Tag Archives: research

IDEAS by S.M. Senden

People often ask where I get my ideas.

I can’t say that there is one well from which I draw when it comes to ideas.  There are many places inspiration can come from; most of them have some relationship with one another but none is exclusive.  Here are a few of my best sources.

Read.  The more you read, the more you learn, and the more you come up with questions that send you onto something else to read.

Research. The more I read, and research, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I want to know.  So many times in my research I find a nugget of truth to build a story upon.  I love to read old newspaper articles.  Not only do they provide ideas, but also a wealth of information about an era or place.

Play the ‘What If’ game.  This was a game someone told me about years ago when I was beginning to write. You begin with an idea.  I will use one that I recently read about. A family has been living in an older house, built somewhere around 1900.  One day one person got curious about the grate in the hall by the entrance.  It looked like it would be a vent to the HVAC, however they did not have central air.  Removing the grate revealed a deep, dark place below the floor.  One of the family members went down there and discovered an abandoned sanctuary with a large cross on the floor.

Now ~ here is where the ‘What If’ game gets fun.  What if there was a hidden treasure down there?  What if there was a catacomb of bones down there, or tunnels that lead to more secret chambers?  What if they entered an alternate reality, universe or era?  What if they discovered a body?

The ‘What If’ game takes your imagination for a long journey that is rarely dull.  It also can provide for a number of good story lines.

Dream.  Sometimes when I am working through a story I will set it into my mind to look for a solution as I sleep and dream.  Often dreams will provide answers.  More often a good nights rest will allow the ideas to come through as if they had been there all along.  Rarely do nightmares provide a story line, but it has happened.

Have No Fear of looking like a geek.  Arm yourself with paper, and a writing implement that works, so you can scribble down the stray thought that had been elusive and comes when you are thinking or doing something other than writing.  Sometimes a conversation will bring that key phrase or idea sought after for a character, situation or event.  Scribble down the idea, but be sure you can read your writing later on!

There are many more I could list, but these are some of the best ones.  Feel free to employ any of these ideas and methods.  Happy Writing!

Author of Clara’s Wish and soon to be released ~ Lethal Boundaries.

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Robbed!! — by S.M. Senden

My neighbor called the other day to say he had been robbed.  Just the thought sent a shudder through me.  He told me they had broken into his garage, breaking the door, and into the car, prying open the door and doing so much damage the old car was considered totaled by the insurance company, forcing him to get a new used car.  It seems our neighborhood has been the target for thieves as another neighbor said they took the copper from their AC, causing more damage than the copper ws worth.

One of the worst feelings we can experience is being robbed.  Someone violates our sacred space, our home, and takes away things that do not belong to them.  I have been robbed a number of times of late, and it is a feeling that leaves me looking over my shoulder, and has prompted me to keep a hammer close at hand, in the case I have to confront someone who has broken in.  I do not own a gun, and do not want one.

Though I write about murder, I do not want to kill anyone, not even a robber.  I may want to rearrange their knee caps and have them think twice about coming back here again, but I don’t want to kill them.  However, I do want them to hurt for the violation of my space and safety that they breached.  I do believe in Karma, even if I don’t get to see their payback, I believe it will come their way sooner or later.  Karmic payback can he the worst experience!

A sad note to the first robbery I suffered was that my grumpy, drug abusing neighbor sat and watched making no move to call the cops as they hauled off things from the porches.  Mostly they got old tools and ladders.  The thieves came back a number of times to see if I was stupid enough to replace the items and leave them out in the same places for the burglars to come back and take them again.

When I discovered what had happened, I called the police.  I have become good friends with the police recently.  The police say they can do little about this sort of crime unless they catch someone in the act.  We have a good police presence in the area, and my house is three blocks from the police station, yet, they can not be everywhere at once.

I look for the lesson, and for what I can do with this negative experience to turn it into any sort of positive at all.  It is an experience that I do not want repeated; however it can be put to use as I create characters and situations.  My sense of loss, violation and a lingering fear that I may not be safe in my own home are frustrating feelings that can help me write a better character, add depth to a scene and dialogue.

