Researching the Macabre

by Gail Z. Martin

When people ask me ‘where do you get your ideas for your books’, I’m never sure whether they are curious about my writing habits or checking to make sure I haven’t been stashing bodies in my basement. (Silly–we don’t have a basement. We have a crawlspace.)

That’s because I write bloody, scary stuff with lots of dark magic and undead creatures. That holds true whether I’m writing epic fantasy, urban fantasy or steampunk. I love ghosts and monsters, and I’ve always gravitated toward the macabre. Finding inspiration is easier than you might think.

Museums are treasure troves of cool, weird, creepy stuff. When I visit a city, I do my best to go through the local museum. To say that I’m excited about going through a museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History in New York City or the Field Museum in Chicago or any museum in Europe is an understatement. I am *giddy*. I like to have plenty of time so I can read all the little descriptions. Inevitably, I wander into the off-jog room that has the creepy death jewelry or the plague artifacts or the collection of Victorian death photography. It can be best if I go by myself so no one gets impatient as I linger.

Lots of museums are building online exhibits with photos, video, audio and descriptions, so this expands the number of museums I can visit. When I go to a new city, I also like to find the cemeteries and dungeons, go on ghost tours, or the ‘scandals and dark side’ tours. It’s all fodder!

I love to read the blogs and web sites on magic, Voodoo, paranormal research and urban exploration. I’ll read urban legends and news accounts of old tragic accidents or weird occurrences. Sometimes I’ll follow up on something I’ve heard about on The History Channel or A&E and then I go down the rabbit hole clicking links from one fascinating strange thing to another. It’s a toss-up whether I know what I’m looking for or being guided by serendipity, but it always works out. I also read a lot of books on myth, the occult, medieval warfare, and related topics. History is the best source for strange-but-true stuff you couldn’t possibly make up. I’ve found inspiration in Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not collections, living history museums and national parks.

Researching the macabre is easier than you might imagine if you keep your ears open, look for the unusual things tucked away in corners, or ask your guide “did anything really strange ever happen here” or “are there any ghost stories about this place”?  You won’t believe what docents will tell you ‘off the record’ if you ask the right questions! Truth really is stranger than fiction!

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Hey—did you see the video for The Sworn and The Dread? https://youtu.be/teyvxnIEITg

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