One of the perks of writing historical fiction is that you get to do research (if you don't like to do research, I strongly recommend against taking up historical fiction. Write mysteries or auto-repair manuals (for years, my husband kept pointing out that that great classic, "How to Repair the Small-Block Chevy Engine" has been in print forever, and sells thousands of copies every year, and why didn't I write something like that?) instead).
On the other hand, if you do like to do research, you often find yourself in the enviable position of being able to tax-deduct pictures of naked Scotsmen, which of course I must have in order to show the graphic-novel artist just what I mean by "high, rounded, lean, muscular buttocks." Ditto a number of Very Interesting Books, like THE SEX LIFE OF THE FOOT AND SHOE, which I found on a remainder table, and which was directly responsible for the character of Mr. Willoughby, since after reading the description of what a "lotus foot" was really for, I decided that plainly I must have a Chinese foot-fetishist. Or THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE IN FRANCE FROM 1650-1800, which gave me not only Monsieur Forez, the hangman (he was real, btw), and his excellent description of just how to hang, draw, and quarter someone, but also hanged-men's grease—which in turn caused me to write two whole scenes in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, just in order to work it gracefully into the plot.
On the other hand…having a passion for research often involves one in the unexpected. Like the time I went to Finland on a book-tour, and accepted my Finnish translator's invitation to dinner. "My husband has been stoking the sauna all day," she announced. "It should be perfect!" And so the translator, the editor, and I all stripped off and spent a cozy half-hour toasting in the sauna together—after which we walked across the road (naked) in the dark and jumped into the lake (which was about 10 degrees. Celsius, but still). "You're the bravest American I've ever seen!" my editor told me. "No," I said, "it's just that I'm a writer; I'll do anything in order to be able to describe it." (Though in fact, the experience was so interesting that I ended up having a sauna installed when we remodeled the house (an ongoing saga that's been ongoing for the last two years, but at least we now have a kitchen again-- and a working sauna)—I use it all the time, and it's great! (We had moose for dinner, after sauna-ing. Very tasty, but I fortunately didn't develop an urge to eat moose all the time. Now the bear… that was tasty; marinated in wine and vinegar, served over greens with gorgonzola cheese. Finns are mostly not vegetarians, let's put it that way. I ate reindeer three times in two days. Nice with a crisp Sauvingnon Blanc).)
Anyway—I mentioned the remodeling? Well, we've been doing it in phases, and have now reached Phase III, which is my office wing ("wing" sounds rather grand; it's a loft above a modest lower room that serves as combination library/assistant's office (no, I don't have a research assistant—see "Part II: Hot Dogs and Beans," tomorrow—my assistant comes one day a week, to bring me bookplates to sign, do the family bookkeeping, and haul things to the post office. This last is an invaluable service, since without her, nobody would ever get anything from me; I have major Post Office Phobia, and am completely incapable of wrapping things up, let alone lugging them to the PO)).
I mention this because the most noticeable side-effect of research is books. Lots of books. And unfortunately, it is not possible for my husband to jack-hammer the floor of the lower office until I remove all of the books (and bookshelves) sitting on top of it. Consequently, the stock of Staples office-supply store has gone up considerably this month, as I buy more and more (and more, and more…) foldable storage boxes in which to put said books.
On the good side, this packing means that all the books actually get dusted (my husband bought me a whole package of dust-masks, in which I look like a duck-billed platypus), and I get to look at each one. This is very cool, because I become reacquainted with things like THE HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR, THIS OLD PIG (in case you were wondering where I got The White Sow—it's a book about antique varieties of pigs, with Highly Entertaining Illustrations), A DICTIONARY OF POLISH OBSCENITIES (that's for the contemporary mystery, which has a Polish-American detective. No, really; his name is Tom Kolodzi), HANDBOOK OF THE SANITARY TROOPS (a WWII handbook for the British medical corps), THE AGE OF AGONY (descriptions of 18th century medical practices; this is, btw, (I think) where I found the mention of using deliberate malarial infection to "burn out" syphilis, for those who've asked me about it), and my entire collection of ghost stories (including an entertaining one titled SEXUAL HAUNTINGS).
(Why, yes, I do like parentheses. Why do you ask?)
So now I have a wall-high collection of neatly-labeled storage boxes (well, semi-neatly-labeled. You try writing "Revolutionary War biographies, Misc. Saints, and Rattlesnakes" upside-down on a box sitting on the floor). And I also have a useful barricade behind which to crouch and return fire with my Glock, should the house be invaded by drug-crazed burglars (they'd have to be either drug-crazed or librarians; we don't own anything anyone in their right mind would want, except books). But I do look forward to the distant, glorious day when I'll be able to unpack everything again, and lay hands instantly on CANNIBALISM, THE PLEASURES OF THE TORTURE CHAMBER, or THE RED FAIRY BOOK. (As I frequently remind my husband, the benefits of writing novels that don't fit into any identifiable genre is that all the books I buy are tax-deductible.)