These robberies have left more than the invisible, psychological scars.  Sadly the damage the thieves leave behind in their wake is a problem that leaves the homeowner having to shell out money to replace and repair what they ruined.  As I cry in my beer about my dilemma, I thought some good comfort food would help get through the conflicting emotions firing inside of me as I write this blog.  Below is a great recipe for a pizza that will do less damage than the thieves.


1 (8 oz) package of full fat cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup pizza sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
toppings – pepperoni, ham, sausage, mushrooms, peppers
Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly spay a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray. With a handheld mixer, mix cream cheese, eggs, pepper, garlic powder and parmesan cheese until combined. Spread into baking dish. Bake for 12-15 minutes, our until golden brown. Allow crust to cool for 10 minutes.

Spread pizza sauce on crust. Top with cheese and toppings. Sprinkle pizza with garlic powder. Bake 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted.


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Five Easy Body Pieces by J J Dare

“Dismembering the human body in five steps” is one of many terms I use when researching books I’m writing. One day I can see this getting me into trouble.

While “the amount of blood in a human body” won’t send up any red flags, I know I landed on some government entity’s radar when I tried to find out “location for black market cheap plutonium.” Yeps, these types of searches will have the Men in Suits knocking at my door.

To be fair, I go to Wikipedia for most information. It doesn’t have to be completely accurate; it only needs to be believable.  I’m not about to cross the line into the dark abyss of internet anarchists. I don’t want to be labeled as a threat to national security. And I don’t want to be responsible for the recipe for a homemade disaster.

Writing mysteries and thrillers, especially spy and terrorist thrillers, involves getting down in the trenches. A few of the places I’ve found information have been, in the words of one of my kids, “sketchy.” When I hit those dives in the dark corners of the Internet, I get my stuff then quickly and quietly run away.

While Dexter makes dismembering a human body look easy, that’s not actually the case. It can be done, quickly and efficiently, but a human body is not exactly like a chicken. I won’t go into detail; suffice to say, the three steps in the title refer to a chainsaw and a big old mess.

“Robbing Fort Knox” won’t win me any medals. Neither will “at what temperature do eyeballs freeze solid.” I doubt “fastest acting poison” and “lethal amount of absinthe” will get me in trouble, as long as no one around keels over.

My ISP probably wonders about me.

I know so many authors who write about the intimate details of military operations, coups and terrorist attacks. I have to wonder if they also look over their shoulders when they research material for their books.

How about you? When you look for answers on the Internet, does a small part of you keep waiting for the authorities to bang on your door as you type away?

When you read a book, do you ever wonder where the writer found his technical material? Ever wonder if the author might know some of this stuff firsthand? Scary 😉


J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and triple digit works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is sharpening intangible knives and co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch

Facebook addiction


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How important is research? by S M Senden

I have been complimented over and over again about the depth of my research for Clara’s Wish, and my ability to re-create another era so readers feel as if they are right there.  In preparing for an interview, someone asked me that question ‘How Important is research?’  They thought that research amounted to reading a couple of books, looking up some things on the internet and that would be it.  Then I would be ready to write a book set in another era.

I had to laugh at that, for research ~ at least for me ~ can become a deep quagmire that is difficult to extract myself.  But then I do consider myself a devoted history geek.  Once I find myself doing some research on a subject, all too soon it points me in another direction, to another book, to another set of references and so on.

I am currently researching two historical settings for two books I am writing.  The periods are sufficiently diverse that it is easy for me to keep the research separate in my mind.  One of these stories is set primarily in Europe in the late 1700’s about the time of the American Revolution, running through the French Revolution and into the Napoleonic era.

The story is about a young girl, Eleanor, who has finished her education in the French convent and comes home to live in England with her only living relative ~ her sister.  The sister has married well and has young children.  They introduce Eleanor into the society of the Bon Ton hoping to find her a suitable husband.

