The Random Heartless Research List

Posted on: 25th Oct 2016  /   Categorized: Heartless



With just two weeks to go before Heartless  arrives bookstores, I thought I would share a curious little behind-the-scenes look into the creation of a novel.


Namely – the entirely bizarre things that we authors sometimes have to research.


The question comes up all the time when I’m talking about The Lunar Chronicles – “How much did you have to research?”


And the answer is always a predictable – “I have to research everything!


I think it’s expected in a science-fiction book. There’s space travel, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, disease, genetic tampering, and moon colonization, just to name a few of the things I had to learn about in order to make that world and story seem as real as possible.


But it’s less obvious with a fantasy novel, especially one set in a world as quirky and nonsensical as Wonderland. After all, if there was ever a setting in which absolutely anything is possible, this is it. So it might be easy to assume that a fantasy novel like this requires very little research or forethought. Which simply isn’t the case. No matter what world you’re writing in, it’s always going to be important to include details that are accurate or interesting, to help build the authenticity of the book and truly let the reader feel that they’ve been swept up in a brand new world.


So, from the day I started planning this book, I kept a list of every single thing I had to research during the writing of it – partly for my own curiosity, and partly so I could eventually share it with you.


Some things were huge and took a long time to research – such as daily life in 19th-century England. Others were specific and required only a quick glance at Wikipedia, such as the size and weight of the largest pumpkin ever recorded.


And as with any book, much of my research never actually made it into the writing itself (to the point where there are a number of things on this list that I honestly don’t remember looking up and I’m not entirely sure why I was researching them in the first place). But one hopes that every little bit of gathered knowledge will add a tiny bit of depth that will ultimately make for a richer, more magical reading experience.



My Complete and Random List of Heartless Research Topics

Alice in Wonderland & Alice Through the Looking Glass (writing of; word play; Lewis Carroll, etc.)

Poker terms

History of playing cards

One-eyed Jacks and suicide kings

History of lemons

Mock turtle soup

Real turtle soup (recipes, preparation)

Tenniel drawings

Victorian era fashion

Victorian era baking and baked goods

Daily life, customs, traditions – 19th Century England

Unique cobbler recipes

Shoe cobblers

Largest recorded pumpkin

Pumpkin varietals – best for baking

Pumpkin recipes

How to make macarons

The legend of Sleepy Hollow – publication date and other details

Victorian hat styles

Court jesters


Victorian courtship etiquette and rituals

What do flamingos eat

Turtle anatomy

History of chess

Victorian era undergarments

Knave/Jack of Hearts – head wear

Men’s hats of the Renaissance

The history of cheesecake

Traditional Scottish desserts

Vanilla bean cultivation/production

How to make rose water

Poe’s “The Raven”

Victorian toys

History of bicycles

Knock-knock jokes

Card tricks / Magic tricks

Who is Pallas (Raven poem)

History of clowns

Harlequinade theatre

Victorian currency and the cost of clothing


Do turtles sweat?

Calling cards and etiquette

How does it feel to handle a hedgehog

Victorian feasts

What animals eat toads?

Lady’s favours and jousting tournaments

Victorian phrases and slang

shoe polish / blacking

milk glass

rules of croquet; lingo

Can caterpillars taste/how?

Rook v. Crow v. Raven

Animal collective nouns

Tools used for hatting

Chess strategy

Chess rules – pawn promotion / queening

Pieces in a traditional tea set

The history of lemons and adding lemon to tea

“Merry-go-round” usage/etymology

Tradition of placing coins on the eyes of the dead

Various lawn games

The history of the frisbee

How to sharpen an ax



And there you have it. Evidence that, no matter how fantastical the world, a little bit of research can never be entirely avoided.

Luckily, for many of us, getting to read about totally weird stuff is half the fun of this job!


Writers: What are some of the most peculiar things you have ever had to research?


  1. Jadyn Marshall commented on:

    The most peculiar thing I’ve ever researched for a novel: shadow inversions in chain link fences. I’m still not entirely sure why they occur, but I’m not one to pass up a potential plot device!

  2. Heather Lee commented on:

    The most peculiar so far is the research I’m doing for my current NaNoWriMo science fiction novel. I’m interviewing our county coroner and a local mortician to find out not only more about their jobs but how it affects their personal lives. I should be able to get some interesting plot ideas!

  3. Sherry Mindiola commented on:

    The most interesting thing I’ve had to research so far (I’ve only just started writing my book) is music boxes in the 1920s.

  4. Ellie commented on:

    The history of horn-rimmed glasses

  5. Tara Walker commented on:

    Thank you, as always, for sharing a look into the writing process. This is one of the reasons you’re one of my favorite authors!

    I always joke that if the FBI ever looked into my web searches, I’d probably be arrested, especially that time I researched how to make a bomb out of chemicals found in a high school laboratory. I also researched the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, brain cancer treatments, and the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, all for the same novel. Would you ever guess it was a zombie apocalypse story?

  6. Veronika commented on:

    I often research jobs: salary, how to become a xy, average working times etc. because I want to describe them authentically. If there’s a minor character in my story who works for example in a bakery while going to university, I wanna make it realistic.
    And sometimes I research mental diseases. Many of my characters have an illness (since I have some illnesses myself, I like to see how my characters deal with their illnesses besides the main storyline) the



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