Tag Archives: the Digital Detective Mystery Series

Where The Research Takes Us: Weird Stuff We’ve Researched Lately

By the whole gang! Researching our stories has taken us to some rather unusual places recently. Here’s some of the weird stuff we’ve researched lately.

First up…K.B. Owen

Part of the fun of being a mystery writer is the research tidbits you discover. I’ve learned a lot of esoteric stuff in the course of trouping through the Library of Congress, writing to museum curators, and ordering/reading books such as a 19th century pamphlet on bomb-making by anarchist Johann Joseph Most (much to the despair of my security-clearance husband, I might add).

But I’d never done a hands-on experiment before, which brings me to:  Lighting salt on fire

This was prompted by the writing of my latest Concordia Wells mystery, Unseemly Fate (published May 2019). There’s a Halloween party scene on campus, and Concordia is helping with one of the common 19th century traditions, the ghost-story telling activity.

You know how, on sleepovers as a kid, you’d turn out all the lights and tell ghost stories with only a flashlight under your chin to make it extra spooky? Well, the Victorian version of that was lighting salt on fire (not under one’s chin, of course). This newspaper article (The New York Tribune, October 7, 1900) describes what’s involved:

Pretty cool, right? But how long does it last? What color flame does it give off? In the interest of being able to convey a true account, I knew I’d have to try it at home. As you can see, I kind of went big on it, though – no “dessert spoonful” here:

It burned for 18 minutes, LOL. Adjusting down, a well-saturated spoonful would be about 5 minutes. Which means…keep those stories quick, ladies and gentlemen!

Vinnie Hansen

My research through the years has unearthed intriguing material such as the use of blue scorpion venom to treat cancer in Cuba. This strange fact became an important element in my book Black Beans & Venom.

weird stuff authors researcharched lately

The Grateful Dead exhibit

I’m currently working on a short story, “Reviving the Dead,” to submit to next year’s Bouchercon anthology.

My research took me to our local University of California, Santa Cruz, where the library houses a Grateful Dead collection, which seems strange just on the face of it.

But I learned a lot!

weird stuff authors researchFor example, did you know the chemist Owsley Stanley, famous for making LSD in The Sixties, was also the Grateful Dead’s sound engineer?

Gilian Baker

Picking a poison is easy, right? Not so!

There’s lots to consider before killing off a character with a deadly dose! When I began writing my latest cozy, Libel to Kill, I thought I had a brilliant way to poison the victim—put it into their Epipen and then expose them to something they were allergic to.

Alas, after hours of research, I realized it wasn’t feasible to add poison to an Epipen. Now, in real life, that’s a very good thing. In fiction, not so much.

Discouraged, I moved on to find other ways to dose the victim. For a while, I thought the killer would jab her prey with the filed-down tip on an umbrella, like the way the CIA used to kill spies. (Yes, really!) Then I considered a dart gun.

But in the end, none of those ideas worked with my plot. And even if I decided on a cool method of delivery, I still needed to decide on the actual poison. I didn’t like any of the ones I found. Either they took too long to act, they weren’t reliable, or they were too easy to find during an autopsy.

weird stuff we've researched lately

A stonefish, considered the most venomous fish in the world  (Photo by David Clode on Unsplash)

At one point, I seriously considered somehow using a blow fish or some other kind of poisonous sea life. There are quite a few toxic fish out there.

I didn’t go with that idea either, but it did eventually point me in the right direction. I won’t say more because the exact poison I used would give away the story.

Let just say that it comes from a rather cute creature that one definitely would not think of as toxic.

Kassandra Lamb

I’m not sure I’d call this research item weird, but I most certainly found it intriguing. As I was preparing for my current project, The Lord of the Fleas, the next installment in my series about a dog trainer who trains service dogs for military veterans, I was developing the character of the veteran around whom the mystery would revolve. The murder victim is his mentor and friend, and he is a prime suspect.

I needed him to have a physical disability that would make it difficult, but not impossible, for him to deliver a killing blow. I stumbled on a condition called Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury. Unlike the spine injuries we usually think of as causing paralysis—a severing of the spinal cord—in this case, the cord is partially crushed, affecting the functioning of the nerves below the injury, but not completely cutting off all signals to the muscles and sensory receptors.

In the process of researching this, I found a series of videos by a young man with this type of injury. I’ll let him explain it. He does it so well.

Shannon Esposito

As a murder mystery writer, I’m always looking for unique ways to kill someone. While researching bees as a murder weapon for book 6 of my Pet Psychic series, I became utterly fascinated with them.

Did you know they communicate through dance? There are two types of dances they do, the round dance and the waggle dance. The round dance is a simpler message, used to convey information about food sources which are 100 meters or less away from the hive.

For more distant food sources, scout bees use the waggle dance. That’s a figure-eight dance which—depending on how fast they waggle and in which direction they begin and which direction they circle—indicates the direction, distance and quality of the food source.

Yes, quality! Superb nectar will elicit vigorous dancing from the scout bees, whereas just so-so nectar dances will be shorter and less enthusiastic. Scientists call this using vector calculus to communicate.


Who knew bees were so smart!

We hope you’ve found this weird stuff we’ve researched lately as interesting as we did. What weird stuff have you ever had to look up, for school or for your work?

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

The Great Oxford Comma Debacle of 2019 (PLUS a New Release!)

If you’ve written anything in the last 35 years, you may have gotten conflicting advice about the necessity of using certain commas. The Oxford comma has been the subject of great debate during this time (I kid you not!) with people standing firmly in one of two camps.

What The Heck is An Oxford Comma and Who Cares?

The Oxford comma, sometimes called the serial comma, is the punctuation that occurs just before a coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more items.


