It's an Addiction

on January 8, 2009

Yes, I’m addicted to books. No surprise coming from an author, right? I love books. I love the way the look sitting on my shelves, I love the way they smell when you first crack them open (and there’s nothing like an old but well-dusted library!), I love the way they feel sitting in my hand at the dinner table, in my comfy chair, and especially during my increasingly rare bubble baths. (There is NOTHING better — okay, very little better — than reading a good book in a hot bath with candles, bubbles, a premium red wine, and cheese and crackers.)

My addition started young with the library. We couldn’t afford to buy a lot of books because they were expensive for a single mom and her only child to indulge in–so when I got a book to keep, it was treasured. They came on special occasions like birthdays or Christmas or as a reward for getting straight-As. (Yes, I was a geek. At least until high school, but that’s another story . . . )

But most of my books growing up I obtained–and returned–to the library. I was able to sample a lot of different books, because my mom’s shelves were dominated by crime fiction and romance. (Hmmm . . . any wonder I write romantic suspense?) When I was on my own, I didn’t buy many books because they’re expensive but I’d swap with friends and my mom. Over time, I started rebuilding my library–beyond Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Lois Duncan, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts (see how I grew?)

Now, I get a lot of books for free. And I buy a lot of books. I’m dreading looking at QuickBooks to find out exactly what I spent on books (yes, I write off books–they’re research . . . either competitive research or research research, right?)

I suspect it’s a lot more than I think it is. And I think it’s pretty steep.

But I have a sub-addiction: Research Books.

I love the Internet, but I’m at the computer at least six hours a day (and usually ten) writing (or thinking about writing, or thinking about thinking about writing) and doing research online is not always fun. Sure, it’s great for the quick answer (what’s the name of the creek that runs parallel to Highway 49?) but for detailed research–the kind of research that isn’t specific, but where you want to almost absorb through osmosis a deeper understanding and feeling of a subject.

And then there’s the think about sources. I mean, where did Wikipedia get all that information and how do I know it’s right? At least with a book, I have someone to blame if it’s wrong! And with LOTS of books I can cross-reference and double fact-check and verify whether a submerged body turns green from the torso out of the limbs in.

Until recently, my addiction was forensics. I have somewhere between 28 and 30 forensics/crime/profiling/law type books. This doesn’t include dozens of true crime books (which I love because they give me an insight into the people involved in every aspect of the crime, though sometimes they’re too clinical and like a reporter writing a long article.) I’ve referenced all the books in this library, though some I’ve only read a couple pages, and others I’ve read cover-to-cover.

When I was writing SUDDEN DEATH, I binged on military books. I bought nine books, read two cover-to-cover, referenced small parts of three others (one on hand-to-hand combat which wasn’t military per se) and will probably never read the others. Or maybe I will, if I have another character like Jack Kincaid . . . (wait, I do. Three of them. Yowza, I’d better buy more books!)

But since I have only one more romantic thriller to write before I start the Seven Deadly Sins series, I started stocking my shelves with books about religion, the supernatural, demons, and witchcraft. I may have gone a bit overboard. (I DID say this was an addiction, right?)

33. Yep, thirty-three books. A couple I had before I started the series, like maybe four of them, but all the rest I bought over the last six months. I haven’t broken open the witchcraft books, including THE SATANIC RITUALS. (I’m kind of scared to do so, and I gave my St. Michael the Archangel medallion to my daughter’s best friend because I scared her when I told her I believed that demons were real. So until I get another . . . I think those books are best left closed. Okay, I’m a bit superstitious. Sue me.)

But there are some very intriguing books that I’ve read chunks of and suspect I’ll finish with them before I start the serious writing of Book One. My goal for this series, other than of course telling the stories as well as I possibly can, is to make it as real as possible. I need to believe it could happen, hence the research. Okay, so I want then to be scary . . . but I promise, as with all my stories, there will be a happy ending! It just might take seven books to get there . . .

Here’s a taste of my research:


LOVE this book. It’s simple, straightforward, a true encyclopedia with origins of demons (i.e. what culture), the levels of Hell in Dante’s INFERNO and cross-references to other literature, names of demons and the devil, plays, movies, and books that significantly reference Hell, etc. I’ll be referring to this book often. Not so much to read straight through, but a GREAT reference source without commentary.

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology by Solomon Schimmel.

This one I’ve almost read straight through. It’s a fascinating discourse on human nature by showing the results of the seven deadly sins in our lives today, and while relating the sins to religious understand of sin in general, the books isn’t religious as much as it’s spiritual in helping see how the deadly sins affect everyone. I also love how he shows the deadly sins in class literature, such as Shakespeare’s Iago envying Othello’s success and wife. A real world example of envy in every day lives:

“Premed students, envious of the academic success of a classmate, maliciously destroy her laboratory experiments in which she had invested long hours of painstaking work. They hope thereby to ruin her chances of being accepted to a prestigious medical school.”

I’ll be finishing this book as it helps me understand the human psychology of the seven deadly sins. And when you have a demon affecting people, they’re all going to react differently–so I need all the examples I can get!

LILITH’S CAVE: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural by Howard Schwartz

I just started this book and read the first two stories, and it’s fascinating. I’m looking forward to getting back to it–particularly the older stories in the beginning of the book. I’ve always enjoyed myths, and I think because these are wholly new but explore similar themes as Aesop’s Fables (but not for children!) I’m intrigued.

THE DARK SACRAMENT: True Stories of Modern-Day Demon Possession and Exorcism

Using the experiences of a Protestant minister and Catholic priest who have encountered demon possession, haunted houses, and performed exorcisms, I read the first true story and was hooked. The appendix comes with additional research details and shorter stories. It’s very accessible and easy to dive into (whereas some of the research books are more laborious.) These are real people with their thoughts, feelings, fears, and how they dealt with the supernatural from a practical, earthly sense. Because my series is “real world” — meaning, it’s present day — I want to be as authentic as I can while still building my own world with rules. As far as I know, the seven deadly sins have not actually manifested themselves into corporeal demons, so I can make a lot of stuff up.

THE CRYPTOPEDIA: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange and Downright Bizarre by Jonathan Mayberry and David Kramer

I like the way these guys write. This is more a reference book (truly a dictionary, but much more fun than a real dictionary!) if I need to look something up, but I’ve spent some time reading some of the entries . . .

Now, buyer beware . . . most of these books I bought on Amazon after reading the excerpts, checking out the author’s websites, or (gasp!) reading the reviews. I don’t read reviews on fiction, but I like to know the basic content: what am I going to get? I’ve bought books that had a lot of one-star reviews because the book had something that I wanted. And I’ve passed on books with glowing reviews because it was more of what I already have. BUT I did buy one book that seemed to be exactly what I wanted . . . and it was garbage. It was full of typos, brief one-paragraph chapters, poorly written, and full of her opinions about the supernatural, not anything of research value. Surprise, it was self-published. I usually look at the publisher to make sure I recognize it, but this time? Well, I got suckered by a slick cover. Live and learn. I tossed it in the trash. (I bought it, I can throw it away.)

That said, I’ve been also reading some Eastern myths . . . because, well, it’s all in the name of research.

What subject have you recently researched to death and what did you learn (or not learn?) Or what’s your favorite research book? Did you get suckered like me and buy something that wasn’t what you thought it was?

Oh, and because this blog post which was originally going to be short and sweet (Ha! Allison short OR sweet? Not.) and you read it all the way to the end . . . guess what? One lucky commenter will win an ARC of SUDDEN DEATH (Jack Kincaid’s book.) Just post a comment by midnight Friday PST and I’ll announce the winner over the weekend.