Catgut and Other Research (originally published on CandG site 4/10/2011)

Taken at Red Ridge Nursery in Dayton, Oregon

It is amazing how much information I need to write this bit of speculative fiction.  You’d think I can just make shit up.  That’s what authors do, right?  You do if you’re ten years old and don’t care if anyone finds your story believable enough to become wholly engrossed and invested in it.  If I want to speculate on how we will doctor ourselves in the future I will most likely need to know how we do it now and how we did it in the past since those factors are high predictors for what direction it will take in the future.

I’m just preparing to start the third draft tonight.  Actually, I tried to start it over a month and a half ago and floundered.  I needed someone to read the damn book to give me some much needed perspective and I’ve had that blessing now and I know what needs the most work and I’ve written my notes for going forward.  I have now only to put pen to paper and go.  Just start.  It’s really much harder than I imagined it could possibly be.  I’ve written a damn book.

I did that.  This thing I’ve tried to do since I was a kid I’ve finally done.  Big accomplishment!

Now I just have to make it really good.  No pressure, just be sure to put all the commas and colons in the right place and don’t remove bullets that would have exploded into a thousand pieces of shrapnel and destroyed the flesh around it as it did so.

The job now is to make it all come together more smoothly, to leave the reader with just the right amount of questions as they go along and not so many that they get so frustrated they put the book down and never come back.

Before diving in for the second time I figured it was time to clean out my bookmarks tab and share them here so I can make room for more  research about how to have a proper shootout and how to build cob cabins.

My readers each brought up some questions that I think the following links might clarify.  If nothing else, you may want to file this collection of links away for when the apocalypse mows you down because there’s lots of great information here.  With this list you can bury people, fix them, feed them, house them, understand them if they come from Scotland, and take them sport fishing in the Willamette.

Cob Projects Peter builds a cob cabin for five reasons: materials are cheap, readily available, they are environmentally sound, it’s a technology easily learned by the average person, and lastly, he learned to love them because of the incredible long lasting historical cob cottages in Scotland (where he grew up).

The Greenest Dollar: Cob Houses Another site with information on what cob houses are.

Catgut Catgut is not really made from catgut and here seem to be more than one theory on why this natural suturing got its name.  If you don’t have a lot of industrialization going on and not much access to plastics or synthetic materials this will be the suturing most likely available to you.

How Suturing is Made Very interesting to learn all of this.  You think you won’t ever need to know this if you’re not a nurse but what if you couldn’t afford a doctor and had to be prepared to do your own skin stitching?  I had to know a little more about how this stuff is made because I needed to know how people would produce it in a low industrial situation.  Back to catgut people!  (although you can use steel too – ouch!)

How to Pluck a Pheasant Well, I really needed to know how to pluck a grouse but I couldn’t find any super specific information about plucking grouse and I reasonably concluded that most bird feathers are similar enough that plucking any of them is going to be pretty similar.  Hank can email me if I’m wrong.  If anyone knows if this is true, it’s him.  This is one of my favorite food writers of all time.  He eats A LOT of meat and I eat none, yet I have the deepest respect for him.


How to Make Mustard I’m not going to say this answered all of my more pesky mustard making questions but I think nothing will until I’ve done extensive experimentation.  I include this here because although I bookmarked it for my own purposes beyond writing the novel, I needed the process in my mind as so many people will be making their own in future.  This is my unscientific non-clairvoyant prediction.


Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife In writing this book it’s been important to get an idea of what hunting might happen during which season and which kinds of animals and fish people hunt in this area.  This is a good place to start.  I don’t feel it incumbent on me to be an expert but this site has given me a flavor of the local sport.

Assault rifle More gun research.  Damn.  I still have some fresh stuff to research as my favorite gun loving friend has passed along some information I should only apply to the novel if Cricket is REALLY COOL.  I haven’t had time so there will be more.  No, I don’t love guns but if you imagine there’s ever going to be a world without them then you clearly have your head buried at the bottom of a dam.


Hand Load Ammunition I don’t think it’s going to be nearly as cheap or as easy to buy boxes of pre-made ammunition in the future as it is now.  I think gun powder and all the other things needed to shoot guns with the frequency and craziness to which we’ve become accustomed will require that we save as many shells as we can, buy the components separately and then press our own fresh bullets when we need them.  There fore I had to look up how the hell people do this.

How Military Snipers Work This is fucked up shit, if you want to know the truth.  Totally interesting and was useful in mapping out the likelihood of the ambush scene in the book.  How far can people shoot assault rifles from and how the landscape affects your effectiveness.  I find it disturbing that humans train each other to do this stuff.  It’s awe inspiring how destructive we are and how often we actually use this knowledge, skill, and equipment, especially Americans.


Useful Scottish Slang Words Peter and Mairead Winters emmigrated to the Willamette Valley from Scotland.  It is fascinating how slang is different depending on where you are in Scotland.  You don’t think that’s remarkable since slang changes from region to region in the States but you have to understand that Scotland is a SMALL country.  It’s fascinating how slang and accents can change over such short distances.  This is very funny too.  There isn’t a lot of Scottish slang in the book but I refuse to make my Scottish characters speak in a dialect (I dislike it when authors do this) but aside from my not liking dialect in novels it’s not something I am skilled at and it could ruin everything.  I much prefer when authors indicate that a character has an accent and include the kinds of expressions they are most likely to keep in their vernacular on a daily basis the way British people will call the toilet the “loo” even after twenty years in the states.

First Aid: gunshot wounds — look bad or ARE bad? There’s a lot of shooting at one point.  People get shot.  Trying to figure out how to hurt my characters without killing them (oh sure, some get killed off too, but when you want to hurt a character but don’t find it convenient for them to die, it’s useful to know where are the best places to shoot them).  I had more links than this one but didn’t save them so I must have gotten more of what I wanted from this one than from the others.

How to Prepare a Corpse for an At-Home Funeral I feel like I must have included this link in one of the other research posts but I’m too tired to check right now and as a matter of fact I keep trying to get better, more explicit, information on how to do this.  Never seems like enough if you haven’t done this yourself and you suddenly have to prepare a corpse for burial.  Not that I have one I have to bury.  Nothing in my basement, I promise.

When Someone Dies More.  Just more.  Well, what if you have to do this some day?  Still, where’s all the information on how to close the eyes, clean it up, dress it, anything special one should do with a body.  Don’t tell me there aren’t ways and ways that humans developed long  before we embalmed.  Seriously, it used to be family members who did it.  What was important?  I did read an ACTUAL book of a woman’s account of coming over the Oregon trail and settling in the Willamette Valley.  Lots of cleaning dead bodies up and burying them.  No REAL details though.  No manual for how to do it all.  I’m perfectly aware that one can just throw a body on a pyre or toss them into a pit but I want to know what reverent people did for their dead from the moment the dead died to when they were buried.  This part of the world is precious short of this useful and important information.  There should be a manual available.  A DIY manual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.