My partner posted a blog about his research into the world of kink which came in handy during the time we wrote Beautiful Monster. I did my own research into this, though not to the extent he did, and I researched other topics as well.
Initially I thought this book would be about a young woman who developed Stockholm Syndrome, so I had been looking into the theories behind that unique psychological phenomenon. It was fascinating to learn how the human mind bends itself to conform to a belief structure that is so counter to what it would normally be. One of the shining examples of Stockholm Syndrome is the case of the Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1974. For those unfamiliar with the story, Patty Hearst was the young heiress to the great William Randolph Hearst estate. WR Hearst made his money in media – primarily newspapers. His great-granddaughter was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a revolutionary group seeking equality for people of color, but best known for bank robbing and two murders. Patty was brainwashed and became an active member of the SLA, even holding up banks while wielding a gun.
I am fascinated by how someone can endure such a trauma as being kidnapped and threatened (and sexually assaulted by her captors), and then chose to become an active – even eager – participant in their cause. Even after she was arrested, Ms. Hearst continued to call her captors her brothers and sisters, and wished them all well.
So why, then, don’t all victims of kidnapping or hostage situations develop this condition? This is what fascinates me most. Psychologists and psychiatrists haven’t reached universal agreement on this, but many believe it has to do with the individual’s beliefs about survival. For example, Patty Hearst ultimately believed that her best chance at survival was to become one of the SLA members, to show sympathy to them and to take shelter within the group. Her mind allowed her to see these people as her equals, her companions, and even her friends despite the horrific things that had been done to her. But in other cases, victims believe that their best chance at survival is themselves. There are many stories where crime victims play along with their tormentors until an opportunity presents itself to break away and get help. Many of the survivors of the prisoner of war camps in both WWII and Vietnam mastered these skills, letting their captors believe they’d been broken while at the same time never giving up hope that they could find a means of escape or rescue.
It’s this second group that I patterned my character Brenna on. She plays along, pretending to be in love, pretending to enjoy the abuse she endures, and all the while, she is looking for her way out. She tries multiple times to get help, to escape, and she never gives up the belief that she can get away from the man who is tormenting her.
Another bit of research that both Jared and I had to do concerned the way a dead body decays. As gruesome as this sounds, it was actually kind of fascinating. Lucky for me, I have a friend who is a licensed mortician and he knows all about this stuff! On a humorous side note, he is also a licensed massage therapist, and one of the best! We consulted my friend about what happens to a body after it’s dead. We asked questions about the manner of death, and what would happen if the body was wrapped in, say, plastic sheeting. My friend, Todd, gave us thorough and helpful information so that those scenes requiring such detail would be accurate and believable.
Over the years, I have done tons of research on a variety of topics (ask me about Napoleon, for instance). I remember reading Anne Lamotte’s Bird by Bird and seeing where she did so much quality research on gardening and plants for one of her books that people believed she was a gardener and began giving her things she could grow. Everything would die within weeks because she couldn’t even remember to water the plants!
Good research adds depth and truth to fiction. It helps to bring characters, scenes, and settings to life. Even with the best imagination and a vast knowledge of things, no one writer can know everything about everything in each book he or she writes. Research is a crucial aspect of a story for me, even if it only takes five minutes to do. That five minutes could mean the difference between a reader dismissing me for having made a big mistake, or a reader sinking that much deeper into the world that I’ve created. That’s a valuable investment of my time, and the best part is, I like doing it.