Gastric Sleeve: One Year Reflection (well, close enough)

Image courtesy of nashvilleweightloss.com

May 14, 2019 was the day I had my Gastric Sleeve Surgery. This was performed at Good Shepherd Hospital by Dr. C (who is awesome). Like many people who struggle with their weight, this was not an easy decision. Like I had mentioned in my previous blog post (New Year: Who Dis), I researched and really looked into what any weight loss surgery would entail. My mother, years earlier, had lap-band done (different doctor from mine). And while, at first, it seemed to be working (as in, she lost weight), too many issues started coming up and she easily regained the weight (plus more) not to mention having terrible heartburn and other issues (such as vomiting on an empty stomach-Dr C. removed her lap-band this year). Lap-band was and still is touted as an acceptable weight loss surgery. There are still doctors who are willing to perform it and places that still consider it as being viable.

Lap band

Image courtesy of Tijuana Baritrics

The pitfalls, however, are that lap-band has a high failure rate. According to NCBI, the failure rate is 13.2% at 18 months. That percentage goes up dramatically as time from when it was put in continue (to a whopping almost 40% at 7 years). Gastric Sleeve (and Bypass) have a failure rate of less than 5% at 2 years, with 16% at 7 years. Now, like I had mentioned in a previous blog, “failures” for Gastric Sleeve range from gaining 15 pounds to having a baby. Yes, a woman getting pregnant after having this surgery is considered a “failure” by every study that I have been able to come across and read, which I find ironic and very misogynistic considering that fertility issues (including PCOS) are considered acceptable reasons for having these surgeries. And anyone who has seen a pregnant lady can attest that most women gain at least 15 pounds, if not more, during a normal pregnancy. I feel that pregnancy after surgery should be seen as a success, not a failure. Also, gaining muscle mass (muscle weights more than fat), is also a failure. We really should, as a society, rethink the whole BMI chart as it doesn’t take into consideration body structure. The Perelman School of Medicine (University of Pennsylvania) stated in an article from 2013, that the BMI is inaccurate because it doesn’t take into consideration body mass, body shapes, bone density, overall body composition, and the basic differences between the sexes as one chart is used for both sexes, meaning that the height and weight for a petite white female will not work for a petite white male.

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So, what does this mean? Well, any good doctor will use is as a guideline, not as absolute truth (as in you MUST weight this amount). Especially when one keeps in mind the BMI chart (yes, the standard one) was invented/complied in the 1830s. Diets (as in what we eat), activity, and also heights of people have drastically changed in the nearly 200 years since it was created. There are variations of it, tailored for men, women, and children, but the basic data used still stems from this initial chart from the 1830s. See why so many of us get frustrated by this chart? Now, in all honesty, at 330 pounds and being 5’8″, I was obese. I was extremely obese. I knew it at the time and I accept this fact. But I do find it laughable that according to the chart, a healthy weight for me would be between 120 and 150 pounds. Based on my bone structure, and very wide hips, that weight range would make me look sickly. Not to mention that I would be, in Dr. C’s opinion, underweight and unhealthy. Now, my goal weight is between 165-180 (I’m shooting for about 170-175). The chart states that this weight range makes me overweight. Now, keep in mind that insurance companies still adhere to this chart and they also compile statistics for those percentages when it comes to failure and success rates of surgeries. So, I would be considered a “failure”, yet my doctor would consider me a success (FYI, he currently hails me as a success because losing over 50 pounds in the first year is a success in his eyes). So, that’s where I do take any failure rate with a slight grain of salt. Now, lap-band does have a high failure rate only in that there are so many health issues which arise with it. These range from the basic improvement of the person’s health (i.e., losing weight) to increase of heartburn symptoms and even a twisted band (yes, those things can twist and shift about in there). This doesn’t mean every lap-band surgery is going to fail nor do I believe every single one will fail. My personal opinion, based on seeing how it affected my mother and from research, the cons (such as increased heartburn, vomiting on empty stomachs, etc) outweighs the pros (weight loss). To me, this made lap-band surgery a non-viable option (and one my surgeon doesn’t do nor recommend because of these issues).

Now, Gastric Sleeve & Bypass have both fans and haters too. There are people who have written about the failure of their surgery and why they regret it. And I get it. This is not an easy decision to make and it’s not easy changing how you not only look at food, but how you eat and cook. And I do not want anyone to think I am bashing or poking fun at those who do regret this. I feel for them and I wish they had the support I have been lucky (and I feel very lucky) to have had in terms of research and making this decision. I only want to point out a few alarming issues some of these people have in common so those who read this and have questions, can be better informed. One such trend is the belief their life is going to drastically change like some pseudo Hollywood film makoever.

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Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries

The sad reality is that most of these miraculous Hollywood film makeovers are simply excellent makeup and costume designers who can transform a relatively attractive person (usually white and female) into being slightly to overly unattractive, in order to have a “makeover” in the film and be revealed as drop dead gorgeous. That’s not real life and while I enjoyed The Princess Diaries, I did cringe at the obvious ugly ducking to swan troupe being used. This troupe is overused and harmful to our Social Psyche. Another trend is the need to rush into having this surgery by flying abroad (generally Mexico) and having it performed there due to cost. The average cost of Gastric Sleeve & Bypass is $23-30K, Lap-Bands average around $14-16K. Compare this with the low (incredibly low) cost of $3-6K for Sleeve or Bypass and $2K or less for Lap-Band. Some sites state they can perform surgery (after receiving payment) anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. So, if one is desperate and feeling like they HAVE to do this, waiting a month does seem like a better option than waiting 6 months to a year. I get it too because once I made the decision to go an speak to a surgeon, I really couldn’t wait to have the surgery. Yet I am so glad I was forced to wait. And I waited abut 2 months more than I should have due to a hold up (waiting on the psychiatric letter took 2 months longer than expected). Yet I don’t regret this whatsoever. I researched for at least 3 months BEFORE going to see Dr. C and continued to research after meeting him. I have two binders full of information (one was given to me by the surgeon, the other I started and is full of recipes and meal ideas, plus any information I deemed important to have on hand this way). So, while I was more prepared than most, I still wasn’t fully prepared.

