Thursday, February 04, 2010

Oh, The Places I Have Gone! - Susan Crandall

Remember the fantabulous Dr. Seuss book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! ? Well, Dr. Seuss is all about choices while using your brains and your feet. I on the other hand am all about filling up my brain with stuff I can use to create believable worlds of emotion and danger. And you won’t believe some of the places my feet have taken me in that quest.

Even though the Internet has made research so much easier, so many fewer trips to the library with my cart to tote the huge stacks of books home, nothing replaces a little “hands on” experience. So let me tell you about a few of the places my brains and my feet have taken me.

Just this week, I spent the afternoon at a funeral home. Yes, you read correctly, a funeral home. A fascinating education—even though I’m sure it’s not what every writer needs. That’s just it, you never actually know what you need until you’re knee deep in a plot. This research trip was for my son’s current work in progress, but you can bet I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity for fact gathering. I learned a lot. In Indiana, we have a county coroner system, with an elected coroner (as opposed to a medical examiner system with an appointed ME) who signs off on the death certificates. That opens all kinds of doors for fictional murder investigations.

I’ve been buried in concrete rubble and played victim for a FEMA K-9 search and rescue team. It all started when researching a yet-to-be-written novel that features SAR dogs. First I shadowed them as they trained one cold and rainy weekend. These dogs and their handlers are unbelievably dedicated and totally amazing. At that training day, I discovered that they always need people to play victim for the dogs to find. You’d better believe I was quick to offer, and while I was at it, I volunteered my daughter too.

The day we played victims it was ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity. We slid into our places wearing hard hats and knee pads. Mine was a thirty-inch tall, four foot diameter concrete pipe set on end. There was a large concrete slab over the top with just enough space for me to slip inside. They then covered that space up. I could only be found by dog scenting me and alerting his handler … and a fiber-optic camera. The SAR teams were shuttled in on Blackhawk helicopters (they wanted to train the dogs to work after such an unsettling adventure). Of the six teams that came in turns to search this huge, and I mean huge, pile of rubble, five of them found me. I’d say that was pretty darned amazing. My daughter was found every time. What an experience.

At a silent auction I placed the winning bid on “sheriff for a day.” The way it was presented, I think they expected someone to buy this for their grade school age child. You know, come see what a sheriff does, ride in his car, have lunch with him, that kind of stuff. His secretary seemed rather surprised when I called to schedule the day—for me. The sheriff seemed to adjust well to the advanced age of his winner. I came in with a long list of questions, and learned much beyond that. I was even treated to a chat with an FBI investigator who happened into my path. I toured the jail and went through the entire process an arrested person goes through, short of donning the jumpsuit and surrendering possessions. Let me tell you, I don’t ever care to do it for real.

My brains never fail to embarrass my husband when we’re chatting with strangers by the odd questions that pop into my head. My feet have taken me through many doors in order to quiz doctors, psychologists, hypnotists, sleepwalkers, firefighters, parents of children with autism, self-defense instructors, paramedics, historians, armed services specialists, crime scene investigators, auto mechanics, and florists.

I’ve toured the FBI in DC and watched ATF demonstrations.

I even ventured to a firing range once. Discovered I’m a pretty good shot with a handgun. Not that I’ll ever do it again. Holding a gun makes me nauseous with nerves. I never would have known that if I’d only looked up handgun specifics on the Internet. I never would have been able to describe the feel of it, the smell, or understand just how hard it was to pull that trigger the first time.

Nothing, nothing, nothing takes the place of real-life experiences.

Next week I start the citizen’s police academy. I can’t wait!



Virginia said...

Hi Susan, I just wanted to say I love your books so keep up the good work!

Susan Crandall said...

Hi Virginia,
Thanks so much! Hearing words of encouragement really does boost my productivity.

Pat Cochran said...

Knowledge is the key to reaching
so many goals in life. You have a
lot of keys in play. Congrats!

Pat Cochran

Estella said...

Just wanted to say I enjoy your books immensely.

Rebekah E. said...

Thanks for the great post.

Mason Canyon said...

Wow, police academy. Now that would be interesting, except for the pt part. I'm not into exercise as much as I should be. I think I could get into the research that you do, sounds really interesting. Good luck at the academy.

Mary said...

I'm a huge fan, Susan. :)
It's interesting to read all the things you have done. I'm a bit too shy and anti social to do all that and actually like it. lol But have fun with all the research. :)

Susan Crandall said...

Thanks everyone.

I'm not in that great of physical shape myself! Thank heavens the "citizens" academy is just to learn the ropes. I won't have to be going through the paces that the real police have to go through.

I appreciate my time here with you all today. I missed a bit of the late afternoon and evening; had to leave the house and -- naturally -- was gone longer than I expected.

I'll check in again in the morning, so I don't miss anything!

Michele L. said...

Hi Susan!

Oh my gosh! You are one brave woman! You fired guns at a firing range? Holy Cow! I have shot some of my dad's big guns out at the property and basically just blew holes in the sky. The kick from the guns nearly knocked me over!

I loved reading all about the experiences you have had. You lead a very interesting life! I bet you have seen some really pretty country too!

It sure was fun having you here! Have a fantastic week!

Susan Crandall said...

Oh Michele, it's not so exciting. I just compressed the exciting parts all in a few paragraphs -- kinda like writing a book. :-) Most of my days are spent here in the relative safety of my office, the only threat being one to my sanity!

Holes in the sky ... LOL! Yeah, I can imagine with a large firearm, I'd be knocked flat.

Linda Henderson said...

I admire you for doing such research for your books. I'm sure all of the readers appreciate it too.