In researching this strata of society, I was caught up in the amazing and volatile times in which they lived.  Since I am a hopeless history geek, I like to have readers learn something as well as be swept along in a good story.  Dorothy Sayers always managed to teach readers something, and I aspire to emulate her.  I read about the people that I wanted to include, in some way in my book, for their lives were extraordinary.  Some in particular are Madame Tussaud, Miss Lenormand, the Duchess of Devonshire and the possibilities that arise when the some of these people meet at Spa in Belgium with a whisper of possible spies and political intrigue.

I have no idea at this point where all my research may take me.  I have the idea for the story and what I would like to have happen to the main characters.  Yet, I do not know how this will end.  My research may change the story or it may reinforce it.  That is the process that I love, creating, pulling research and story together to make another era come alive, not just for me, but for those who read the words I have written.

So, how much research is enough?  I can only say that ~ for me ~ my research never seems to end, for it always points me in a new direction.  However, I do have to get the story written, and as I continue the research process, I can add or take something away and make corrections as I work.  Sooner or later, I will need to say, enough and hope that I have done my best to create another era and bring a fulfilling experience to my readers.

Right now, I better get back to research, for there are still so many books to read!


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The Beauty of Black Sheep by Sheila Englehart

Some families look forward to gathering for the holidays. My unconventional family prefers to remain still in hopes they creep by unnoticed. Gatherings are often dreaded and avoided. In fact, the common thread in my family is our desire for independence. I was curious to know where this began, or if someone in my family tree had ever made a connection that stuck. For the first time, I made inquiries with my Christmas phone calls. And what to my wondrous eyes did appear? A whole tree full of outcasts, black sheep for reindeer.

My father struggled to remember pieces of his past. His grandparents on both sides emigrated here sometime during the First World War. One set from Italy, the other from Germany. They found work in a railroad town on an Indian reservation where my parents and I would eventually be born. My father was never very interested in the family history and English was not their native tongue. It kills me that he didn’t pay better attention to the many stories his grandparents probably tried to share. He did remember that, as a boy, his Italian grandfather’s job was to take bags of grain by mule to the mill ten miles from home. After unloading he got to ride the mule home.

“Where was this?” I asked.

“All I know is it wasn’t Sicily.” No mob connections.

His son (my grandfather) did a bad thing. He married a German girl. His Italian family and her German family cast shunned them for that. My father followed his footsteps and also married a German girl his family did not approve of.

I got the impression that my mother’s side didn’t care for my father either. Her father took off when she was a baby. And all I knew about my grandmother was that she had worked for a furniture company and she’d been married three times before cancer claimed her. That alone would have made her a black sheep at that time. And who knows what secrets she took to her grave?

We all spawned from outcasts. And two black sheep don’t produce white sheep. Rebellion was bred into me and history repeated again when I married a man my mother didn’t approve of. But to a writer, black sheep are better than plump geese that lay golden eggs. Why rely on imagination if the coolest characters might be hanging on the branch above you to the left? On one side you might find a great aunt who sold homemade wine to the Indians during Prohibition, while on the other, an uncle who was a famous judge. I found generations of black sheep who defected from their families. Filling in the missing blanks can only make for richer characters, not to mention the deepest connection with my family that I’ve ever made.

Who broke from convention in your family tree? And can you write them into more trouble than they actually lived?



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My Handy Research Tools by Coco Ihle

I’ve found being a pack rat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my trips to the U.K. were family vacations and because these were special occurrences, I didn’t want to forget anything. Taking photos, saving receipts, keeping a trip diary, buying brochures and even audio recording various tours and people became the norm for me.

This collection came in handy while compiling photo albums to share with the family later. I didn’t have to wonder where the heck a certain mystery photo was taken or try to remember an itinerary or timeline. I was so glad I had documented everything.