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So, why Mexico? The main factor is probably based on finances. The low cost of surgery in Mexico is meant to draw in people who are desperate to lose weight. And unlike the standards set by insurance companies here in the US, Canada, and Europe, Mexican Bariatric centers will take anyone-including those who wouldn’t qualify under insurance guidelines. What? Yes, anyone. There are stories and photos of men and women who underwent surgery to lose as little as 20 pounds with no underlying medical problem. People who wouldn’t qualify because they didn’t have any of the main health issues which would deem such a surgery as being medically necessary. These factors (and this is not a definitive list, but the general accepted ones) are Diabetes (Type 1 & 2 though there seems to be more Type 2 who undergo it than Type 1), PCOS, High-Blood Pressure, Sleep Apnea, Asthma/COPD, Acid Reflux Disease, limited mobility issues, and other Endocrine related diseases. This is by no means all the health factors by which insurance companies will approve of such a surgery, but these are the basic ones that tend to help build a case for surgery. Which makes it excessively frustrating when people are choosing to undergo surgeries (most seem to get lap-band or sleeve in Mexico) to loose 20 pounds or less. Listen, these surgeries are not meant for those who just want to shed a few pounds. It shouldn’t be seen as a “quick fix” nor an inexpensive option to constantly yo-yo dieting. These surgeries are meant to help those of us who cannot (and I cannot stress this enough) lose weight through diet and exercise alone. 

Do Different People Really Need Radically Different Diets?

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I’ve been on a diet practically all of my life. I recall at the age of 8 or 9 a doctor recommending my mom start me on a diet as I was a bit too chunky for my age and height (thanks to that blasted BMI chart). I have been involved with Weight Watchers at least 3 times in my life, Jenny Craig, Overeaters Anonymous, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Alli (those pills you can by OTC), Slim Fast, Nutrisystem, HMR, Sensa, Mediterrean Diet just to name a few. I have had doctors lecture me about my weight. I have had nutritionists lecture me about not eating well. I could not lose it by normal means. This doesn’t mean those programs, diets, etc don’t work because I know people who are very successful on WW, and I know people who are doing well on Noom. There are people who do well on Keto and others who have been successful using Jenny Craig. The simple truth is not one plan will work with everyone and not everyone can lose weight by traditional means. We are all individuals and are all diverse. And that should be OK. As a society, we need to accept that there are other factors which lead to obesity and not just eating too many calories. 

So, yes, I do have an issue with those who seek out surgery because they think this is a quick fix and an easy way of shedding a few pounds. I take a modicum of malicious glee in how many of them regret undergoing the surgery in as little as a few hours post-op. Now, having one’s stomach butchered, not stitched correctly, and other glaringly obvious bad surgical errors (due to the rapid turn around in Mexico as they are in the business to make money, not provide healthcare) are issues which enrage me as no one should have to endure botched up surgeries. That, sadly, is a case of getting what you paid for. Surgeons in Mexico do not have to undergo the strict training (and ongoing training) that exists elsewhere. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t reputable Bariatric surgeons in Mexico. There are people, with the underlying medical conditions, who go to Mexico and have decent outcomes. It’s a case of not knowing who is going to be reputable and who isn’t. This is why I do think, until stricter standards are installed in places like Mexico, one should look for a good surgeon that is covered by their insurance. And in case people comment on here that this doesn’t help those on Medicaid and Medicare, I regret to inform you that both Medicaid and Medicare do cover this surgery as well. They use standard guidelines as to what medical conditions would qualify and go from there. 

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For those who do have medial issues, one alarming reason they flock to Mexico is they don’t want to follow the insurance (and surgeon’s) prerequisites for having the surgery. Like any basic College course, one cannot sign up for English 201 if one hasn’t had the 101 course. Think of these requirements as building groundwork. One such requirement before approving the surgery, which seems to be prevalent, is being enrolled for a minimum 6 months of physician guided diet & nutrition program. Basically, you see a nutritionist affiliated with the program or hospital every month for six months-a whopping total of 6 visits minimum. And most doctors (Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life, for a prime example), will expect a certain amount of weight to be lost prior to getting approval. It seems cruel but there is reason for this: they want to see if you can follow directions. Many people struggle with following basic rules.Now, I have been fairly good before and currently, but I do screw up.

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One such rule I had was no soda (pop depending on the region of the US). I had my last Coke Zero in October 2018. I have not had any since. Now, if I let one go flat, I probably could tolerate it. I have bought these packets (sugar free of course) which promise to mimic the taste of soda (Root Beer, Cherry Cola) when added to water. Instead, I added the root beer (along with some root beer extract-yes, it exists) to a vanilla protein shake (and ice). It isn’t exactly like a root beer float, but it tastes similar and it satisfies that particular craving. Now, if Vernor’s could come out with a similar powder, I would be most happy (the mark of a true Michigander is whether or not you can tolerate Vernor’s Ginger Ale). 

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 I had been seeing a nutritionist for Diabetes previously and had this requirement done (in a year, I had gone from 330+ to around 300, which helped prove to the insurance company that I could adhere to a plan and was willing to change to improve my health). I was lucky that I had this recent medical history already in place. At the same time, my A1C numbers kept going up, and medication was changed from Metformin (which made me sick to my stomach the entire time I was on it, which was years) to insulin and Victozia. No lying, but the thought of daily injections scared me until I did it for a few times and felt better. While I was feeling better, I grew increasingly frustrated as the insulin went from 15 to 30 to 60 to 80 units in the span of a year. While a side effect of insulin is weight gain (and weight loss with Metformin), the opposite actually occurred in my case. My weight went down as I grew to be more active and eat a healthier diet. Yet instead of the weight loss improving the A1C, it kept getting worse. I am one of those rare people that cannot tolerate Metformin, can tolerate insulin and yet be insulin resistant at the same time (insulin resistance means you require more and more insulin to keep blood sugars in check). 

Causes of Diabetes - What Causes Diabetes?

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So yes, I really did need this surgery.  I didn’t want to keep having to increase the insulin in order to keep it under control. My greatest fear was having to take 100s of units a day to stay alive. A unit is the standard way of measuring insulin and I have not found any information that this is referred to as anything else. The average insulin pen (regardless of kind) holds 300 units. I don’t know how much a vial holds, but I suspect it’s a similar amount. Yet this is a digression of the tale. I was on 80 units at the time of surgery (along with 1.8 units/dosage of Victozia), which means I needed 3 insulin pens a week. And yes, it was frightening to be on such a high dose. But, within 2-3 months of having the surgery, I was off of insulin completely. My last A1C was at 5.9 (it was 10.3 before surgery).  I currently am only on the 1.8 dosage of Victozia and I am hoping that will lessen with time. Even if I am ever completely off medication for Diabetes, I will always have to check my blood sugars, have my A1C checked, and be careful of what I eat for the rest of my life. And you know what, I don’t mind a bit.