For example, in the below sentence, the Oxford comma is placed before and:

Ross pulled himself heavily to his feet, picked up his glass, and drained the last bit of iced tea.

OH! Those commas!

You probably either always use them or never do. See, you might have your own opinion about the Oxford comma but didn’t know it! 🙂

So, why is this one little punctuation mark so hotly debated? Well, many would argue it’s more stylistic than necessaryin most cases. Every editor, teacher, and writer (published or not) have an opinion on this little devil of a punctuation mark.

There are two schools of thought on the Oxford comma (okay, three…):

  1. They should always be used to avoid any confusion for the reader.
  2. They are unnecessary in most cases, so don’t worry about using themunless the sentence could be totally misread without one.
  3. If you write properly, you don’t need them.

The reason for such differing opinions about this little comma is that humans use language. And, since humans are always changing (we hope evolving), so does our language. Grammar rules and stylistic no-no’s go in and out of favor. When I was in middle school, I was taught to always use the Oxford comma. By the time I got to my freshman year of college, they were considered outdated and usually unnecessary. Language and its governing rules are living things, always changing.

Are you asking yourself why I’m discussing the pros and cons of the Oxford comma?

Because, in the first scene of my new book in the Digital Detective Mystery series, Libel to Kill two wanna-be authors are duking it out over the Oxford comma.

See for yourself how the book opens:

Libel to Kill Oxford comma

“No, no, no,” Bernadette “Bernie” Comer said sharply. “I’ve told you, the Oxford comma is vital for clarity.

Phyllis Buckley straightened in her chair. “Well, I have a brand-spankin’ new grammar book that says it’s up to the writer’s whether to use ‘em.”

“I was taught in school to always use them, and I stick by that.” Bernie sternly nodded her head once as if determining the matter was settled.

The weekly meeting of the Writing Alliance Circle, or WAC, was in full swing, as was evident from the argument that periodically resurfaced. During each meeting, writers have the chance to get feedback on their work-in-progress. It was sheer bad luck Phyllis had landed with Bernie this week.

“You were in school back when Moses brought the stone tablets down from the mountain. I hardly think we can go off that antiquated advice,” Phyllis’ voice grew loud.

I knew where this was leading, and it was nowhere good. I looked at the ceiling, gathering my patience. I stood and headed over to them. I needed to intervene before they came to blows.

Bernie huffed and crossed her arms over her ample chest. “Phyllis Buckley, you are older than me. How dare you bring my age into this. I’ll have you know my cardiologist recently told me I’d live another twenty years, regardless of my—” Libel to Kill is now available! Amazon

Why Did I Start The First Scene This Way?

The theme for Libel to Kill is overcoming societal conventions that hold us back from being who we truly are. When I was plotting the book, the idea of the Oxford comma debate came to mind, and I snagged it. I’ve been in these debates, both in person and online. They can get heated (I’m not making that up!) It was the perfect way to open the bookwith a convention that has changed over the years. And one we are sometimes forced to use, (by teachers or editors) no matter our thoughts on the subject.

Below are just a few of the sentences using the Oxford comma from Libel to Kill:

  • This is what I’d hoped for when I’d started the group—an intimate band of wanna-be authors coming together to share our joys, frustrations, and feedback.
  • In the drainer beside the sink, Bernie had neatly stacked a couple of plates, a glass, silverware, and a teapot.
  • She [Ellie] slammed her fork down on the table, stood up, and dashed up the stairs.
  • Up close, I could see she [Marjory] had a rash on her neck, face, and hands.
  • Attempting to stay objective, I wrote the sins Bernie had assigned, along with any details about their motive, means, and opportunity, next to each name.
  • Bernie had an ample supply of toilet paper, hand towels, and wash clothes under the sink, along with her disposable hypodermic syringes.
  • Evan, Ned, and Reverend Holt could lose their businesses or vocation if their indiscretions came out.
  • She [Phyllis] perked up a little, dragging out lists of possible caterers, swatches for bridesmaid dresses, and a list of songs they’d like the band to play.
  • The first couple of pages listed chapters, the characters, and their indiscretions bulleted underneath.
  • Both [Bernie’s kids] had sandy-brown hair cut in easy-to-maintain styles, were tallish, and dressed in basic jeans and plain t-shirts.
  • Feeling dejected after my discussion with Bernie’s kids, I pushed aside my plate, put my elbow on the table, and anchored my chin on my fist.
Libel to Kill

Libel to Kill Synopsis

Jade Blackwell had no idea when she started the Writers Alliance Circle (affectionately known as WAC) it would lead to murder. Though everyone else in the village believes the old battleax, Bernie Comer, died of natural causes, Jade can’t help but see the inconsistencies. Isn’t is just possible someone killed Bernie to keep their secrets from being revealed in her libelous novel?

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also her disastrous attempts to write a mystery novel and her argumentative daughter home from college for the summer. False starts, misdirection, and a Bible-quoting parrot can’t hold Jade back for long, but would she have been better off letting sleeping dogs lie?

With her usual sidekicks too preoccupied with their own dramas, Jade is forced to seek justice on her own. Ignoring the snickers at her expense, Jade investigates Bernie’s death while trying to fly under the naysayers’ radars. 

Libel to Kill is now available! Amazon

Find out how Jade Blackwell got her sleuthing start...for free! Just tap HERE to get your immediate download of Blogging is Murder.

When you sign up, you’ll also automatically be registered to win one of four grand prizes! Read Jade’s first adventure for free HERE!

Posted by Gilian Baker. Gilian is a former English professor who has gone on to forge a life outside academia by adding cozy mystery author to her C.V. She’s the author of the Digital Detective Mystery Series.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to follow us, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.  )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.