A Writer’s Serendipity or How Research Saved My Book

As a blogger and science nerd, I try to keep up with science news from a variety of sources. Oddly, that curiosity rarely benefits my writing. My writing style follows a diagonal on the chart below: Lawful Plantser, True Plantser, and Chaotic Plotter. And that’s pretty much how my research goes, too. I start with a plan and end going off script. This is the story of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.

Image of a 3 x 3 table listing Lawful panther, neutral panther, chaotic panther in top row, lawful plaster, true plaster, chaotic plaster on the next row, and lawful plotter, neutral plotter and chaotic plotter on the final row.

My Research Method

Targeted research is when one narrows their topic and is very selective in choosing books and articles for said research. Targeted research is always my intent, it rarely is what gives me the most inspiration.

I love Google Maps. They allow me to “travel to” areas I’ve never visited. But the maps don’t give me the smells, the texture, or the mood of the place. For those, I search out travel blogs, expat blogs, and personal blogs. Sometimes, I reach out to a blogger for more details. Usually, bloggers respond with more information than I need. And that’s a lovely thing.

Sometimes, I need more hands-on research. That may mean a visit to a museum or a road trip to a location.

Be Prepared

Serendipity has been a big part of the Fellowship Dystopia Series. Although it isn’t quite serendipitous if you’re looking in the correct direction.

For example, I had selected Lynchburg, Virginia as a location in the first book, My Soul to Keep, because of its history and location. But until I visited Lynchburg, I did not know about the former Virginia State Epileptic Colony.

I happened upon the historical marker as I drove through the area around Lynchburg. After researching the Colony, it became a source of inspiration and an important location in the book.

Image of a historical marker which reads Centeral Virginia Training Center.  Established in 1910 as the Virginia State Epileptic Colony the center admitted its first patients in May 1911. It's an example of a writer's serendipity or how research saved my book.

Don’t Research Everything

When I first started writing, I would research the heck out of every topic and location I wanted to include in the book. It was a tremendous amount of work and I would amass more files than I could store (both physical and virtual).

You know what all the research did? Squat. Typically, I used very little of the research I collected before I started writing the book. Often, in writing the story, I’d find the research didn’t fit the book. Not only that, no matter how much I think I’ve planned the book, more than one thing changes during the writing. All that research work was a waste of time.

These days, I will research a general topic or time period or location. When I accumulate three or more pages of notes, I move on to another topic or I write.

It’s when I write the first draft that the real serendipity research happens.

Everyone Must Follow Their Own Best Flow

Legions of writing mentors will tell you not to stop writing once you start your first draft. Their belief is that if you interrupt the creative process, you will lose your way. That was true of me when I first started writing. Anything that interrupted my writing threw me off course or straight into what many refer to as writer’s block.

What works for me now is to research as I go. I write as far as I can based on my imagination or memory. When the writing stutters and I can’t seem to get through the next scene, I take a few hours to a few days for research.

When I’m in the middle of a draft, my head is full of possibilities. Maybe my character will go here and do this. Or do that and go there. Or…. It’s nonstop and a bewildering plethora of possibilities. But with a bit of research, my writer’s brain (some call this their muse) will latch onto some bit of information. That piece of information focuses my writer’s brain and writing the draft takes off again.

Serendipity Strikes Again

Recently, I was researching a blog article I wanted to write. I needed more scientific research to back up my story. I turned to one of my frequent sources, Sciencenews.org. My search of their website was fruitless. But the site was celebrating their 100th anniversary. 

My curiosity overcame what little resistance I had. I clicked on one of their original stories, and that resulted in another bit of writer’s Serendipity.

Dated September 19, 1921, the article titled, “Urges Artificial Selection to Produce American Race of Demigods” is a peek into a certain mindset. And a piece of a book I haven’t even outlined was born. Perhaps a character may grow out of this article.

Stay tuned to this blog to see if the final version of And When I Wake, the third book of the Fellowship Dystopia series, will use this bit of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.