APOD: 2018 October 2 - Supernumerary Rainbows over New Jersey

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This surgery has given me a new lease on life. I can easily keep up with a rambunctious not yet three year old niece and will be able to keep up with her forthcoming sibling. I enjoy exercising at the gym (sadly, on hold due to COVID). I enjoy shopping for clothes for myself, a task I used to dread. I still enjoy food. God knows I still love to eat. Food is something we cannot ever stop needing, which makes obesity harder to deal with than drug addiction. One can avoid drugs and alcohol, but one can not avoid food. But know I really, and I do mean really, take a closer look at the nutritional label. Things I used to eat and thought were healthy turned out to be as unhealthy (if not more so) than things we all consider to be bad for us. Talenti Sorbet, for example, should be healthy. After all, it’s fruit that’s been blended, perhaps with some juice, and frozen. Talenti also adds over 30 grams of additional sugar. Eating Ben & Jerry’s is healthier in this instance because B&J has actual protein in it. And that’s scary, sad, and incredibly eye opening. So not only do I have to make sure I eat more protein and less carbs (basically I eat a low carb-high protein diet that is similar to KETO, but not quite), I have to look at the amount of sugar that’s included, trying to avoid harmful fake sugars (laxative effect), but also try to have a balance that includes fruit, vegetables, dairy, etc. Do I always succeed? Some days I do really well and others not so well. There are products some patients love that I cannot tolerate (taste, etc), and some that I enjoy and others don’t. And this is perfectly normal. Even though I know people who have had the same surgery, or similar, to mine, we are all still individuals with different tastes. 

The point of sharing all this is very, very simple. People, even people who have known me and my struggle to lose weight for years, think having Bariatric Surgery is a quick fx and an easy out. There are people, high profile too, who blast those of us who have undergone such a procedure. This is wrong. Bariatric Surgery isn’t like having an elective plastic surgery to do a face lift. One, for the most part, can live with having wrinkles and laugh lines. Such things do not, and I mean this wholeheartedly, DO NOT improve anything other than one’s ego and vanity. I’m not talking about plastic surgery that has to be done for medical reasons (because that does exist and valid medical reasons are VALID for a reason). Weight loss surgery is done because it improves the life of the patient who will otherwise suffer ongoing and worsening medical issues. This is a surgery which is done to save lives because it does.

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Without this surgery, I knew I would probably not live past 50 without having issues such as blindness, limb amputation, etc. Now, I feel like I can live to be 100. I am happy. My depression is better. My anxiety is better. I no longer have to take medication in order to sleep because of my anxiety. I don’t have to take medication to help the depression medication work better. I’ve gone from 3 pills for Depression to 1. Two medications for Diabetes to one. I used to take 10 prescriptions a day. Now, I take half that. I used to go through a rescue inhaler a month (at the bare minimum). I haven’t had to refill my rescue inhaler in 7 months. I still have it and carry it. But now I don’t feel chained to my asthma. So, if you are considering having this done, talk to a doctor. Reach out to the various support groups that are out there. Research, research, research. If you decide to go for it, I am happy for you. If you find you cannot, but want to try a different program to lose weight, I am happy for you. No matter what, I am happy for you because you are the one making the decision. I only want to share my experience and my reasoning. If this ends up helping one person, then I am glad.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16839478

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265215

https://www.businessinsider.com/bmi-is-bogus-best-way-to-tell-if-youre-a-healthy-weight-2016-9

https://www.bariatricpal.com/topic/346977-why-getting-sleeved-was-the-biggest-mistake-of-my-life/

https://www.obesityhelp.com/forums/amos/5250564/Gastric-sleeve-biggest-mistake-of-my-life/

https://www.gastricsleeve.com/forum/showthread.php?t=52900

https://www.abc15.com/news/region-phoenix-metro/central-phoenix/weight-loss-surgery-in-mexico-might-not-be-as-safe-as-advertisede

Revisionist History Part 3

This part is going to focus on how people use revisionist history in books and politics, because it’s important to learn how easily facts are skewed, twisted, and manipulated nowadays.

David Alan Stuckman (Wikipedia)

David Alan Stuckman is a former Congressman who worked under Regan and has gone on to write several revisionist books on Capitalism and their history (mostly touting how Democrats have failed and how Republicans can save it). He was quoted in the Atlantic Monthly in the December 1981 issue as saying the “[Reagan’s 1981 Tax Cut] was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate…it’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down’.” He later on published a book titled The Triumph of Politics blaming Republicans for not willing to reduce spending on top of cutting taxes for the wealthy which led to the large deficit. Stuckman seems to be unwilling to see that “trickle down” economics does not work and will never work and yet has written four books praising it (his last book published in 2019 is all about trashing Trump). His primary book that is seen as wholly revisionist history (and is labeled as such by WorldCat) is The Great Deformation. While he seems to have good insight as to the workings of economics, Stuckman also tends to have a revisionist view of how to fix things, so reader beware.

