What We Don’t Know   6 comments

What is the strangest bit of information you’ve run across while doing research for a story? Or maybe the strangest word?


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Research, then Research Some More

Strange facts are bound to show up if you research for an apocalyptic book series. There’s a lot of things I don’t know…or didn’t until I started to write. For example, my town of Emmaus in Transformation Project is set amid Kansas corn fields. I’d driven through Kansas, I’d seen the corn fields and I knew a few things about corn that the average American doesn’t know because my mother grew up on a Midwestern farm, but really, I didn’t know what I needed to know to write from the perspective of an Emmaus farmer. That became obvious when a alpha reader from the Interior Writers’ group said “I don’t think you can eat ethanol corn.” I needed to know that for sure because it was vital information for my town surviving until spring. You CAN eat dent — ethanol corn. Like all corn, it needs nixtamalization with food-grade lime or wood ask to release the nutrients for human consumption and it isn’t tasty eats, but you can eat it.

In a related topic, we all know horses and cows can sleep standing up, but did you know they can only dream when lying down? I’ve never seen a horse have rapid hoof movement like dogs have rapid paw movement, but my uncle who owns horses assures me they do move their legs like their running when they dream.

While researching general aviation aircraft so Shane’s piloting would be true to life, I learned a cloud can weigh more than a million pounds. That seems so odd for something you can fly a plane through, but it also explains why sometimes planes crash when they encounter such a cloud. The next time I flew through a cloud in a GA aircraft, I considered that fact and hoped the pilot knew what he was doing.

While doing research for Daermad Cycle, which is set in a Medieval alternate reality, I learned that forks were once considered sacrilegious because they were seen as “artificial hands.”

Did you know you can nose-print your dog if you want an identifying record? I actually learned that from my brother who used to have some very expensive show dogs. In related trivia, the human tongue — just like a finger — has a unique-to-you print.

Stan Osimowitz, mayor of Mara Wells in Transformation Project, was an interrogator in the military many years ago. I originally planned him as a character who would engage in such things as water-boarding, but then the character developed a personality of his own and I haven’t found a willingness to torture people. However, if he ever needs to, I now know that if your entire fingernail is removed, it would take about six months to grow from its base to tip.


I’m not sure this counts as THE strangest information I’ve learned, but it made Transformation Project possible. In researching nuclear bombs I learned that suitcase nukes are not ICBMs. Make no mistake, ICMBs would contaminate a wide swath of territory radiating out from where they hit. Not only would nobody survive within the blast radius, but radioactive materials would get up into the atmosphere and kill people at least hundreds of miles away. Because of weather patterns, clouds would carry death around the globe.

But suitcase nukes sit near the ground and they don’t have a lot of force behind them. Yes, they would catch the buildings on fire around them and kill everyone for quite a distance, but they don’t blow a hole in the ground and toss a lot of radioactive dirt into the air. The area of radioactivity resulting from them is smaller. They’re also a much lower yield so their area of damage is less. They are still bombs and a horrible instrument of mass destruction, but they’re more easily contained by tons of concrete.

I also learned that the US power grid and most of our electronics are completely vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse, which can be caused by a nuclear bomb launched into the upper atmosphere. It wouldn’t necessarily increase radiation levels on the ground, but it would shatter our electrical grid, destroy modern cars, and render any computer connected to the grid at the time of the pulse into a paperweight. Oddly, some devices would survive because they were unplugged and turned off during the EMP event.

These bits of scientific knowledge really don’t classify as “weird”, but they are quite different from what we were taught in school. I grew up after my brother’s half of the generation hid under their desks in drills that were meant to keep them alive. My half of the Boomer generation (what is sometimes called the Jones Generation) scoffed at the idea you could survive a nuclear war. We’d seen Planet of the Apes after all and we knew it would be the end of thinking mankind. War Day came out when I was in college, suggesting you could survive a limited nuclear war…maybe. But when I set out to discover the best way to do the apocalypse, I really was convinced surviving nuclear war wasn’t possible. Then I ran across a fascinating war-game scenario in which suitcase nukes could be used to disable up to two dozen key cities in the US. About 50 million people would die instantly, but the rest of the country would not be irradiated. It’s the evidence I needed to write a believable story about people surviving a nuclear terrorism attack on 18 American cities.

Well, what else is a novelist going to do with such information but write an apocalyptic series?

Posted March 14, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “What We Don’t Know

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  1. I never did understand why people thought hiding under their desk would protect them from a nuclear strike.


  2. I’ve been researching medical advances for my next novel. I was astounded at what I found, it’s incredible what is possible and yet most of it is unreported.


  3. I’ve been house-shopping lately, and found one next door to a electric substation. I mean, mere feet away from the fence. Can you imagine how that would interfere with your home electronics?


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