Type 1 Diabetes Research-What You Need to Know

Recently researchers at LJI reported they prevented beta cell deaths in mice by blocking nerve signals to the pancreas. Why is this important? They may be one step closer to understanding what causes diabetes. The hope is that understanding will lead to a cure. This is what you need to know.

What is the Pancreas?

Your pancreas is about six inches long. It lies in the back of the abdomen, on your right side behind your liver. The pancreas creates a cocktail of juices called enzymes.  These enzymes travel from the pancreas through a duct to the upper part of your intestine. There they break down the food you eat into fats, proteins, and starches.

Your pancreas also produces hormones that carry messages to other parts of your body. (Read more about the pancreas.)

One hormone the healthy pancreas makes is insulin. It makes insulin in specialized cells called beta cells.

What is Type I Diabetes

Image of symbols of syringe with need, pills, diabetic supplies, and medical symbols-type 1 diabetes-what you need to know
Allanakhan123 / CC BY-SA

Nearly 1.6 million Americans have a life-threatening, but treatable condition. Their beta cells die. When their beta cells die, their bodies do not produce insulin. It happens in every race, gender, and body size and shape. Even mammals can have type I diabetes.

Without insulin, you will fall ill within hours. If the high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) isn’t treated you will die. Death comes in days or may take as long as two weeks, depending on your general health and blood sugar levels. (Read more about diabetic ketoacidosis.)

There is no cure for diabetes. People who have type I diabetes must take insulin. Patients manage the disease with medication, a healthy lifestyle and diet and careful monitoring of the blood sugars. Type 1 diabetics can and do live long and happy lives. (Read more about how to manage diabetes.)

How do You Get Diabetes?

We know the beta cells of the pancreas produce insulin for the body. And we know insulin is essential for our body to turn the food we eat into energy for the cells of our body.

In type 1 Diabetics, the cells of the pancreas that make insulin die off. This dying off can be a long process that takes years before the person knows it’s a problem. It can appear at any age from newborn to a senior of advanced age.

While risk factors for type 1 diabetes include genetic and environmental factors, researchers don’t know why the disease seems to attack at random. Some scientists believe an autoimmune response may be what’s killing those cells. Autoimmune response is where the cells meant to fight off infection attack other cells in your body. In this case, your beta cells. (Read more about the possible causes of type 1 diabetes.)

The Research

image of white mouse in gloved hands--type 1 diabetes-what you need to know

Researchers at the LaJolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) are working to uncover the cause of type 1 diabetes. They’ve noticed that the beta cells in a diabetic’s pancreas die off in patches. Some areas have large patches that die and other areas are untouched.

There are many theories about why this occurs. Inadequate blood supply, an attack by a virus, and an autoimmune response are some theories.

They turned to a new field called neuroimmunology, which is the idea that nerve signals can affect immune cells. Could nerve cells drive immune cells to attack the pancreas?

They induced beta cell death in mice. Some mice weren’t untreated, some received beta blockers, and some were “denervated.” 

Denervation is a chemical or physical block that prevents nerve messages to pass. The block can be temporary (often used today in surgeries) or permanent. Here, they surgically cut the nerve or inject it with a neurotoxin or a medication that blocks nerve signals. Then they “used LJI’s world-class imaging facility to track the pattern of beta cell death in living mice.”

The “denervated” mice did not experience beta cell death. “It was like the pancreas had gone dark and  immune cells were unable to find their targets.”

They’ve Just Started

They need to do a lot more testing and research to confirm that this works.

But these results suggest that other autoimmune diseases may benefit from denervation. Arthritis, vitiligo, and lupus erythematosus are a few of the many autoimmune diseases. (Read more about autoimmune disease. )

Before this method can be used on humans, doctors first need a reliable way to predict who was at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. 

And, I’m guessing, there will need to be more research about the effects of denervation on other functions of the pancreas.

Science Provides Slow Hope

What you need to know is that it will take years to explore this treatment and its consequences. Perhaps it will also take years before people accept it as a preventative. You may remember that my niece has type 1 diabetes. Would I recommend she be an early adopter? My answer would depend on information they discover between now and then. If you knew positively that you or your child would develop type 1 diabetes, would you ask for permanent denervation?