 

Courtesy of Risen Magazine

Dinesh D’Szousa is a frequent guest on Fox News and has long been a student of Revisionist History. He does have a BA from Dartmouth, where he wrote for an independent student run newspaper The Dartmouth Review and outed several homosexual classmates. He ended up as an advisor to President Ronald Regan. In 1995, he published a book called The End of Racism stating that Slave Owners were painted unfairly and treated slaves really well. He followed this up in 2002’s book What’s So Great About America stating that colonialism helped lift third world countries up to Western standards of living (in Chapter 2). 2007’s The Enemy at Home had the premise that Muslims don’t hate America, just hate America’s sexuality, completely ignoring the issue of Wahhabism and the Saudi Arabia connection to 9/11. He then did a book and film with the same title, Obama’s Rage with no need to explain what it was about. He then did another book and film combination, America: Imagine the World Without Her in 2014. He was then convicted of one felony of misappropriating campaign funds, plead guilty, and sentenced to five years probation (of which he states was an Obama conspiracy). While on probation, he did another book & film combination called Hillary’s America, a hit piece connection her to Slavery, and, therefore, evil. It was just a bunch of thinly connected conspiracies which he touted as truth. Dinesh then rehashed the whole thing in 2018 with Death of a Nation, again trying to connect Andrew Jackson and the Democrats with Slavery, the KKK, and Nazis. Nothing this man writes, says, or does holds any weight historically or logically. Yet anytime he is confronted with the truth, he demands to be debated on stage. Many historians, including myself, have offered to do so. He has yet to take any of us up on this offer. Do not waste your time nor money watching his films nor on his books. If you want to read them, try the library. YouTube has clips of the films. They are laughable as they are disgusting. I cannot handle more than 10 minutes of them before my blood pressure goes up. Truly disgusting. D’Szousa has done more harm with his lies than any other public figure than I know of because so many people have been reached with his presence on Fox News and have seen his films. This is dangerous because they perceive his statements as facts, not lies. It’s an erosion of history happening in real time.

 

Robin Hanson (Wikipedia)

Robin Hanson is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, which was once part of University of Virginia, until it became independent in 1972. Recently, on Twitter, Mr. Hanson has decided that there were Slaves who volunteered to be Slaves and enjoyed their imprisonment because they chose to enjoy their time this way. He routinely brought up Sally Hemmings, who at the age of 14 was raped by Thomas Jefferson, who was 3 times her age, then was 15 when he brought her to France. In France, she was technically a free person of color. But, Mr. Hanson has stated she willingly remained a Slave and returned to America. Let me help with this one here Robin. She was 15, pregnant, in a country where she didn’t speak the language and probably didn’t know that the laws in this country meant she was now a free person of colour. She left with Jefferson because she didn’t know she had another option. She was his property and was not given a choice. Robin is a blockhead for thinking Sally willingly, at the age of 15, chose to be a slave. He gave the reason that she wanted to be with her mother, who was at the Jefferson plantation and chided Sally for her foolishness. Yes, what child would want to remain with their mother when they are scared and pregnant at such a young age? I cannot believe this person is still employed by GMU and cannot believe he is a research fellow at Oxford University. He should be removed from both positions post haste.

 

Avital Ronell (Northwestern.edu)

Avital Ronell gets a mention here only because she is such a problematic figure in Academia. Most Academia Feminists flock to her and protect her, yet she is not a Feminist. I repeat, she is not a Feminist in any sense of the word. She does nothing to promote other women or other under-represented people forward. She has often been cited for being unusually cruel to her graduate assistants and recently had to pay for sexually abusing and harassing one for years. Her books are often unreadable to the point of being gibberish. Parts of her books that are readable seems to read more like essays written by her grad students than by her which makes me wonder if they are the works of her assistants over the years and she’s been taken credit for it and making money off of it. It’s  not really revisionist per se, only she it is dangerous to assume everyone in Academia is honest and forthcoming. Not everyone is nice. This is a gentle remainder of that.

 

The point of this three part posting was this: vet your sources carefully when researching historical or even modern day issues. The Internet is a terrific resource and it’s amazing how much information is at our fingertips! But the downside is there is a lot of misinformation out there too. Even at the library, there are books, which I know, we think we can trust because they’ve been edited, published, and therefore have been vetted to a certain amount, but that’s not always the case anymore. Publishing crackpot conspiracy theories is a big business nowadays and there are many books and independent films being touted as historical proof of things when they aren’t. Take the History Channel, for example. When it first came out, it had wonderful programing on all sorts of subjects and looked into all kinds of historical eras. Now, it’s mainly aliens, Bigfoot and WW2 if we’re lucky. WW2 is the only thing on there keeping it history relevant at this point, and that’s extremely frustrating as it’s also sad.

Character Cheatsheets

Someone sent a comment that I had all ready done a posting about character tearsheets and cheatsheets earlier. One, yes thank you for pointing that out. I am fully aware that I did a brief blog post on these subject earlier. Two, that post was very brief and not very informative,  but was me giving insight as to how I created characters and I didn’t devote as much time to explaining myself as I was currently writing and editing my novel at the same time. And for anyone wondering, no I did not allow the comment to be posted as there was some foul language and for everyone’s sake, I have the right to refuse to publish such things.

As the last blog post went in depth to discuss how to do character tearsheets and why a writer may find them helpful, I thought it would be as useful to discuss the concept of a cheatsheet. Now, this name is a misnomer because it’s not really a cheatsheet per se. On my computer, I call them Character Charts and they also exist in the novel notebook I have (for each novel) as the same thing. I refer to them as cheatsheets because having the information available to me on the laptop makes it easy for me when editing or writing instead of having to stop and rifle through the notebook to the appropriate page.  Also, I tended to add information when typing it out that is not available in the notebook of information that I decided was more relevant to the telling of the character in terms of dialogue or characterization (physical tells, etc).

From Pinterest; yes it’s for a different genre,  but look at some of the questions each section is asking here. Some of these may end up on your character cheatsheet.

character creation sheet - Google Search

From Pinterest (daddilifeforce.com); this is the basic form I used when developing my own character chart. I didn’t use all of these questions, but many of these were useful in developing my own questions I wanted to answer.

Both of the above charts were very useful to me when coming up with my own version of a character chart. I primarily used the bottom one, but I do think the top one has good references to Religion and Psychology that I did use. I changed Race to Race/Ethnicity for my own purposes and I included a View on Self for each character because a someone who’s evil doesn’t see themselves as evil and someone who’s strong may think they are weak in a certain way. Almost like an insight into their own personal view of a flaw (for me). I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way or doing these and it should be personalized to a writer’s style. I did 24 of these for my novel, each one being a word document. There is a 25th one of miscellaneous characters of just people like servants, people mentioned but never seen in the novel and I have listed stripped down, basic information: Name (and any meaning if there is any), Age, Occupation, Looks, Personality, Family. Looks would include Race/Ethnicity. There are 5 people listed on that one document (technically, 4 people and 1 Lawyer firm, but you get the general idea).

Image result for The Hero's Journey blank

From Pinterest; this chart actually reminded me of something one might do for a Character role on Stage or for a Costume Design. Yet it’s a chart and it may be a form that works for you.

