Research Notes · 06/19/2020

Instances of Head-Switching

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Teresa Milbrodt writes about Instances of Head-Switching from Shade Mountain Press.


The best way to research physical disability is to be alive for awhile. At minimum you’ll wear out your eyes or ears or joints, need glasses or hearing aids or a cane, and be warmly welcomed to the world of prosthetic devices. You may be lucky enough to have a disability from the get-go, such as being blind in your right eye since you were a baby, meaning that you’ve never known anything else, meaning that it doesn’t seem like a disability, but how you’ve always seen the world. You may form a cohort of friends with congenital disabilities who can smile, give a knowing nod, and roll their eyes at the rest of the world that clings to the idea of invulnerability. You may form a cohort of friends that includes people who have chronic pain, and with whom you can joke darkly about folks who look at you and say, “You’re too young to ache like that/require that kind of surgery/need a cane.” (Thanks for letting us know.) You may form a cohort of friends that includes amputees who have a great stash of legless jokes.

The best way to research unicorns is to know that horses are sweet and persnickety, and they don’t smell too good. They’re vulnerable to colic and hoof abscesses, and they need a water heater in the trough for cold winter months so they don’t have to break the ice with their noses. Scratch them on their withers, put out salt and mineral blocks, figure out which stallion you don’t want to geld, and remember the spring inoculations. Assume that unicorns would sharpen their horns on wooden posts rather like cats sharpen their claws on trees. Don’t fall for the idea that there’s anything magical about them.

The best way to research prospective properties for magical amulets is to brainstorm all the ways they could malfunction, the size of the instruction booklet that would need to accompany them, the length of the waiver one would need to sign before purchase, and the fleet of lawyers that any sort of magical amulet company would need to have on retainer. Assume that only the rich will be able to afford them. Assume a delicious black market.

The best way to research what it means to have a deadly disease about which little is known is to have been a kid during the AIDS crisis and remember news stories about another kid who had that disease. Some people called him a hero. Other people threw rocks at his house. Recall being nine and thinking that this made no sense because he was just a kid like you.

The best way to research falling in love is to try it once or twice. Remember that falling in love too frequently can be hazardous to your health and poetry-writing abilities. Falling in love is much like a disease: you can’t think straight, your sleep patterns go awry, you lose control of your digestive system, all thoughts are fogged, you may be useless at school/work/sports activities, you doodle your initials and their initials endlessly on scraps of paper (no, it doesn’t matter how old you are). This could go on for weeks, if not months, and is best practiced under clinical supervision, or with the aid of a good friend who doesn’t mind weepy texts at two in the morning.

The best way to research Greek mythology is to become obsessed with it in fourth grade, buy three Greek mythology books, read them cover to cover six times, stick them in your bookshelf and forget about ancient Greece until the invention of the Internet and Google searches. Rekindle your old childhood flame, only this time Athena really likes fried food and you have a better understanding of sex in general, so those unions between gods and mortals sound more painful than magical.

The best way to research how to keep a dragon in your bathtub is to keep a dragon in your bathtub. If the dragon escapes and can’t be lured back with the offer of a pepperoni pizza, make up something that sounds convincing and try that instead.


Teresa Milbrodt is the author of two additional short story collections: Bearded Women: Stories, and Work Opportunities. She has also published a novel, The Patron Saint of Unattractive People, and a flash fiction collection, Larissa Takes Flight: Stories. Her fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous literary magazines. She earned her MFA in Fiction and MA in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University, and her PhD in English from the University of Missouri. She is addicted to coffee, long walks with her MP3 player, and writes the occasional haiku.