behaviorism [which became cognitive-behaviorism in the 50s and 60s], and humanism).

Some of the best training videos for psychologists and psychiatrists come from decades past, and I looked on youtube and found some, so you can see for yourself how a therapist might have behaved. The one thing I will point out that everyone seemed to do in therapy until the late 70s is smoke! Today some therapists discourage even water bottles, because smoking, or something to drink, or whatever, can provide a way to stall and avoid answering or dealing with whatever is on the proverbial table.

Okay, onto the videos. I know these are going to seem excruciatingly old, but they really are the best videos of how to do these kinds of therapy. My all-time favorites are the ones of Gloria, who tries therapy with three different types of therapists

Carl Rogers (a humanist) -- is very non-directive and often answers a question with a question --

Albert Ellis (a cognitive-behaviorist) -- is extremely directive, even bossy, and sort of talks over her head --

Fritz Perls (Gestalt therapy, which is a form of therapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and staying in the "here and now" rather than thinking about the past) -- insists she say in the present and be aware of the messages she's sending --

At the end, Gloria says she likes Perls' approach the best. However, Ellis's ideas work really well, especially with depression and anxiety, and Rogers' warmth became key to all approaches to therapy.

If I were you, I would pick whichever of these three approaches would fit your needs best and model the therapy after it. 

Work In Progress Wednesday 6/3/09

I am still working steadily on my NaNo novel.  I'm finding myself quite pleased with it.  There's just one problem.  It's not going to be long enough.  (*gnashes teeth*) 

Can I just tell you what a strange reversal this is for me?  For years I have written ridiculously long novels.  Epic sagas, even.  Hundreds of thousands of words.  I've got one I've been struggling with for quite some time now, trying to get it down to 100K.  It's still at 130K, and I can't figure out where else to cut.

And then all of a sudden, two novels are too short?  Whassupwiththat?

Annie finished her crit of my novel A Touch of Madness.  She did a stream-of-consciousness type of crit, giving me all her reactions.  It was so totally helpful, and kind of funny sometimes, too!  But I've concluded something I already suspected after I finished.

There is a way to save ToM, a way to make it long enough.  And that is to switch it from first person into third person.

Ugh.  I am so tired of this novel.  I feel like I owe it to my wonderful crit-mates to do what needs to be done, though, and see about sending it out.  They've helped me so much with this thing over the last year, I don't feel right about hurling the thing out the window the way I'd like to.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue to agonize about my NaNo novel being too short.  I didn't worry a whole lot about it when I wrote it, because I thought it might just end up being a writing exercise, but I really, really like the story.  So now I'm praying that after I make it as long as I can manage, my fantabulous crit-mates will be able to help me again. 

What do other people do when their stories aren't long enough?  How do you find more story without adding fluff, or essentially starting a whole second story?  Or does this only happen to me?

My agent asked me to put together a schedule for finishing up the remaining chapters for my book.  There are 12 chapters total.  Five are complete, 2 are in progress, and 5 still need to be written.  I have until October 1, 2009. That's when everything is due to the publisher.

So my goal is to finish 3 chapters by the beginning of next month, two chapters the following month, and two chapters the month after that.  That leaves me some time at the end in case something happens to mess up the schedule, and lets me put together the table of contents, index, and so forth.

The chapters I have yet to do are a couple of chapters on psychological disorders, one on physical and biological interventions (stuff like medications, electroconvulsive therapy, vagus nerve stimulation, that kind of thing), and one on the psychology of villains.

It's going to be full speed ahead for the nonfiction, so I hope the words flow!

Writing Romantic Relationships

I'm up on the blog chain again (again! so soon! eek!).  This time Sandra chose the topic, which is

Do you write romantic relationships in your books? If so, what do you do to show the attraction between your characters? What problems do your characters encounter? What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction?

I do write romantic relationships in my books.  Relationships in general fascinate me, but the romantic dynamics of a good couple are even better.

What do you do to show the attraction between your characters?

I try to show attraction the way real people show attraction. They look at each other more than at other people, they're comfortable in each other's space, they talk about the person often and with feeling.

What problems do your characters encounter?

In real life, finding and getting along with your “other half” is difficult. Have you ever read a story in which the characters constantly misunderstand, insult, and stonewall each other, yet by the last page you’re to believe that they will live happily ever after with none of the conflict that filled every page before the last? In real life, it doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t in fiction, either. Conflict is the engine that keeps every story going, and the love relationships between your characters are one of the most important parts of that engine.

A problem I see in some fiction is that there is no reason for the characters to fall for each other or be in love -- other than the fact that they're both excruciatingly hot, of course.  As in real life, your characters should be attracted to the people they're attracted to for a reason.  What attracted your character to the love interest in the first place?  What needs does the love interest fulfill?  Why is the love interest different from all the other men and women out there?

In real life people choose the partners they do for all kinds of reasons, some of them noble and romantic, some of them less so.  For example, maybe they had great "chemistry" with the person. Maybe they had a lot in common.  Maybe they need to feel needed.  Maybe they wanted to get out of their parents' house.  Maybe they were ready to settle down.  Maybe they needed someone to help them parent a child.  Regardless, there is definitely a reason other than that someone needed them together to make a particular storyline work.

And once people are together, why do they stay together?  Doing couples therapy was always a fascinating endeavor, because couples with enormous problems would come in and complain about each other and the relationship -- but still want to make it work.  They still loved each other.  And they could usually tell you why.

In my stories, relationships are usually messy.  People say the wrong things,. have affairs, and hurt each other -- sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose.  Ex-partners create havoc, hidden histories drive wedges, but in the end love always prevails for me.  I like to pretend to be pragmatic and sensible, but the truth is that I'm a hopeless romantic, and in my stories, love really is the greatest power of all.

What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction?

I'm most drawn to fictional relationships where there is a strong, identifiable reason for an attraction at the same time there are problems (internal or external to the relationship) that are trying to tear the couple apart.  Right now I'm writing about a couple with tons of chemistry and lots in common -- the only problem is their respective peoples hate each other.  In other stories, I've let misunderstandings or mistakes be what kept the characters apart.  For me, the attraction to each other has to be stronger than the problems, but not by much. The characters have to keep coming together the way a pair of magnets will.  They might push against each other, but inevitably, they snap together and hold on.

What do you think, dear readers?  How would you answer Sandra's questions?  I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts!  Also be sure to check out Kate's answer -- she's next in the blog chain!

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