My mother said this above form looks like a government issued Tax form, which I have to giggle and state it kind of does. The purpose of these is for you to understand your character. It sounds simple, but it’s deceptive and difficult. You have to know your character inside and out. You have to know them intimately, from their most sacred thoughts, to passing fancies, to even smells or foods they can’t stand. You have to know them so well that if a fan asks you a question, you can answer-or not and allow them to figure it out themselves. After all, sometimes too much information can kill one’s love of the world that was created (Rowling, I am talking about you). The best advice I ever read was to think about this as an interview. You are conducting an interview of your character and are trying to get as much information as possible. You may start off with the basics and over time, as the story develops, you will find out more. Hopefully, you will remember to update the chart when that happens so you don’t forget.

This set includes a Character Feelings/Character Traits anchor chart and 2 different graphic organizers. The Character Feelings graphic organizer allows students to track a character's changing feelings through the beginning, middle, and end of a story. The Character Traits graphic organizer gives students a tool to identify and record a character's personality traits and evidence for those traits.

From tearchersherpa.com; while this is geared towards school children, this wouldn’t be a bad way of brainstorming for a writer. I used this same form for one of my characters and it helped.

As you can see from the above example, not all charts are word heavy. And if you are just trying to get a feel for a character, I really think the above chart would be a good place to start. Most writers that I have spoken to and have read about have all agreed that you do need some way of keeping track of your characters. Charts are one way of doing this. Now, if you decide to just print out pages and fill them in, then getting a binder or having a folder is going to be your way of keeping track of the information. OIf you want a way of somehow putting it on the computer (so you have adigital copy), I think scanning them as individual PDFs would be the way to go to ensure you have a digital set with you, and a physical set as backup. Yes, I may be a little crazy of having 2 versions (hand written then type written), but I like having two copies. I can take the handwritten notebook with me when I print out my novel at FedEx and begin to edit and revise it without having to turn on the laptop. I also make sure to have my research notebooks on hand as well so I can fact check and verify any and all dates that I put in it because we all make typing errors. It’s maddening, but a fact of our profession. And I’ve learned, through trial and error, that even reading it doesn’t always catch the errors. I’ve gone really old school and read it aloud. Sometimes what looks fine on paper sounds really odd out loud. Sounds crazy but it works. Also really a good idea for working dialogue.

It is the opposite for me, this is where the love of my life found me

Pinterest

Basically, find a method that works for you. Use Pinterest, use Google. Look at all the options that are out there. Pick and chose from them to create your own chart. Because what works for one novel or even more than one isn’t always going to work for all of them. That’s the beauty of creating your own version. Because you have tailored it to fit your needs, you can easily continue to tailor fit it for your projects! Never let an author or even an agent tell you that you are doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to do this. There is YOUR way and THEIR way. YOUR way is always the best.

Presenting “Austen Spoilers” Cartoon by John Atkinson

Character Tearsheets: An Introduction

Character tearsheets are something that is common in the Theatre (possibly Film and television) world for Designers. Particularly Costume Designers, though I am certain Hair & Makeup Designers use them as well (in Theatre, Hair & Makeup tend to fall under the domain of the Costume Designer while in Film and Television, that’s an entirely different department). The easiest way of explaining it is a typical tearsheet is a word document (or similar program) of one page where you have pictures/images of a character for design purposes. It’s a way of visually assisting you in coming up with a design for a show. Sort of like a quick visual scan. Most costume students end up doing this in programs as we generally don’t have time to render (fancy term meaning draw and paint/maker/etc) in the short amount of time we are given for the assignment. Sometimes we are given mere days, so doing tearsheets is a quick way of designing a show for an assignment.

An example of a grad student’s tearsheet for Midsummer Night’s Dream on their online portfolio (courtesy of Kristalduke.com)

What you can see from the above example, is the “actor” she has chosen for the role. The jacket style she is considering and possible colors. I also see pants, vests, shoes with spats, a top hat, a cane (in one image, but that just me coincidence), and a fob watch. So, one gets the general idea of where she is going with that design. And you may be wondering, how does this relate to writing?

A writer’s board (courtesy of screencraft.org)

Places like Screencraft and other writer’s resources always recommend a corkbaord or whiteboard to jot down ideas and help build your novel or screen play, etc. And if that works for you, fantastic! My mind doesn’t work that way. Maybe because I come from an English & Theatre background that’s more academic or because I’ve never found those tools helpful other than posting notices, who knows. All I know is I grew frustrated trying those routes in trying to organize my novel and my thoughts because it didn’t work for me. So I turned to ways that I knew worked and they helped me a lot, so I hope that somewhere, they may help someone else. Instead of designing a character for a show, I used a word document (some ran to two pages instead of one) to help me visualize each of the main characters and a few of the secondary ones as well. I pulled images such as celebrities that I thought had the color hair that I liked. Period portraits that showed the outfits or poses I thought fit that character. To putting images of books they read, furniture they used. Even they’re favorite kind of tea or flowers. Anything and everything that would help me “see” that character and create them (especially their moods, and dialogue) in the novel. And I did make notes on the sheets, especially if I couldn’t recall why I picked an image. For instance, I used an image of Cary Grant and specifically chose it because I loved the smile in it. That smile, to me, was the smile I saw my character having. So I made a note of it on the tearsheet that said “Cary Grant Smile.”

This is the picture of Cary Grant smiling that I liked. (Getty Images)

It doesn’t have to be that complicated and it doesn’t have to have a lot of images. If there’s a landscape of a picture of a tree that to you, screams a certain character, put it on your sheet. Something about it is speaking to you, so use it. And if it’s a certain color (like a paint swatch or just the color of a jacket), then yes, make a note that it’s that color you are associating with that character. It could inspire a scene in the novel, you never know. This doesn’t have to be a hard process or a long one. I only have tearsheets for 8 characters for my first novel and I have more than 8 characters. I really only focused on the main ones and the ones I was struggling with in terms of trying to write dialogue for (they were secondary ones). Most don’t get this kind of attention so don’t feel you have to do one for each and every single character. If you have 4 main characters, do one for each of them. Then if you find you are struggling later one for one or two others, then go back and do a tearsheet for each of those characters. I found it really helped me focus on those problem characters and scenes that I struggled with because it helped me focus.

