I’m guilty of googling a lot of ecletic questions.*
How big is a Muscovy duck? Do any of the theaters in Long Island City have copper or lead roofs? How many months before the wedding should you order a dress? What’s protein content of a North American common cricket? How about a feeder goldfish? What’s the trunk volume, in inches, of a Dodge Dart? Is hazelnut-cinnamon ganache a real thing? Is drawing on an inside straight really a sucker bet? What outfit can a werewolf wear so s/he isn’t arrested for public indecency on the way to potential trouble, but won’t risk faceplanting after a quick change? What did they call garderobes in 14th Century Spain?**
Which doesn’t mean I received answers I could use—especially for that last one. Sometimes, you have to put yourself out there and risk being judged.
“Honey? Can I ask you a question?”
“If a divorced couple has a pre-nup and one of them gets a settlement, but later it’s discovered that that person violated the pre-nup agreement, say adultery or whatever, are they legally required to give back the settlement, or can their ex sue?”
” . . . I don’t know. You should probably ask a lawyer.”
“Yeah, I probably should. Thanks.”
Twenty years ago, this kind of question might have worried my husband, for several reasons. Either he had a better handle on my thought processes*** or he just assumes out of long experience that any question that doesn’t involve the kids or something mechanical making a funny noise is about whatever I’m writing.^
Not everyone is as calm about these things as he.^^ You can get a lot of strange looks at the coffee shop debating the logistics of stuffing a dead body (male, not quite six-foot) and thirty-five cartons of cigarettes (no tax stamps) into the trunk of a Dodge Dart.^^^ Even if you’re speaking to another human being. Who is visibly present.
Until one of you says, loudly, “I can’t wait to read your book.”
And then everyone will relax and the waitress will stop trying to refill your cup with hot liquid from a minimal safe distance, which isn’t quite your minimal safe distance.
Librarians, on the other hand, tend to take the oddest questions at face value, though that doesn’t mean we can’t get enthusiastic. A few weeks ago, a group of us had an all-day, off-and-on reference discussion launched by a single question I technically asked the screen of my workstation, while—if any of my supervisors have tracked me here—on my break.
“If you clip a wereduck’s wing feathers, will his fingernails be shorter on that hand when he changes?”
Not one of them blinked—even those who didn’t know why I was asking. And the questions they asked about that question were fantastic, touching on healing factors, and follicle to feather conversions, and clothing, and magic versus science, and mythic laws of association.
Librarians don’t need to know why you need to know—they just need to know how to get you the right answer.
In this case, there wasn’t one—the general consensus was that it depended on several different things that I hadn’t figured out yet. But I do have a pile of notes, and a much better handle on what I need to figure out. So even if I never use that bit—which is looking like the
sane easier option—I’m much better off than I was.
Never be afraid to ask the weird questions out loud.
Even if they’re not for the book.
You’ll always learn something about something.
And maybe get a blog post out of it, too.
*Don’t judge me, judge the people who posted the answers.
**AKA, “The word choice that got away.”
***Magic Eight Ball says Very Doubtful.
^Admittedly, he also knows we don’t have a pre-nup, nor any need for one.
^^He also helps me figure out ballistic trajectories and the batting stance
I a character would have to take to use his a kneeling man’s head as a tee-ball and the position behind “home plate” (there are legs involved). He’s a good man—and remarkably trusting.
^^^For some reason, my husband didn’t volunteer for this one . . . but he did check my math.