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Julia Child Was A Spy…And Other Things You Learn Researching Novels.

julia-childWriting a book is messy. There are lots of blind alleys, false starts and horrible cliches in your early drafts. (You see what I did there?) One of the biggest distractions to getting your book finished is what we writerly types call ‘research’. Research is vital to your work. It makes your writing stronger and more immediate to the reader.

It can also be a great way of dodging your deadlines. Your editor can’t to mad at you for being late with your manuscript if you are ‘actively engaged in research that will only serve to make the book stronger.’

At least that’s what you tell them. Especially if you have a very short attention span like me and you tend to find out odd or interesting things that draw you in. The next thing you know hours have gone by and you’re reading about some tangential detail that is never going to make it into your book.

Like the fact that Julia Child was a spy during World War II and developed a recipe for shark repellant. 

oss8It’s true. I discovered this little nugget while researching sharks for my new book Into The Killing Seas (coming out next summer from Scholastic, just sayin’) The woman who single handedly changed the American view on cooking worked for the OSS. The Office of Strategic Services was the early version of today’s Central Intelligence Agency. Julia started out as a typist, and eventually worked her way up to a research assistant for OSS Director William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan.

During the course of her duties, Mrs. Child became directly involved in Navy research into shark repellants. The Navy was reluctant to admit to the public that their personnel were falling victim to shark attacks and sought out a way to prevent them. Enter Julia Child and a large bathtubs.

According to several sources Julia reported that she tried many different combinations of ingredients before settling on a combination of black dye and copper acetate that was put into a water soluble wax packet. Her early efforts were mixed up in a bathtub with a big wooden paddle. Her final substance was largely ineffective in repelling sharks but as with most things developed by the government it continued to be issued to American servicemen until the Vietnam war.

And that is what happens when you’re writing a book. You think you’re going one way and you go another. Research. It’s been causing writers to miss deadlines since Shakespeare. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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