Lyme Cobb (antonyspencer.com)

Another use for them that I did that I had never done before was use them for images of places that the characters travel to. Of course, if it’s a fantasy world, that may be difficult, but if you know the world contains mountains, why not have a tearsheet of different mountain ranges for inspiration? How about different sunsets or forests? Or carriages or carts if that’s how they are traveling? It does help you focus on your novel because it’s a great little visual aide in narrowing down all those images you may have been collecting on Pinterest. And I even have a tearsheet for a cat because it’s a character in the novel. Grey cats are not all the same I will state in my defense and grey kittens in particular vary. Will nay of this information make it’s way into the novel? No. But it’s good to have it available in case anyone who ends up reading the book asks. think of it as your own personal background information that you can share or not with your fans in the future. And hopefully, you will share.

1995’s Persuasion at Lyme (janeausten.co.uk)

I hope this has been insightful, helpful, but most of all, inspirational. I want people to learn from my mistakes (as in listening to experts who say to only do things a certain way) and realize that there are many ways to go about the writing process. I’ve found a method that works for me. And it works well because it’s familiar, it’s easy, and it’s simple to do. Will it work for everyone? No and I don’t expect it to. But is it something I hope people will try? Yes, I do hope those of you who are writing will try this method and see if it’s helpful for you. And I hope it is. There is no right or wrong way here. We are all learning together.

How to Research (Part 2)

Let’s talk about the least favorite subject of mine: organization. First, I must admit that I am not the most organized person int the world. My bedroom routinely mimic the after effects of WWIII meets a tornado mixed in with an Earthquake on a good day. Yet I like to keep my books, records (yes, VINYL people), CDs, comic books, and art supplies organized (apparently because that it important to me). I try and keep the sewing and crochet/knitting stuff organized too. But I am trying to be better in all things organized. No one is perfect.

One thing I am notorious for, and very skilled at, is organizing my computer files. I have a mega file on my portable HD called Costume History with I believe a hundred files inside of it with names like 1600-1700, 1800-1900, etc. Then each file, when you open it, is broken down into subsections like Court Dress, Shoes, portraits, etc. It’s why I was always told I excelled at Costume research at both graduate schools I attended. I started this mega database during my undergrad days and was just saving images from places like JSTOR. Now, that’s all and good, but I have no idea where I got the images from because all I have are the images and no way of verifying that they are authentic. So, it’s a reason why I abandoned the project some time during my second graduate school and turned to Pinterest (I believe if you search for Sabaah Jauhar-Rizvi in Pinterest, you will find me).

An example of Pinterest Boards

So, basically I’ve sort of replicated my portable HD in Pinterest, but in a different way. I cannot have a massive board called Costume History with sub folders upon subfolders. Instead, I have boards like Costume History: 2000s, with a subheading that is for the years 2000-2009, and folders inside have labels such as Trends, Gucci, Miu Miu, etc. Now, I don’t have everything under the sun, but enough to have a basic selection in case I ever design a show based in that time period or someone who follows me needs reference pictures from that time period. Most likely, a theatre friend needs help researching and I send them a link to their heart’s content (it’s what I do and I enjoy doing it because I like knowing that I helped someone).

I found this on Pinterest!

While Pinterest is great, and it is especially to help organize things like potential images for character references, tips for writing, prompts, research images, etc, it’s also a den of misinformation. This brings us to vetting information. or verifying if the information you are taking in is truthful and accurate. The great thing about the Internet is everything is accessible. The terrible thing about the Internet is there’s a ton of misinformation out there that it can be scary to navigate. You really can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, is a decent resource BUT keep in mind they have volunteers correcting the pages.  I myself have tried to go and correct pages, with book and scholarly journal citations, only to have them rejected as not being true (even though they were true), which was extremely frustrating. Also, how they modify pages is very confusing is you are not a computer programmer (it’s not user friendly to those of us who are not technologically inclined is what I am saying).

So, what is a writer, or anyone trying to do any kind of research to do? Thankfully there are these great places called Museums that have exhibits available on-line. While not the same as going there in person, having access to images and artifacts that are kept in the archives available on-line is a terrific things. Take, for example, Brazil’s National Museum. It tragically burned down in 2018 and so much was destroyed and lost. Thankfully, Google did a virtual tour and those artifacts are now preserved digitally as well as people submitting videos and photographs to Brazil in order to preserve what was once a beautiful museum. So there is hope that one day there will be a digital version of the original National Museum for all to visit.

One of the exhibits at Brazil’s National Museum that was destroyed. Courtesy of thisiscolossal.com

Luckily, Museums don’t often get destroyed (though we are all still reeling from the loss of Notre Dame). Museum websites and heritage websites are some of the best resources for finding all sorts of information. Portraits, extant clothing (clothing from that time period), furniture, jewelry, even samples of preserved food sometimes makes an appearance in a museum. Heritage sites will showcase how reactors (or historians) explain how people lived, sometimes setting tables or bedrooms up in period correct ways, which is really nice to see as the earliest photograph wasn’t taken until 1826 or 1827 (the date is up for debate). I also like heritage sites because they will show the places people don’t necessarily ever talk about in history books, such as the outhouses, the ice house, where laundry was done. The places you’d think people would want to know about, but are rarely ever seen in any historical film, which is why we never think people had toliets back in Ancient Rome.

Public Toilets in Ancient Rome.Yes, they did exist. Hollywood lies. HBO lies. Courtesy of Science Magazine

So, an example of a site you can’t trust is one that is telling you that everything that is well documented is a lie. One that is stating that every known image, known portrait, known account is a lie and only they know the truth. In layman’s terms, this is known as fake history. In scholarly terms, we call it revisionist history.

Original picture of King George III of Great Britain, he was not an Albino (European) he was a Moor (so-called black). Here is the mailing address authentication of this depiction. Write to "Science Museum of London Exhibition Rd London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom.

So, let’s test your critical thinking skills here. Take this image I’ve posted above. It’s from the website momoafrica.com and has been shared on other websites including Pinterest. People are posting this as FACT. Now, IF you know basis English history, you will nkow that King George III (also known as tghe Mad King) lived from 1738-1820. And remember earlier when I stated when the fist known photograph was taken? Hard to take a photograph of a dead guy 6 or 7 years after he’s buried. Then there is the question of clothing. The clothes shown are clearly 1850s-1870s, making this thirty to forty years after the death of the King. And finally, the picture is of an African American. King George was of German, Austrian , and Welsh decent. The man was White and I do mean White in the most courteous of terms.