Since trip planning fell to me, I wanted to make the experience as rich as possible. One year, my (former) husband and I, his parents, and our son went to the U.K., rented a car, and set out touring England, Scotland and Wales on a six-weeks adventure. Since we had three generations in the car, my goal was to include sights that would interest everyone.

We saw battlefields, military monuments and museums, visited Brands Hatch British Grand Prix Race Track and had pints in local pubs to satisfy the guys. Madam Tussaud’s, the planetarium, taking a class in brass rubbing, listening to bagpipers in Scotland and seeing suits of armor up close were fun for our son. Visiting and staying in historic manor homes and castles, attending medieval banquets with the Ladies of the Court in period costumes and strolling in topiary gardens were treats for my mother-in-law and me. We all enjoyed driving through the lush countryside and stopping in quaint villages with their thatched roof cottages; and speaking with the locals gave us different perspectives on the things we had seen and experienced.  At every turn, we tried to make each day interesting and unforgettable.

One night, we stayed in the thirteenth-century House of Agnes Hotel in Canterbury, mentioned in Charles Dicken’s, David Copperfield. Another, in the The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow, a seventeenth-century coaching inn. Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland was once an eleventh-century monastery and is said to be haunted. Lord Dalhousie at Dalhousie Castle flirted with my mother-in-law during our postprandial cocktails, and she blushed for weeks afterwards. I could go on and on.

To help refresh my cherished memories, I have shelves full of brochures, audio tapes, photo albums, music, artwork, you name it. When I began writing my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, set primarily in Scotland, I needed details for descriptions of castles and the countryside, on people in the villages, their personalities and their speech patterns. Even though I had Scottish friends at this point, and the Internet, I relied heavily on my experiences and documentation of the many trips I had taken.

I’m so glad I am a pack rat! Any of you, pack rats, too? Has it been good, bad?


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Don’t Let Regency Intimidate

The following appears on page one, chapter one, of Connie Brockway’s The Golden Season: “Ecru-fluted silk trimmed the emerald green pelisse covering her elegant and well-curved figure, while her shimmering burnt-caramel colored curls peeked out from beneath a spring bonnet bedecked with feathers, fronds, and flowers.”

Such a well-timed and apt description throws a reader pell-mell down the Regency well and, with a bit of determination, a writer can keep a reader immersed. Notice I said ‘bit.’

I do not yet consider myself an expert on the Regency era. I cannot name every Napoleonic battle and I cannot name which British crops were exported during those years. But I don’t let that stop me from writing about my favorite era. After all, a romance novel isn’t a history book. It merely requires a smattering of well-placed, Regency-based descriptions. The plot, the sexy hero and the feisty heroine are the true hooks. The Regency details work to keep the story three-dimensional and believable.

Often, the challenge is more about what wording to avoid. No reader wants to be tossed from century to century as they read. Such jolts might cause a reader to stop reading mid-story. For instance, a Regency hero would never use the “F” word. Instead, he’d say “bloody hell” when properly miffed. A heroine would never say, “Sure!” in response to a desirable dance request. Rather, she would say something along the lines of, “I would be delighted, my lord.” A Regency lady does not wear an overcoat. For her, it’s a pelisse, cloak, or spencer—none of which keep her very warm. And while a Lady’s blush can be seen on her neck, a Lord’s flush would not be visible there, since his cravat thoroughly covers his neck.

So, how does one go about “Regencifying” their story enough to make it believable?

One of the most important things to do is to read a lot of good Regency. Jane Austen doesn’t describe clothing very often, but her Regency dialog is—of course—the real thing. Georgette Heyer might as well have lived in the era. Her Regency romances were published more than a hundred years after Austen’s, but she is an expert on the times, and her books make for excellent research.

Take notes while you read. Write down the stunning clothing descriptions and vehicle technicalities—not to copy them, but to learn from them. And if you pay enough attention, you won’t make the mistake of writing about a wager made on a barouche race (although that might be something a man trying to grab a lot of attention might do). If you’re a more visual person, watch movies instead of opening the books. Jot down your notes while watching Emma, Pride and Prejudice, or Persuasion (all easily borrowed at the local library).

