I follow the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog, and their question this month happens to be one I get fairly often: what is the weirdest/coolest thing you’ve ever had to research for one of your stories?
That’s actually kind of hard to answer. Part of the reason for this is that I’m an anthropology major; whether or not something is strange becomes a matter of perspective after a while. Still, there are some things that stand out.
Over the years I’ve studied 19th century mental health treatments for women (which were pretty brutal, since they were based on the idea that women were essentially overgrown children who had to be prevented from using their brains too much), Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, New Orleans voodoo, Mardi Gras Indians, the architecture of the Palais Garnier, and a whole lot more. I pride myself on using primary sources and first-hand experience whenever possible.
If I could only pick one thing out of the list, it would be New Orleans cemetery practices. I did a post about this last month, in which I explained the two-story above-ground vaults and how the ossuaries at the bottom come to be. Funerary practice bury widely across cultures and time, and this is one of the most unusual I’ve ever read about.