Oology. I love the sound of that word. It slides across my tongue like luscious, cool yogurt. Oology–the study of nests and eggs–also refers to the hobby of collecting wild bird eggs. That sounds like a bizarre hobby (right up there with 'beetle fighting'), but before powerful binoculars were developed, egg collecting was a significant source of scientific data.
In the U.K., collecting of this sort is now illegal, as the hobby has lead to the endangerment and extinction of certain bird species. If you want to keep a clutch of wild bird eggs, you better have proof that they were gathered before 1954 and never intend to sell your collection. Heck, even museums don’t want them! Oology activity is also restricted heavily Stateside–considered a criminal act, in some cases. We can only hope other nations follow suit.
I’ve landed in the midst of the taxidermy trade while working on my next manuscript, The Nighthawk’s Nemesis. I’ve never been comfortable with specimens that fill museum dioramas or trophies in hunters’ lodges. Those glass eyes follow me about with their haunting stare, and a loud part of my being simply wants to bury the dead.
When I researched taxidermy for this manuscript, it was an absolute eye-opener. The practice, which began in England in the early 19th century, is a scientific art that is still overseen by The Guild of Taxidermy. Like the Mason’s Guild, this peer group monitors and accredits professionals within the craft. Taxidermists take multiple courses, work apprenticeships, are heavily regulated by laws, study anatomy in depth, and receive credentials based upon mastery of taxidermy skills. Some raise the craft to a form of fine art that is now displayed in high-end galleries. While the number of licensed taxidermists is decreasing, its popularity as an art form and use as modern décor is increasing.
Check out Polly Morgan Taxidermy.
Intriguing, yet icky.
I walked away from this bit of research feeling enlightened, relieved to know that a vast majority of specimens are the end result of roadkill, flying into windows, or natural death; that British laws protect even dead wild creatures; that taxidermists file formal documents on all specimens with government agencies; and that a license is required to sell any taxidermized creature save game birds shot in season. I have a much clearer view of taxidermists (no, they are not ghoulish) and a profound appreciation for their artistry.
Still, I simply want to bury the dead.
Writing is both wondrously fulfilling and endlessly challenging. I am always trying to improve my craft. I find it all fascinating: character development, pacing, plot twists, grammar, dialog, and setting. Nothing, however, captures my attention more than similes (a metaphor that uses 'like' or 'as'). Perhaps it's because I adore the imagery they create, but I also find them so very hard to write! Spotting this weakness early on, I endeavor to write them into all of my novels simply to grow that skill. So, smile for awhile as I review some similes from the Barrington Bay series:
I have struggled with time throughout my life. I grew up with the analog clock and never figured out how to tell time. Imagine my relief when digital clocks arrived! As a teenager, I was ahead of my time—reading books as a freshman that weren’t offered until senior level English class. I was behind my time as an adult, not getting married or having children until long after my girlfriends took the plunge. I remained a step ahead or a step behind everyone else. Until now.
I’ve been spending my dreary winter days punching up the characters who live in Barrington Bay. Bringing fiction to life is a fascinating, lengthy process. Although I love dwelling in the actual mystery, it turns out that readers are typically more vested in the characters than the plot. All this character analysis on my part has led to rewrites with some surprising changes, new scenes, and added depth to my stories as I strive to improve the read.
I must admit that I struggle with character development. I can map out a convoluted plot or swiftly pen a passage describing a setting but then flounder when I drop a character into that scene. After much research, online lectures, and personal reflection, I simply tasked myself to consider some of my favorite characters from literature and popular culture. What attributes make them steal my heart and reverberate in my mind? I thought of all the suave, brilliant, stunning, eloquent, athletic, or cultured characters that jump off the screen or glide across the pages of a book. Oddly enough, I couldn’t recall a single one. I was surprised to realize that—at least for me—it is character weakness that makes them memorable. For example, the ever-depressed Eeyore (Winnie the Pooh), Barney Fife shivering in fear (The Andy Griffith Show), the oh-so-fastidious Hercule Poirot (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), the tightly-wound Beverly Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory) and, of course, our drug-addicted Sherlock (A Study in Scarlet). It is these characters’ limiting wounds that makes them dear-to-heart and unforgettable.
Armed with this insight, I returned to Barrington Bay with a big eraser and bent pen, intent to do damage to my characters. The result has been encouraging. I could more readily embrace these fractured friends who now struggle within their own limitations and join the rest of us imperfect humans. I hope you enjoy their faults, as well.
Setting my stories along the northwestern coast of England has been a tremendous learning experience. I am a landlubber whose knowledge of open water is limited to my neighborhood’s Lake Michigan (see previous post Lost in the Surf). It is one of America’s Great Lakes but tiny compared to the oceans. So, I am constantly reading to expand my knowledge of the sea and how it impacts characters who are bound to the British Isles. Visit my other posts, Out to Sea, What Lurks Beneath, or Buoy, Oh Buoy for examples of some watery research.
My erstwhile travel partner/back-road navigator who joined me abroad led me down another path that ended with a sublime discovery: the Met Office Shipping Forecast. The UK’s continuous sea weather forecast has been offered as a public service since 1867. Countless generations have relied upon this vital radio broadcast to safely navigate across the water. Nowadays, even landlocked listeners tune in to the melodic nightly readings to lull them to sleep while tucked in their cozy beds. The areas touched upon by the Shipping Forecast have delicious names like Dogger, Bailey, Forties, and German Bight—mystical-sounding locales you might come across in a dreamland.
Returning from Scotland, I decided to investigate buoys—you know, those little beach ball things. I spotted an endless array of them on prior trips to Wales and England while traveling along the rugged coastline and recently in Scotland as I drove past mountain-shrouded lochs. Not being nautical in the least, I found myself fascinated by those mysterious, round orbs, so I plunged into the Internet (face it: all fiction writers are closet researchers) where I learned…
This blog is where I post my inspirations for each book in the Barrington Bay series as well as behind-the-scenes tips, pics, and other tidbits. Feel free to click 'Read More' for in-depth posts.