Keep organized lists of words like cloak-bag, rake (not the lawn tool), and ton (not the weight measurement). Also write down key phrases like “a child in short petticoats” and “bowed himself out with a flourish” and “every article of furniture in the room, from the sideboard to the fender.” Make notes about who rides in what, what piece of furniture goes where, and who wears what. Then you can easily insert selected details into your stories as needed, to keep the Regency flavor intact.

Internet research, both fun and frustrating, is a priceless resource. If you’re looking for broad information, the surfing process is wonderful. Particular details are sometimes a more challenging find. Web sites about English titles of nobility quickly taught me that a Duke outranks an Earl and an Earl outranks a Baron. But when I wanted a specific question answered: “Are a son and a father ever called the same name while both are alive, since sons are often called ‘Lord’ out of courtesy?” I had to dig. The answer, by the way, is no. Only the father would be called, for example, Lord Berkeley; anyone referencing the son would add the son’s first name: Lord Robert Berkeley. The peerage is tedious, but it’s a must-know if you’re going to write Regency, so you simply have to grit your teeth and learn it.

Newgate Prison features prominently in my first novel, Love Trumps Logic, but those scenes initially stalled my writing, since I couldn’t visualize what I was writing about. But a Google search of ‘Newgate Prison,’ led me to an actual layout of the jail in the early 1800s. I dug deeper and found a site that taught me the difference between keepers and turnkeys, constables and thief takers, putting an end to my writer’s block.

Since you cannot plagiarize the clothes descriptions you’ve catalogued, a bit of Internet research comes in handy, determining which fabrics and accessories were used.  Muslin, satin, wool, lace, and velvet are all acceptable, but you won’t find nylon or denim in the Regency period. Buttons were often made of pearl or bone, never plastic. Also, the unmarried young ladies were expected to wear pastels or white. The darker colors were considered more sophisticated and were off-limits to the debutantes. Such tidbits about clothing I found at http://www.rakehell.com.

For those who are members of Romance Writers of America, another Web site for Regency information is http://www.thebeaumonde.com. Join for $35, renew yearly at $30.

A source that I reference often is a book, English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. This book gives dates of the first recorded use of more than 50,000 words. Wondering if a word was used back in Regency days? Look it up. If the index directs you to a page that falls after page 208, then the word is too new. I wish I could say that it works as well in reverse, that if you’re trying to find good Regency words to describe ladies underwear it will easily guide you, but it doesn’t. If you have the time, though, it’s a fascinating way to get comfortable with words that are acceptable and might add interest to your story. Some words might surprise: ‘MC’ was first recorded in 1790, and ‘kudos’ was in use by 1800. Thingamabob was in use by 1770, thingummy by 1800 and thingamajig by 1830 (so the last one should not be found in a Regency book).

Another book that’s useful to have is James Trager’s The People’s Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present. Research the book to find events that happened during the Regency period. Insert some of them into your Regency novel to make it that much stronger. Certain tidbits can even inspire plot points. For instance, in 1818, a London surgeon performed the first successful human blood transfusion using a syringe. Such knowledge could perhaps make for an interesting duel outcome.

The most important thing is to write what you love. I couldn’t spend so much time researching the Regency era if I wasn’t fascinated by it.

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic


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Gems of Research: Unusual Places, Mysteries Abounding


Doing research for one of my novels years ago I came across the mysterious moving rocks in Death Valley National Park, California. Specifically they are in the Racetrack Playa of Death Valley which is nothing more than an almost perfectly flat dry riverbed. The boulders actually move by themselves and leave long trails in the dirt behind them. (Check out the photos on the web, just search for: Death Valley Moving Rocks). Some of these boulders weigh hundreds of pounds. There are many theories about how these boulders move around as they do, but none that can be proven.

Then there is Superstition Mountain in Arizona. I first heard of that when a Las Vegas local man claimed to have communed with extraterrestrials on that mountain. Doing research I found the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine, which is supposed to be somewhere on Superstition Mountain and has to this day never been found.

