Once upon a time, I might have believed that research was a matter of dusty old books and card catalogs. But the world has changed and I’ve learned that research is an exploration — and truly one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a writer.
When I wrote The Courage Test, the expedition of Lewis & Clark became a parallel storyline that ran alongside the main adventures in that book. And somewhere along the line it dawned on me that writing itself is an act of discovery, a seeking and an exploration. So in my own way, in my quiet room, I identified with the intrepid explorers who ventured into “parts unknown” to bring back news from beyond. That’s what writers do. Or what we try to do.
Below is a photo sent by a beekeeping friend. It’s a scrap of research, a hint about the book I just finished writing, the 3rd in a new series. It launches in January, 2019. I’m not quite ready to talk about it just yet, but, again: I have three books written and finished and ready to go.
In Book #3 of my SCARY STORIES Series — launching this summer, so don’t make any plans — and I mean that, no plans whatsoever — I featured a whole mess of crows in the story. You know, when it comes to foreshadowing and a general air of ominousness, nothing beats a murder of crows.
We have Van Gogh to thank for that, his intimations of mortality in the great painting, “Wheat Field with Crows.”
And, of course, there’s Hitchcock. This is one of my favorite scenes in the history of film, the essence of suspense, the knot slowly tightening, the shots of the crows gathering, cut to Tippi Hedren smoking her cigarette unawares, and back and forth, back and forth, until we get that great shot of Tippi watching one crow in flight across the sky until it lands on the playground. And her eyes grow large. In the background all the while, children sing an American variation of a Scottish folktale, “Risseldy, Rosseldy.” Young, innocent voices. That’s cinematic perfection right there. I’ve watched it a dozen times.
So I stuck some crows into my story, black harbingers of doom!, and even included a small tribute to a scene from “The Birds.” (Kids these days are always clamoring for more allusions to 1960’s films. It’s just the kind of thing that young readers nowadays expect to find in their chapter books.)
Crows are basically gross, for the most part. But useful as nature’s trash collectors. They eat the road kill, smashed squirrels and flattened chipmunks, and I think we can all agree that we’re grateful for that. Thanks, crows!
Quick crow story:
My wife Lisa is the best mother in the world. She’s tied, actually, with a long list of other mothers, but she’s right there at the top, tied for first place. One Easter long ago, when Gavin (13) and Maggie (12) were probably 3 and 1 1/2, Lisa woke early in the morning to set up an Easter egg hunt. We had a nice, woodsy backyard at the time. Plastic eggs? What? Is that what you’re thinking? Oh, please. No, Lisa used actual hard-boiled eggs and hid them around the lawn. Under bushes and often right there in the middle of the lawn, since at the time the kids were young and not exactly the best Scotland Yard had to offer.
Later it was time for the egg hunt. And lo, there were no eggs. Or, at least, very few to be found.
What happened to them? Where’d they go? We didn’t know. So we set out an egg in the middle of the lawn, ducked back inside, and watched by the window. Within two minutes, a big black crow landed, grabbed the egg in its talons, and flew off for a hearty breakfast.
While thinking about crows, and researching them ever-so-slightly, I came across this, which is why I began this post in the first place.
Oh, and here’s the brief excerpt from SCARY TALES, Book #3. In this scene, three students are trapped inside a school, surrounded by zombies, or ghouls, or whatever creepy thing they are out there. It’s not good. For a variety of reasons — the best one being “for dramatic purposes” — Carter decides to go for help. He needs to quietly make his way two blocks through the night fog, avoid the zombies that seems to be aimlessly milling around, find his folks, get help, and save the day.
(I know, it’s sounds kind of dumb, but it’s a lot of fun.)
Here goes . . .
Carter stepped out into the mist with supreme calm. Cool as a lake. It was foggy, but he could still see about 30 feet in any direction. He gave a thumbs-up to the worried faces that stood vigil at the door.
It’s all good.
A crow landed near his foot, cawed noisily. Then another, and another. Carter stepped cautiously, not wishing to disturb the birds. He noticed a dark figure ahead and veered away from it.
CAW-CAW! Carter looked up to see a crow dive-bombing from above, talons out. The black bird hit Carter’s head at full force, wham, and tore into his scalp.
“Ow, shoot,” Carter cursed. He staggered a step, dazed, and waited for the dizziness to pass. Carter tenderly probed the injury with his fingers. His scalp was torn. Under a loose flap of skin, his flesh felt like raw hamburger. It was wet.
He checked his fingers. Blood. Lots of it.
The moans came, louder and louder, from every direction. As if the creatures were calling to each other. Now more shapes appeared in the distance, moving toward him. “It’s the blood,” Carter thought. “They smell it.”