Some name resources…

National Geographic has put together a very cool interactive map of surnames across the US. I’d love to see one of these for other countries, honestly.

Baby Name Wizard’s Name Mapper – see where and when a name was most popular, by year from 1960 to 2009. (US only, as far as I know.)

My favorite Wikipedia category: Surnames. (I particularly love the lists of common surnames by country. So useful!)

Behind The Name is great for finding first names by country, especially when you’re looking for things like ‘Cornish’ and ‘Breton’.

It doesn’t hurt to use a search engine, I promise.

Come over here. Yes, you. Sit down right here beside me–we need to talk.

Look, I know you’re excited about writing a story set in a place you love, but have never been to. I understand, I do. Now, sweetness, it’s really really important to remember that there are people who live in the place you’ve chosen for your story’s setting, and that, particularly in the US, it’s likely they’ll have a chance to read it.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Sh, no, just let me have my say, please. When you pick a particular location, you need to look up some fundamental basics. Check out the weather patterns, for instance, and look at the average temperatures for various times of the year. I’ve never been to New Orleans (argh argh argh), but I know that they don’t get hurricanes year-round. Kansas is not all corn fields and tornadoes 24/7/365. There are more cities in North Dakota than Pierre and Minot. Not everyone in Minnesota is decended from Scandanavian stock, eats hotdish, or is Lutheran (or all three at once).

If you can’t go to your chosen location for whatever reason–financial, familial, etc–then for the love of all that is seen and unseen GO TO THE LIBRARY. Use Google or whatever your search engine of choice is. Check out guidebooks, check out blogs from people living in the area (even if you do have to wade through the unpredictable results of machine translation), ask the people you know if they know anyone in [Wherever]. I personally know a guy who knows people in Finland, plus I know there’s a Finn on one of my mailing lists. If I want the lowdown on living on a farm just below the Arctic circle, I can ask them if they either know anything about it or know someone who does.

Please. It doesn’t take all that long — and if you’re like me and tend to get sidetracked, set aside a couple of hours one weekend and just get lost. Make notes and bookmarks, or copies, or whatever! It doesn’t matter if you ever use all of the information, but at least do your readers the courtesy of actually making the attempt.

Thanks for listening,


A fan of Street View for finding neat-looking places

Research this, research that, learn something else entirely…

All I wanted, really, was a list of names commonly found in East Anglia. I now know more about the really amazing assortment of people that have called the southern, eastern, and south-eastern coasts of England home, and the only name I have is Swithin — and I have no idea if I’ll use it for a human or a horse. I did finally settle on a place to set my next story (the aforementioned East Anglia), primarily because I decided that the horse in question is going to be a Suffolk Punch. Which means I now need to know more about horses.

Also, I was reading about Martin Luther last night, and now I need to look into the history of the Lutherans in France, in the hope that maybe my former Welsh pirate and his Breton farm-boy will be less fearful for the future of their souls… *Pats them*

What do coal and the Catholic church have in common?

The letters C, O, A, and L, yes, but more than that, they’re the current focus of my research. I’ve gotten distracted by something new (again, I know), and it’s… Well, it’s kind of annoying is what it is.

After my Hornblower marathon, I’m kind of fascinated by the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars era/War of 1812 portion of history. So my new thing is set in Brittany, France, right around the end of the 18th century/beginning of the 19th. Bretons tend(ed) to be devout Catholics, and basically all I know about the history of the church’s arrival in the area is bupkes. There’s the remains of a beautiful abby near Clohars-Carno√ęt, France, but outside of inspiration… Yeah.

I need to know how long the church has been in the area, when it arrived, when formal confessions began being heard/taken, whether your typical farmer would attend mass every day/week, how often they’d go to confession, etc. etc. etc. (Also, the standard form of confession would be nice; I’m fringe Episcopalian, we’re not big on bureaucracy so I’ve never done a formal confession.)

As for the coal mining, all I really wanted to know was whether or not one of my characters would be in any danger of being an underground coal miner if he was currently-as-of-the-conversation-in-the-story living in Wales. So far, I think the answer is yes, but I was immediately distracted by finding out what ‘drift mining’ involves. And then I decided to write this… And now I’m going to try to get back to actually writing.

(although I am thinking about writing another post for a different blog… No! Must write fiction! Now!)

My browsing history is a little suspect.

I have results for ethylene glycol poisoning, phlebotomy equipment, testing for ethylene glycol poisoning, and poison control centers of America. I also have the poison control jingle stuck in my head, so it’s at least effective on that count. (I do own a copy of the handbook of poisons, but it’s somewhere in a box in another state, at the moment. And I don’t know if it would tell me how much blood is needed to run an ethylene glycol assay, anyway. From what I’ve turned up, it looks like it only requires about a teaspoon (5 mL.)

I’m actually doing research, though whether or not the story will ever be published remains to be seen. My poor character has been having a tough life as a were-creature, and now that he seems to have found stability–and even a family, though some of them are no longer alive–he’s been poisoned. (I know who, how, and why, too, which is a huge achievement. Normally I have crimes and investigators but no idea about any of the rest of it.)

I think that my number-one weird research query will forever be “do birds burp?” (The consensus I got from a local bird-care group: not unless they’re ill, no.)

Things I haven’t learned, yet

Precisely WHAT was smuggled during the embargo/non-intercourse act years, as well as the war of 1812, at least in the American SE. (In the NE, it was food, cows, and potash.)

I did learn that it’s highly likely that Tristan would have had to travel to Spain, sail across the Atlantic to Florida, and then from Florida to Louisiana, thanks to the whole ‘No French Ships’ thing.

It's a good thing we don't burn heretics, these days.

At least not usually, and not in North America, as far as I know. ANYHOW.

So, in the course of writing this new thing involving a Roman and a Gaul, I needed to know if there were any deities particularly associated with things like 'putting up with well-meaning relatives' or 'finally telling someone that you're not getting married to the miller's daughter no matter how much of a dowry she comes with'.

The short answer is 'not really'. There's Mars (courage), and possibly Hermaphroditus ([bi]sexuality; only problem is that Hermaphroditus is Greek, not Roman, and may only be a fringe sort of God/dess that may not have been known in my story's relatively small town.). 

So while I was perusing the lists of ROman Gods and Goddesses, I realized that there were a LOT of them for all kinds of things. Things like, "children leaving the home of their parents for the first time"; door handles, hinges, and thresholds; "children as they learned to eat solid foods".

The list looks an awful lot like the Giant List Of Saints, who are dedicated to everything from Aachen (Germany) to Zutphen (Nederlands). It's just that the names and rituals have changed a little.