Dear Folks, I confess this is a repeat blog from 2010 with a few edits. It has been wild around here and I'm cheating a little. Nevertheless, I think the topic is worth revisiting. Please send in your comments.
I shared news about my car accident. Many of you wrote back (thank you!) and we began a conversation about what do as research for our stories. I’d like to continue with that theme. No more automobile accidents, please, but what other techniques do we use?
My books usually take place in Italy. I happen to go frequently (such a burden, cough, cough) and have had the opportunity to plot out my former works-in-progress on the site where I wanted it to happen. For the manuscript that is now ready for revisions, I literally ran the streets in Rome so I could time how long it took to go from a particular piazza to another. No woman runs in Rome. This is the land of high heels and irregular cobblestones. I had men trying to stop me and offer help. How could I tell them to back off? They were messing with my stop watch.
In the outskirts of Rome I drove in the pouring rain to find a small town that I knew would be a perfect setting for the last scenes of my book. It was, but the drive was also story unto itself. I’m keeping those notes for a future opportunity to share.
As I write in the mystery/suspense genres, I worry a great deal about how to kill people and create a certain level of mayhem. My kids are very concerned about the research I tend to do to attain the right level of both accuracy and graphic detail. I certainly have never personally murdered someone, nor plan to do so, but it is important to get our facts correct, right?
Now, I do need to give a little background so you’ll understand why my daughters become anxious with this topic and with the process. My husband travels internationally a huge amount of time. Often that is to the Middle East, Dubai, and parts of Asia. The kind people in customs and immigration have told him there is no way extra pages can be added to his passport—it’s too thick already.
Well, for one of my scenes, I needed to have a poison that would kill someone (this is about my writing, believe me) and could be hidden in a meal. My fingers flew over the keys. The Internet search engines were talking to talking to me. Oleander Soup!! It’s a beautiful and common flowering bush. A month later I was walking in Rome with one of my daughters and the Oleander was in full bloom. Gorgeous. “Oh, boy,” I said. “ Do you how much damage I could do with all of that?” My daughter stumbled on the steps and gave me a look I’ll never forget.
Then there was the time I needed to understand how a Molotov cocktail was made. Yup, it’s all out there. Then there was a time I needed to blow up a house. I posted a question on one of my writer’s loops—any ideas? The responses flooded back in.
My two daughters have begged me to stop. Dad, they say, travels the globe to some places that could have risky safety issues. YOU, MOM, are Googling bombs, poisons, guns and methods of creating havoc. Is this really the best plan for the family? What if men in dark suits arrive at our door? What if they wonder what our family is really about? STOP.
I nod with a sincere look on my face, hoping my girls are buying it. I haven’t told them yet that I’m thinking about joining our local gun club. For those of you who know me, this is a shocking admission. But how else will I feel what the recoil is like, or how long it takes to reload with trembling fingers? Then there is the evasive driving course at Lime Rock that is designed for security personnel and those who need protection. The list is endless.
I have no defense of what is on my hard drive other than it’s research. I promise I have no ill will for anyone, but I do need to know.
And you? What’s your wildest research story. Bring it on.