Research Sucks! (You In)

I know this is a really geeky thing to say, but when I was in college and had to write essays and term papers, it was the fun part of class.  I realize for most of the world this is not the case, but it’s really in the perspective of how you look at it.  I approach my research like I’m solving a Nancy Drew mystery.

For my U.S. History class I had to write the obligatory term papers on the Civil War.  Everyone had to, but I relished it.  It may help that my parents were history buffs and I grew up with war memorabilia from the Civil War, World War I and my dad’s memorabilia from World War II.

There are several historic Civil War sites in our area and Herculaneum, Missouri played an essential part in the Civil War.  Lead shot for cannonballs was produced at the Herculaneum shot tower for the Civil War.  First paper covered –  I received an A and comments about such a remote reference that played a significant part of history.  Whatever, I grew up there!  Second term paper had to be about one of the battles.   Never fear, junior sleuth Ellie (maiden name used) Mack was hot on the trail with a vivid imagination.

While many of my class mates chose Gettysburg, and Harper’s Ferry I chose the Battle of Antietam, it was also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg in the South.  Near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek, it was the first major battle in the Civil War to take place on Union soil.  The main distinction of Antietam was that it was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with approximately 23,000 casualties.

For a brief description of the battle, if you happen to be interested go to Wikipedia and read the summary of Antietam. I”m not going to go into that detail because that’s not my main point.  My point is, the strategy and drama that led to that day, and took place during September 17th, was far more exciting than the works of fiction that I was reading at the time. The term paper I turned in was filled with fantastic detail of the strategy, and the facts that despite the Union army’s greater numbers they were outwitted by General Robert E. Lee.  My retelling of the horror on the battlefield was filled with graphic sensory details.  I received another A, but the instructor commented that I shouldn’t have been as detailed in my descriptions.  It left him feeling ill.

Shouldn’t an essay on the horrors of war leave you feeling a bit green?  Shouldn’t it turn your stomach that 23,000 people died violent deaths, many lingering for days?  War is never a pretty thing and the politics that lead to the deaths of brave soldiers is an insidious evil.  Most of these young men were under the age of 19.  I suppose it was a good thing that I wasn’t required to make a political statement on my views.

Why in the world am I bringing this stuff up? Research.

Back then I did it because I had to for my term papers.  When I worked for the Defense department, I did it for national security.  Talk about some paper chases  – I could tell you some tales about that, but then I’d have to kill you.  Best if we don’t go there.  Now here’s the shocker, for years I’ve done it for pleasure.

What? What kind of sick puppy am I anyway?  I know it seems weird but that’s part of the magical mystery in being a writer.  I have volumes on all things medieval. I have a complete set of World War II books covering everything from weaponry, aircraft, personal accounts, and detailed historical accounts of battles and military strategies.

Here in St. Louis they just had their annual super used book sale.  I love this day, I come home with as many books as I can possibly find.  OH, the kids and hubs get a few as well.  I buy books the way other women buy clothes.

Herbal remedies come in handy for medieval medical practices.  Celtic mythology is very helpful in understanding medieval society.  Tomes on history, and geography help with place names and locations.  Even if you are making up your town name, it’s good to know a bit about the region where you’re planning on founding your town.  Remember, the devil is in the details and if you have your details wrong, smart readers will know that you cut corners on your research.

There is one downside to research though, that I will admit.  I can get lost in a library for hours.  I get sucked into the internet web of easily accessible fun facts that are available with a simple click.  Research can easily propel you into a vortex known as a disruption in the space-time continuum.  Somewhere, you entered a time portal for a few minutes and came out on the other side hours later.

When I open my books on medieval weaponry and warfare, somewhere between the covers  is one of these portals.  I flip a few pages and the next thing I know hours have passed.  It happens and it’s very real.  Just ask any writer, and however sheepish the answer, even if they hem-haw around for a while they’ll eventually admit to being sucked into these idp’s –  Inter-dimentional portals.  You have just enetered the Research Zone.

And you thought the Twilight Zone was scary.