To a student’s ears, there is probably no phrase more welcome than the words “open book test”. The catch, however, is that an open book can be next to useless if you don’t know which chapter holds the answer or how to interpret and apply that answer to a fresh problem. For writers on a quest, technology has delivered the biggest open book imaginable to our fingertips: the Internet.
The plus side of this virtual repository of knowledge, news, entertainment and opinions is that it’s open 24/7 and can satisfy even the most persistent midnight muse that won’t let you sleep until you’ve successfully tracked down the name of Joan of Arc’s horse. The downside is that the parameters defined for a specific search can often preclude discovery of a gaggle of scholarly, interactive and offbeat websites we’d never guess existed.
Once you’ve bookmarked a few of my faves from the list below, your writer research days will never be quite the same, nor will you lack for inspiration in finding plots, characters, settings and scintillating dialogue for your future projects.
Want to be connected to 10,000 libraries throughout the world? The free registration at this website allows you to track down books, authors, and publishing houses, locate the nearest library that carries a particular edition, and automatically generate proper citations in APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA and Turabian. Searches can be run on individual articles, CD’s and DVD’s, too.
Tru-TV Crime Library www.crimelibrary.com
Everything you ever wanted to know about scandalous murders, gangsters, conspiracy theories, spies and mysterious workings of the criminal mind.
Behind the Name www.behindthename.com/random
Stuck on what to call your newest characters? This website allows you to not only generate first, middle and last names but also specific nationalities and historic, literary, mythological, biblical, rapper and fantasy monikers. Examples: Valeriya Sveta, Riley Cassian Finch, Jamar Skye and Bubblebroom Bristlecape.
The latest breaking news in science covers chemistry, archaeology, medicine, mathematics, outer space, and technology.
Eccentric America http://eccentricamerica.net/links.cfm
A plethora of links to roadside oddities, quirky landmarks, iconic architecture, kitschy hangouts, unusual museums, and chatty journals of intrepid road-trippers. For starters, visit The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, the Starship Pegasus, or Carhenge (a Nebraska homage to Stonehenge constructed out of cars).
Ellis Island Records http://www.ellisislandrecords.org
Genealogy tips, vintage photos, immigration timelines and stories of foreign newcomers whose first glimpse of America was from a ship in New York Harbor.
ePodunk City Profiles http://www.epodunk.com
Comprehensive county and community profiles, maps, event calendars, weather, history, demographics and anything else you need to know to make your U.S. story settings realistic.
Project Gutenberg http://www.promo.net/pg
Don’t have time to go to the library and brush up on the classics of Shakespeare, Dante and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? The ambitious founder of Project Gutenberg has compiled a full spectrum of famous texts predating the 1920’s and made them all available as electronic downloads.
Online Newspapers www.onlinenewspapers.com
What in the world is going on? Whether it’s The Blairgowrie Advertiser, The Daily Yomiuri, As-Sabeel Weekly, The Oakland Tribune or The Nassau Guardian, there’s never a shortage of hot story ideas dominating the headlines. It’s also useful from the standpoint of perspective to see how different entities report exactly the same event based on their personal frames of reference.
All Experts http://www.allexperts.com
If you don’t know an answer, you should always seek out an expert. This website neatly assembles all of them under one umbrella. Just reading some of the existing message board chatter on any given topic will ignite your imagination.
Find a Grave http://www.findagrave.com
Did you know Mata Hari’s body was donated to medical science after her death by firing squad? Or that Anton Chekhov, Judge Roy Bean, and the founder of Bloomingdale’s all died in 1904? Find the final resting place of the famous, the infamous, and any workaday Joe.
Andy’s Anachronisms http://www.timetravelreviews.comIf you’re a fan of time-travel themes, this extensive website addresses every spin on time-travel, alternative universes and temporal anomalies as found in novels, films, plays, short stories, TV and music. It also includes links to scientific theories in case you want to compare your own methodology for getting from here to there.