Are You Alarmed?

No, this post is not about the alarming things happening in the world today. Rather it’s about are you alarmed? As in, do you have an alarm system? In my WIP, If I Should Die, I recently needed to know what year saw the invention of the first closed circuit security system. Guess what I learned? A woman co-invented the first home security system in 1966. 

Marie Van Brittan Brown

photo of Marie Van Brittan Brown who I found at the bottom of the research rabbit hole I tumbled down while writing If I Should Die
The only image of Brown I could find. But I could not determine the original copyright holder.

We know little about the private life of African-American Marie Van Brittan Brown. She was born October 30, 1922 in Jamaica, Queens, New York. She became a nurse and married Albert Brown, an electrician. They had a son and a daughter.

They lived in the same neighborhood where she was born. As a nurse and an electrician, they worked irregular hours. The high crime rate in their neighborhood worried her. It worried her more since it took the police a long time to respond.

The Alarmed Peep Hole

Brown and her husband invented the first form of home security system. They used a radio-controlled wireless system. A camera slid up and down three peep-holes in the door. The three peep holes were at child height, average adult height, and tall. The camera transmitted an image of the person on the other side of the door to the homeowner’s television set. He or she could talk to the visitor behind the door too. If alarmed, the homeowner could push a panic button which alerted the police. The system also allowed the homeowner to unlock the door remotely.

Patent Granted

They jointly filed a patent in 1966. Take a look at the drawing she submitted

The U.S. Patent Office granted the patent in 1969.

It was the first closed-circuit television security system. Intended for homeowners, small businesses used it too. Brown’s patent is still in use today.


Brown died February 2, 1999, at seventy-six years of age.

An Historic Mark

Brown’s invention has undoubtedly prevented many, many crimes. It has probably saved lives too. The mark she left of history is enormous.

This is the type of “rabbit hole” I can tumble down while researching a bit of history. Her invention came too late for me to use in my book. But the first motion sensor invented in 1950 came in handy.

It makes sense to me that a woman would invent this very helpful device. And this bit of history was one I had to share. Are you alarmed? Did you know about Brown?

Outtake from Fellowship & A Lesson

I’m deep in the last minute edits for Fellowship before I send it to the proofreader. Writing a book in the same world as My Soul to Keep that is not a sequel, has been interesting. So this week, I want to share an outtake from Fellowship and a lesson learned about writing before research.

I am both a planner and a pantser. By that I mean, I write the story with a general outline. Since the outline isn’t very detailed I often go “off on a tangent.” I let the characters take me places that often end up on the cutting room floor as this excerpt did after I learned an important lesson.

Image of a call button for a walkie talkie for my outtake from Fellowship and a lesson

Before Research

Ian opened and closed his fists over and over. It was weird. He’d never been afraid of hiking through the mountains before. It’s not right. Not fair. The Blue Ridge Mountains are my mountains. It was where Pop had taught him to hunt and fish and think.

Pop was wrong about the Fellowship though. He thought it just needed some improvements. Pop used to talk about a time when he was young when he could walk where ever he wanted, even the streets of Lynchburg, without fear. Pop had said that was before the Prophet Josiah Shephard and billionaire J. D. Wagner created the Fellowship. Pop said at first it was about love and God and good stuff so he wanted to save that part of the Fellowship. Ian wasn’t about to try to save the Fellowship. Not after what they’d done.

When he got back to the old neighborhood his sense of danger increased. He pulled his collar up and the bill of his cap down. He couldn’t afford to be identified. One of these neighbors had turned his parents in. How could he find out who? His reporter’s brain didn’t give him an answer. He couldn’t interview people. Or visit the newspaper morgue—not that that would do him any good. How did he stay hidden and find out who betrayed his family? If it were just him, he’d not care. He’d suss out the details. But he owed it to Ma and Pop to keep Leslie and Travis and Kenny safe. So he couldn’t just go up to Monty’s house and knock like he used to.

He made a second circuit and passed the park again. Kids were playing, swinging, running around. A dark-haired boy about Kenny’s age ran smack into Ian’s legs.

“Whoa, kid. Watch where you’re going.”

