CHEMICAL PURPLE JESUS: On Researching A TALE DU MORT

Editor’s Note:

Happy Friday, Dolls! As many of you know, we’re planning a virtual party on Facebook on September 17th, to celebrate our new books and to thank you, the reader, for supporting us. Event details can be found here. To “gear up” for said party, each of the dolls have written a little bit about our favorite titles. And, just by reading and then sharing and/or commenting, you’ll be entered to win a free book. Don’t forget to TAG US via Facebook or Twitter when you share!

Today, it’s Katrina’s turn. Up for grabs is a Kindle copy of A TALE DU MORT. And now, Katrina: 

 CHEMICAL PURPLE JESUS

by Katrina Monroe

The best part of writing, as any writer will tell you, is the dreamy-researchy bit. The only things you have to contend with are your thoughts, frazzled and all-the-amaze as they are, the endless possibility of The Idea, and all the fun places you get to go and see all for the sake of research.

When I started my research for A TALE DU MORT, I started small. This was death we were talking about, and not just the theoretical type. While I had some wiggle room when it came to the mythological side of the story, more than half of the tale is spent in the starch white of an embalming room. Having never been an embalmer or dead, I was stuck. I needed information.

I started with books. By far the most informational were MORTUARY CONFIDENTIAL: Undertakers Spill the Dirt by K. McKenzie and Todd Harra, NINE YEARS UNDER by Sheri Booker, and SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES by Caitlin Doughty.  The static information was good. Great, even. But description can only get a person so far when accompanied by technical terms and industry slang that I’d need an English to Mortician dictionary to translate.

I needed more.

Because my first two books (REAPER and SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE) were highly fantasized, I hadn’t ever needed to take a field trip to look at real things. With MORT, no matter how much internet research, book flipping, and YouTube hole-falling I did, I still hadn’t gotten the real-world information that would make MORT special.

I didn’t actually think a funeral home would let me tour the place. The above memoirs had painted a pretty bleak picture of funeral directors’ outlooks toward outsiders. Imagine my absolute glee when Emily (not her real name) at Miller Family Funeral Home agreed to let me poke my nose in all their nooks and crannies.

Not knowing what to expect, and having touted myself as a Big Deal by throwing out the words “Published Author” in my initial email correspondence, I dressed like I was going to a job interview—and spent the entire interaction thinking about the way leggings made my unders ride up my ass. Emily met me at the door and, to her credit, didn’t immediately throw me out because I was obviously not that kind of author. No tweed jacket and briefcase for me. (Although I did wear costume glasses because I’m a child and think they add a modicum of credibility).

We sat in the arrangements room, which is just a fancy way of saying “sales floor.” The wall farthest from the door (and therefore hardest to escape) held casket corners and urns and hundreds of catalogues for everything from flowers to keepsakes intended to be handed out like party favors. Surrounded by knick-knacks of the dead, it was hard to find the proper reverence for the preparation of a loved one and had to force a cough several times to hide a giggle.

I hadn’t prepared any questions—I’m not a journalist anymore, and when I was one I wasn’t very good—and had to rely on a few half-scribbled notes like, “equipment/facility?” and “process?” Somehow, we bungled through a conversation that yielded some pretty interesting facts regarding the hows and whens of transporting and embalming a dead body.

“Do you want to see the embalming room?” She asked.

Of fucking course I wanted to see the embalming room.

No, there wasn’t a body inside, but there might as well have been. Having binge-watched every season of SIX FEET UNDER, my imagination filled in the gap. The chemical smell was something like a mix of chlorine and heavy-duty oven cleaner and only got stronger as I approached the porcelain table. On the one end was a pump called a Porti-Boy I recognized from my YouTube trawling as the thing that fills the body with embalming fluid. (Go ahead and do a video search of this process and try not to pass out.) On the other end was a toilet for collecting the blood that drained through a tube attached to the body’s jugular vein.

That saying about flushing your life down the toilet became a little too real.

Emily walked around the room while I scribbled into my notebook. She pointed to a long, metal rod that looked like it was meant for spear fishing. “This is a trocar. Basically, we pierce the guts and use the tip—which is attached to the Porti-Boy—to suck out anything left inside.”

“Like poop?” Did I mention I’m a child?

“Like poop.” She smiled.

She opened a cabinet revealing a rainbow of chemicals and withdrew a bottle of what looked like purple Kool-Aid. “This is my favorite.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“We call it Chemical Purple Jesus.” She chuckled. “Not sure why.”

Then she went on to explain the different uses for each chemical. Without getting technical, each liquid is mixed with others to create the right “plumping juice.” Embalming fluid can cause a person’s skin to turn Hulk green if they were jaundiced, and these chemicals help correct that, among other things.

We spent almost forty-five minutes in the embalming room and, all the while, the mystery of death sort of peeled away, giving me a new perspective with which to approach MORT. Death is frightening and moving and misunderstood, but it’s also chemical and funny and gets flushed down the toilet.

I could have written MORT without my trip to the Miller Family Funeral Home, but it wouldn’t have been as good.

Research is important, but experience is better.

If you ever find yourself thinking, “I wish I could see—” when it comes to your writing, find a way to do it. Your story will thank you.

 

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