Detail view of King George when he was crowned. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

Now, I have gotten into an argument with the website stating that the picture is fake and they are guilty of revisionist history. They replied that I am part of the conspiracy and every person who has been in charge throughout history has been black (or of color) and it’s been whitewashed to keep black people down. Now, let’s un-package this nonsense. If everyone throughout history has been of color, then why would they have allowed Slavery? Allowed the British to colonize places like Asia, India, Africa, Australia? Why would they have allowed the Trail of Tears to occur? See how quickly and easily it is to see how what they are stating as fact isn’t?

Offered as proof of King George’s “blackness” by momoafrica.com

I was then sent the above image as “proof” of King George’s “blackness” by the same website with this above image. First, this is an engraving. This doesn’t indicate he was black or of color at all. The process of engraving is using lines or dots to indicate shadow and dimension. The same process if used on paper currency. By this logic, we can then conclude that George Washington was Green because he’s green on American Currency.

Another engraving done by another artist at the same time as the one I was sent. Same pose, different interpretation. Based off the same portrait. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

So, while I am saying use Pinterest to help organize your thoughts, organize research images, be aware that there are some sketchy and weird information floating out there. If it sounds really weird and too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to double check before pinning, Google it. If it comes up with hits that seem to come from verified sources like museums and scholarly journals telling you that this is true, then go ahead and pin it. If it comes back as hitting a bunch of conspiracy theory sites, then avoid like the plague. Trust me, this will only help you in the long run.

Places I have actually found to be really good resources are auction houses. I know, it seems like a weird resource to use, but think about it for a minute. The people who work there are experts, they research the items for authenticity and verify that they are what they say they are. Next to a Museum website, this is a really good and underused resource in the community. I love using Bonham’s, Christies, Augusta, and other verifiable, high end auction houses for research purposes. Any of them you can follow on Pinterest (which is nice) and you get to see a wide variety of items that you may never see in a museum. I’ve come across scissors from the 1600s that are meant to cut leather. I had no idea those existed. Of course, logically, they MUST have existed, but seeing an image of them was pretty neat. And they are really good about giving a nice detailed history of the item including what it is made of, dimensions, and where it was possibly made. It’s like having a cheat sheet but without you having to do all the hard work.

University and college websites are also a great resource. Sometimes lectures on certain subjects are made available to the public on the websites and are posted on Pinterst, sometimes you find them via Google. It’s really good to keep an eye out for these because not only is it valuable for giving you a goldmine of information from an academic who’s a specialist in the field, they generally list where they are getting this information (as in a bibliography) at the end or on the course website, which can lead you down further paths of research!

This comes to the last bit of research. Blogs can be great. I follow some blogs written by historians and some written by Theatre people. But there are some blogs that just copy and paste from other blogs. I’ve come across Regency blogs that copy and paste blog posts from other blogs topics you know that person probably researched and put together years ago and that’s dishonest. But that’s the nature of having a blog. Those sites generally don’t copy and paste where the information came from (as in museum sites or books), which is how you know it’s probably not a good site. Now, in the beginning of this blog, I was still learning the ropes, so if you come across one with not many entries, they may just be leanring the ropes as well (it’s a learning curve), and I generally now state where I get my images (unless it’s clipart, then I just don’t because it’s clipart).

So now you have all these great on-line resources, it’s best to organize (ha! you thought I forgot about that) them. Bookmarking them in general folders is going to be a time saver and also give you a smaller window when you first pull up the bookmark window. I just stick to the basics. One is just Museums, the other Auction Websites, then I have one that’s Social (where I have my Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Email websites saved). I have one that is for my Library, but I also keep my Goodreads account there (it makes sense in my mind). I also have the Thesaurus and Dictionary website saved under Library because you can’t always be lugging them around if you are typing in a Panera or Starbucks.  I also have folders for each of the my novels with a subfolder that specifically says characters. And for that, there two folders, one says tearsheets and the other is for cheatsheets (word documents with basic information I can pull up when typing without having to have a notebook on me-I will write about all of that soon!). the point is to have as much as possible in your notebooks to help you write, but also have some of that available on-line and on your PC or laptop so you don’t have to have this massive pile on your desk when typing. I use my notebooks when writing (I wrote most of my novel out by hand then typed it, which I think was helpful because I could edit and add at that point, so I consider it my first edit and I’ve done 7 more since then and yes, that’s normal). Just keep in mind this is a process. And it’s long and tedious. Even though I’ve done 20 years of research for my time period, that was very generic and basic. For each novel, because I am focusing on a specific time frame, I do have to go through my research and sometimes have to search for specific things for each one. So while one is done and being queried, I am now in that early stage of another. Most of all, have some fun looking around and finding what sites are out there.

Pinterest

 

How to Research (Part 1)

I’d thought it would be good to take a break from the adaptations (only 2 left and then 2 bonus reviews!) to talk about research. Research is one of those weird topics that if you try and Google or go to the library and find just basic steps on how to to it, you’ll probably go insane like poor Ophelia and we wouldn’t want that!

John Everet Millias’s interpretation of Ophelia. Don’t feel overwhelmed when it comes to research!

So, not everyone who wants to write is going to have the advantage (or the curse) or having gone to a graduate school where you get taught how to research things like Thesis and Dissertations and Papers for Conferences! It’s OK, I’m not going to bore you will all of that. However, there were quite a few tips that I find from my grad school days that do end up being quite useful. One is get to know your local library and the librarians who work there. Trust me, these people will become your best friends in the world. You may never learn their first names or exchange phone numbers, but going there and being someone they learn to recognize is helpful. Especially when you need help researching something really obscure and cannot find it in the library and are unsure how to proceed. Because they can track that sucker down through Interlibrary Loan.

The research library and archive at Sir John Soane’s Museum. I can smell the books! (soane.org)

Now, where to start? Firstly, if you have a computer at home, start a Pinterest board. I have several actually and I can talk about how to organize and what is a good pin versus a bad pin at a later time (because yes, it should be discussed). Let’s say we’re going to research Dragons because we want to write a YA novel involving Dragons. So, you might start a Board on Pinterest called Dragons and pin things like sculptures, art (anime, medieval manuscripts, etc), links to legends and myths, perhaps even books or films that feature dragons (even TV shows like GOT). Basically, Pinterest is used like a giant corkboard of where you collect ideas, even random ones, to start that complex journey into the realm of research. Good thing is that in that general board, you can then organize those pins into different categories however you see fit.