And hearing more stories of UFO’s and alien activity I made a trip to Search Light, Nevada and the dry riverbeds just south of town. I saw lots of lights zipping around in the sky and with my writer’s imagination working overtime the trip was labeled as successful. (I later learned I was under a flight pattern for McCarran Airport in Vegas).

However, as a fiction writer I am not bound by facts or truth. I am fascinated by these places and hope someday to find a place for them in my writing. In the meantime I’ll surely uncover more mysterious places and tales of the unknown. Are there mysterious places close to where you live? Places that tweak your imagination?


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Who is the Creepiest Character You’ve Created?

I recently finished writing the mystery thriller novel, Buried in Wolf Lake.I had the premise for the book in my mind for several years and finally sat down last year to “whip it out.” It didn’t quite go that way–not at all. What was the hold up? My bad guy–more accurately–“my evil guy.”

Without giving away too many details of the book, suffice it to say, I had to create a character capable of–and driven to–brutalizing and dismembering another human being. And make him believable, besides.

I pored over books, stories and new reports by experts in the field of psychology and behavioral analysis over the course of several months, By then, I had formed a fairly clear picture of who my evil guy was. The character in question–Langley Parker–was a psychopath.

I learned more about the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths. I knew why, and how, his thought patterns were warped. I knew his weaknesses and strengths. I knew his deepest fears. I knew what he cared about. I knew how diligently he studied and worked for one good cause. I knew what motivated him to do what he did. I knew I didn’t want to ever meet him in person–at least not in a deserted, dark alley.

Have you created any creepy characters for a book or story? Did you have trouble honing in on his personality, her motivations? Could you get into his/her head, or did you need to keep a safe distance between the two of you?

Christine Husom is the Second Wind Publishing author of Murder in Winnebago County and Buried in Wolf Lake.


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I See You

Research is a big part of my life and finding information on any topic under the sun is sometimes more fun for me than actually using that information in one of my stories.


Curiosity fuels my mini obsession. Just the other night, a conversation with a friend sparked a hunt for another mutual friend we had both lost touch with. Imagine our surprise when we found out this friend, who had been such a fashion-king in high school, is now a professional clown. Life certainly is ironic.


Everything you need to know is sitting out there just waiting for you to pick it up. With the Internet, information is a mere keystroke away. What is really astounding with the Internet is the amount of information you can find on almost anyone.


Unless you are living way under the radar, you have a trail that anyone with a bit of mad research skills can find. Public court records are a major source for tracking someone down. If you know their name and address, you can find out how bad they have been.


In lieu of court records, online newspapers archives are a rich source for the curious seeker. Internet search engines (Google is my favorite) will hook you up with just about anyone or anything. It astounded me that there were over 4500 references with my real name and over 1700 with my 1-year old pen name.


The bonanza for the info-digger is an obscure political contribution site I stumbled upon a few years ago. Just out of curiosity (my bane), I wondered how many of the Fortune 500 had contributed and who they had contributed to. Imagine my surprise when a number of these records contained home addresses. The only thing stopping someone from abusing this information is the real legal threat of fines and jail time. It’s okay to look, but don’t touch.


How can you really get into your novel when you are writing about places you have never been? Research helps, of course, but the gold ribbon goes to Google Earth. Type in any location and you can pull up a satellite view of the place. If you’re really lucky, you can also get a street view that puts you right there with a 360 degree angle.


If the information you need is not out there, then find a source as close to what you need as you can get. After that, it’s time for your imagination to kick in gear. Just like every myth or urban legend has a grain of truth, imaginative writing needs that little nugget of truth-based fact to be believable in the eyes of the reader.


The need to know about the world around you is crucial to writing. With just an Internet connection, a little imagination, and some mad research skills, you can find whatever treasure you are searching for.


J J Dare is the author of “False Positive” and “False World,”

the first two novels in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy


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