Wednesday, June 04, 2008


As writers we get to do lots of things in the name of book research.
Some of those things fall into the category of "work." Hunting down people with certain expertise who are willing to talk to you after you tell them you're writing a book (these folks usually fall into two categories, those who are totally enamored with the idea of helping contribute to a work of fiction; and those who eye you suspiciously, looking for how you might be conning them.) Combing through thousands of websites on Google searches (at least this work pays off when the ten-thousandth one yields the tiny nugget of information you've been looking for).
Some of those things fall into the category of a good excuse to read a dozen books about a topic you've recently discovered fascinates you.
Some fall into the catetory of a really good excuse to travel to a location in order to breathe the air and walk the ground of the place your setting your book. I've used this one several times; but I'm thinking my next locale needs to be something tropical and exotic and unaffordable.
There are those that we do just because we need to see the colors as a gasoline fire burns, or understand jus thow dark the woods are at night and feel the sting of branches and stab of rough ground on our bare feet as we try to run through the woods in the middle of the night (yes, this was me working on PITCH BLACK -- don't tell my husband, or he'll start locking me in at night).
And then there are those that lead us to places totally unexpected, have us doing things we never imagined we would. I had the fabulous experience of working with Indiana Task Force 1, FEMA search and rescue dog team. Oh my gosh, those dogs are amazing. Their handlers are so dedicated, most of them train more than one weekend a month (this is a for-the-love-of-it occupation). After my initial observation of their training (in the fifty degree rain, in a dangerously overgrown and landfilled gravel pit they aptly call Devil's Den), my daughter and I volunteered to be "victims" for their traning exercises. What an experience! We slipped into crevaces in this huge pile of concrete rubble and the SAR teams were shuttled to the site in a Blackhawk helicopter (so the dogs could get used to flying right before they had to work). These dogs work on scent alone -- just looking at you isn't reason for them to alert, they have to smell you. Talk about dicipline. I was in a place where the rescuers actually had to send in a tiny camera to see me once the dogs said I was there. They found me all but one time. They found my daughter every time -- and this is a n area that covers acres and acres!
I wonder where my writing research will lead me next?
How about you other writers out there? Any unique experiences you want to share? Fabulous castles in Scotland? Riding in a fighter jet? Touring the AFT or FBI facility?


Jane said...

Do you enjoy poring over pages and pages of info? I imagine it can get tedious, but also fun. Have you been on any ride alongs with law enforcement or tested your aim at the shooting range?

Pat Cochran said...

I'm a reader, not a writer....

Just wanted to tell you that I
admire all you go through to do
research for your books!

Pat Cochran

Susan Crandall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Crandall said...

Jane, digging for information can be fun, especially if it pays off and you find just that right detail for your story.

I haven't been on a ride along, but have interviewed a police chief and a fire chief. I did go to a shooting range and experimented with handguns. I was pretty good at it, but really hated handling the guns. Made me very nervous.

Margaret McDonagh said...

Fascinating post, Susan.

I've not done anything very adventurous myself but I did spend one superb day at a fire station. It was fab and the guys were brilliant, showing me all the trucks, pulling off the equipment and explaining how it all worked. They were magic and it was wonderful.

One of my best friends, however, took research above and beyond for one of her books. She actually flew with an aerobatic wing walking team - and, yes, she did go up strapped standing on the top. Mad fool!


Susan Crandall said...

Oh dear heavens! Wing walking! This woman deserves the prize for book research!

Perhaps that's something we should cook up and start awarding....