An image from a PS3/4 game called Dragon’s Crown found on Pinterest and was featured in Forbes Magazine. Pinterest is handy!

 

Secondly, go to the dollar store and buy a few notebooks, pens, post-its flags or paperclips if you don’t have any. Pens in at least 2 different colors is nice, but purchasing some highlighters or even some colored pencils or crayons will work just as well because you will take one of those notebooks with you to the library when you start to do some serious research. For notebooks, I prefer those composition books because they have a hardcover and don’t have that annoying metal spiral to contend with. Some composition books are not hardcover and that’s OK too. If you have an old spiral notebook laying around, use it! Don’t go out and buy a bunch of stuff if you all ready have it laying around. Only go and buy it if you need it (because writing is not a money maker folks).

I try to find college ruled in these, which is not always easy.

Now that you have a notebook and pens, let’s go back to researching Dragons at the library. Now, some of you are thinking that this is going to be a really hard topic to research because Dragons aren’t real and I am more of a historical person. Yes, that is true but I did work in a college library at both the undergraduate and graduate level (the undergraduate college also had a children’s section for teachers, so I was used to finding things like fairy tales, etc for both students and the public). If you know your way around the library, you’d head over to the electronic card catalog and probably type in “dragons”. You’ll come up with a lot of hits featuring children related materials, so don’t stress out! If you need, help, ask a librarian because they can show you how to change the search parameters to only feature adult related books and help narrow that filed of study for you. Though don’t discount the children’s books entirely since you are interested in writing for that YA group, it helps to read books in that field to get a sense of what is expected in terms of writing, but also what agents & publishers are looking for. Plus some of the most enjoyable books are considered YA (like The Hobbit for example, which features a dragon).

The modern card catalog is entirely an electronic database. Some of us still remember the good old fashioned card catalogs & their cabinets!

This is how you used to search!

Sticking to our theme of Dragons, places you may want to start researching would be mythology. Chinese, Japanese, British mythology featuring dragons would be an ideal place to start and take notes as to physical characteristics, habitat, eating habits, range of domain, and any pertinent information such as communication, hoarding behavior, etc. From there, one could branch out into specific areas like Arthurian legends (which are a mixture of Welsh and French), looking at the Greek origins, the Mesopotamian God Dagon, Vietnamese mythology, Norse myths, Hindu Nagas, Roman mythology (which is a rehash of Greek mythos), then modern usage. This could also incorporate a look into Sea creatures of mythology, like the Lock Ness and the Champlain Lake Monster, and could meld into a look at real creatures like Dinosaurs for comparison.

Researching a Ptesosaur could assist in Dragon research when trying to visualize the size because if there was any living creature that could come close to a Dragon, Ptresosaurs came close. (courtesy of dinoaminals.com)

 

Now, back to the library side of things. You are going to have to learn to enjoy the tedious pleasure known as reading and taking notes. Since we are researching Dragons, a good tool would be to watch how they are recreated on film and take notes (yes, I am being serious). The library may have BBC or Discovery Channel DVDs like Walking with Dinosaurs that you can check out and watch. There was this wonderful film in 2004 called Dragons: Fantasy Made Real which really went through the biological process of dragons. So if one was to research dragons, that would be an excellent place to start. So, while in the beginning, it seemed like it would be impossible to really have any real research on Dragons, hopefully I have shown that pretty quickly, one can easily have notebooks filled with bits and pieces of information just from mythology and looking into dinosaurs. We haven’t even discussed looking at scholarly journal articles that existed discussing the topic. And they exist on all sort of subjects ranging from the importance of dragons in literature to the significance of dragons on medieval tapestries. Any of these can broaden your research and led you down paths to creating a world wholly unique yet grounded in some form of reality.

An image from Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real showing skeletal structure.

When it comes to organizing the notes, this is where the highlighters, etc come in handy. Chose a color for a specific things, say physical characteristic, and go through all the notes and highlight the start of each area that pertains to that subject. And just keep doing that. And hopefully, you also kept a log of where you got all your information. Now, this is what I did, which sounds insane, but it’s how I work and if it helps you, great, if not, also great. Target has these composition books called Yoobi which are college ruled and contain much more paper than the average composition notebook. I then took all my notes and on a clean sheet of paper, write down how I wanted them organized, like how you would see it in a book (basically, I have a section called Finances, and underneath are things like pay for servants, coinage of the realm, banks, etc). So I then wrote out everything in these notebooks, sticking to my prearranged format. Each heading is written in one color, each subheading in another and the notes in general are in black ink. Each heading is also flagged with a post it note for easy access. And yes, I have the index for each notebook written inside the front cover. As for the sources, all that information is in it’s own section (a bibliography). Now I made the mistake of not indicating where each note came from (my error and I regret that I made it), but at least I do have a complete list of all the sources I used and looked at, which is where I perhaps differ from others. I write down books and places I looked and read that I didn’t take any notes from. Now, you don’t have to write down all the books you looked at and didn’t use, but it makes it handy when going back to the library and not wanting to keep checking out the same materials over and over again.

These are my preferred notebooks for compiling massive amounts of notes. I only had to buy one package to contain all my notes for 1790-1830 for my 6 novels. And those notes are all generic. I also have a notebook specific to each novel with more specific notes (I use a regular composition notebook for them though).

A hold over from my college days. These come in all sorts of shapes and colors and are useful in flagging pages of interest in books as well. Also you can find versions of these everywhere.

 

Basically, if you’ve never done any kind of research, it’s going to take some time for you to get used to doing it. And while I research actual history, I’ve hope I’ve proven that you can research anything if you have the determination and the perseverance to do this. Even if you just want to research your family tree, the same rules apply. The library is a great place to start and the librarians working there are wonderful people who are there to assist you! It’s their job and they love to do it! I cannot tell you how much attention I got when I went in one day asking for help in finding books to finish my thesis. They fawned over me and were only too happy to assist. This is what they are trained to do folks, Allow them to help you.