The boy looked up at Ian. “Sorry mister.” The kid’s walkie talkie squawked. “Paulie. Come in Paulie.”

Ian caught his breath and squatted on his heels to be eye-level with the kid. “Say, if you let me use your walkie talkie for a minute, we’ll call it even, okay?”

The boy gave him a dubious look then stared at his walkie talkie.

“Don’t worry. I’ll give it back.” He grabbed the walkie talkie. For a moment he thought the kid wouldn’t let go, then he released it. “I’m gonna take three giant steps,” Ian said. “You can still see me, but I can talk to my buddy.” It was a long shot, but Monty loved to listen to CB radios and said he got kid chatter all the time. Ian took three giant steps and changed the walkie talkie’s channel. “This is Thorn calling Blackbird. Thorn to Blackbird. Do you read?”

Nothing but static answered. Ian glanced back at the little boy whose dubious look had changed to a pout.

“Thorn to Blackbird. I have a situation.”

“This is Blackbird,” Monty answered. “How do I know this is really Thorn?”

“I’ll meet you at the GTH in ten,” Ian said. “Over.”

“Holy cow. It really is you?” Monty sounded almost reverent. “Meet at the GTH in ten. Over and out.”

Ian’s chest filled with air and hope for the first time in days. He changed the walkie’s channel back and returned the walkie talkie to the little boy. “Thanks, little man.”

He zig-zagged through the park to be certain no one followed him. His steps were more sure, more energetic than they had been. His circuitous route still got him to the Green Tree House five minutes early.

He climbed the rope, crawled inside the patched-together little house, and pulled the rope up behind him.

Four and a half minutes later someone thumped a three-three-four rhythm on the tree. Ian peeked out. Monty flashed a mouthful of white teeth up at him.

Monty climbed into the tree house and bumped his fists against Ian’s shoulder. “Man, it’s good to see you,” Monty said.“What happened? Your whole family— I was afraid that you all were—you know.”

“Ma, Pop, and Henry were.” Ian’s throat thickened.

Monty gaped at him. “How did you—?”

“I was at the paper, the kids were at school…” Somehow Ian couldn’t say more.

“Where have you been?” Monty asked. “You look like you’ve slept in your clothes.”

Ian gave him a wan smile. “I did. All of our stuff was gone. I grabbed some stuff, but blankets, a hatchet, and a knife doesn’t help much.”

“Wow.” Monty scratched his neck. “I’ll be you’re hungry.” He pulled a napkin-wrapped lump out of one pocket then the other, handed them to Ian.

One napkin held a sandwich, the other an apple. Roast beef! Ian wolfed down half of the sandwich in two bites. “Thanks, man,” he muttered and took another big bite.

Monty folded his legs Indian-style. “Maybe you could hide in my basement?”

Ian shook his head. “Thanks, but we can’t put you in danger.”

“We? Who else made it?”

“Leslie, Travis, and Kenny.”

Monty’s mouth made an “O” but no sound came out. He closed his mouth and gave Ian an expectant look.

“I need help, Monty. We’re cold and hungry.”

Monty snickered at that one.

“We need a tent, clothes, food, and a hunting rifle.” Ian looked down at his feet. This asking for help was hard.

Monty rubbed his chin. “Mother has been collecting for the poor. I could bring you some blankets and canned goods, she’ll never miss them.”

Ian swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat. “That would be great.” He hesitated. “I could really use a hunting rifle. Know where I could get one?”

Monty wrinkled his brow and pressed his lips together, his concentrating face. “You know I’d have to get a license approved through the Second Sphere to get a rifle. I sure as heck don’t want to bring them down on you. I’ll have to think on that one and a tent. Haven’t ever seen a tent donated.”

“Sure,” Ian said, his voice showed more of his disappointment than he’d meant to do. He forced a smile. “Don’t do anything that’ll get you in trouble. Canned foods and blankets will be a big help.”

The Real World

I don’t remember what prompted me to look up walkie-talkies after I wrote the scene, but I did.

The first device to be widely nicknamed a “walkie-talkie” was developed by the US military during World War II, the backpacked Motorola SCR-300.


The first handheld walkie-talkie was the AM SCR-536 transceiver from 1941, also made by Motorola, named the Handie-Talkie (HT). 


After the war, surplus handheld radios made it into the market. The public called them “walkie-talkies.” At least one toy version of the handheld radios first appeared in the 1950s from Remco. Their limited availability, popularity, and particularly their limited range made them not acceptable for use in this story. Gulp. Lesson learned: do your research before writing thousands of words. Or, do as I did, but be prepared to cut your darlings.

The scene was cut. I used surplus Handie-Talkies instead of walkie-talkies.

Shameless Plug

You’ll have to read the book to see how the Handie-Talkie became important in the story. The book is available for preorder on Amazon. You can read an early draft of the beginning of Fellowship or check out the book page. And, if you are a Facebook user, follow my page and search for and join the group “Band of Dystopian Authors and Fans for my launch party. (Date to be announced soon.)

I hope you enjoyed reading this outtake from Fellowship and a lesson learned. Sometimes lessons are expensive. Sometimes they are simply a lesson for this story.

The Beekeeper’s Fear

Written for middle-grade readers, my first book, The Mystery of Apple Crest, takes place on an Apple Orchard. A young girl and her family have moved into her grandfather’s home and learn to manage an Apple Orchard. In the course of writing this book, I learned an important lesson when a beekeeper’s fear stopped me in my tracks.

Photo of an Apple Orchard like the one I write about in the Beekeeper's fear

I wrote this book mumble-mumble years ago. It is a sweet story, not well written, but in my defense, it was my first. Diligent, as always, I researched a lot of stuff. I’d been to orchards too many times to count, I’d even stayed a few nights in my aunt and uncle’s home with its orchard (see More than a Game). But I’d never lived on an orchard. So I visited a local orchard, toured the place, and asked lots of dumb questions.

Bees and Apple Orchards

During the course of the tour, I discovered that this orchard also had rows of beehives. It’s obvious once you think about it, apple trees have blossoms that must be pollinated. Bees are pollinators. In fact, apple orchards depend on honey bees to pollinate the trees. For best results, they need approximately 20-25 bees per tree. It makes sense that apple growers would have as many bees as possible available within the orchard. 

When it came time to actually plot out my story, I decided there would be a rivalry between two orchards. This rivalry would fulminate in particular between the 10-year-old girls who lived there. The heroine had never lived on an orchard before. The villain, a girl who’d grown up on an orchard, feared the techniques and technologies of the newcomers would destroy her family’s livelihood. The big mystery would involve the heroine’s orchard beehives. This meant I needed to know how to sabotage beehives and colonies. Before the internet, one had to go to the public library to research such things.


My public library at that time had lots of information about beekeeping but nothing in the books I researched helped me with ways to sabotage the hives. Serendipity came to play with me. As was my annual habit at the time, I attended the Flower and Garden Show. Lo and behold, the Midwestern Beekeepers Association had a booth. 

Photo of a beekeeper working in a hive like the ones I write about in the Beekeeper's fear

I screwed up my courage and marched up to that booth. Introduced myself as a fiction writer, and explained what I needed. The beekeeper looked at me askance. “Why would anyone murder bees?” He couldn’t tell me how to do that. What if people copied it and killed some real bees? Dumbfounded, I explained this was for a fiction book. No matter how I cajoled, he wouldn’t budge. I did not get any further information from him. 

The Beekeeper’s Fear

Over time, I did find the information I needed. Remembering the beekeeper’s fear, I changed the information to sound accurate but not exact. I finished the novel. It was never published. Someday I may go back and revise it, but not until after I finish current projects. And I have plenty of them.

Bees are vital to so many plants and man has severely damaged bee populations. So it turns out the beekeeper’s fear was valid. No, not from a fear that a child would murder bees, but that someone would harm bees because of personal gains or vendettas. Little if any the harm done to bees in the past couple of hundred years was intentional, but it was real. I learned to respect that bad people can get their ideas from everywhere. And, I learned that where there’s a will, there’s a way—despite a beekeeper’s fear.