We’ve been talking about researching for our novels and started a conversation about how far we are willing to go for the sake of accuracy.
Sherry: I was writing a scene that had an angry man in it. As I pondered how to describe this man I realized my husband was sitting in the other room. I thought about telling him I’d just spent $5,000 on a diamond necklace but decided this might not be the best idea I’d ever had. When I mentioned this to him he said, “I wouldn’t have been mad.” Ha — I don’t believe that for a minute. I did make my first ever Fluffernutter sandwich this week. But probably the oddest think I’ve done was when I wrote a scene where my protagonist is pushed up against a window. I pushed my face into a window in our house as hard as I could. I made sure it was a window in the back of the house so no one would see me. Probably if I’d gone with the $5,000 diamond story my husband would have been happy to help with the window research.
Edith: Interesting topic. I have certainly tried falling down in various ways, and once asked Hugh to put pressure on my carotid artery and grab my upper arm with his other hand to see if I could press a phone number in my other pocket. I killed off someone in a short story with Datura tea (that’s a spoiler, but check it out for yourself: http://www.amazon.com/Reduction-in-Force-ebook/dp/B00AYPWIN8/), but am not about to sample that myself. I took an eight-week Citizen’s Police Academy in my town this spring where I learned so much about police procedure and the crimes that happen in a small New England city. Even more important, I’m now friends with several Amesbury Police Department officers who I can email or call with questions. Priceless.
Liz: I remember at Crime Bake one year when Joe Finder talked about letting a funeral director close him in a casket for research – and the guy left him there for ten or fifteen minutes. Not sure I’d be able to do that! But I was working on another series that involves a funeral home, and I happen to have a friend who runs one. In the course of that research, I’ve been able to watch the removal of a dead man’s pacemaker, an actual cremation, and examine the body of a guy who had been shot execution-style.
For that same series, I had a training session with a guy who had done “government work” in the past who was an expert in serious martial arts training. He taught me how to take down a man triple my size. That was probably the best research yet! Oh, and then there was the python – but I should save that for another blog.
Barb: Liz, I would definitely NOT let anyone put me in a casket for any length of time for research. And, Sherry, if I told my husband Bill I bought a $5000 necklace, I’m sure he would do one of three things:
2) Say, “No really, what did you do? Are you trying to tell me you crashed the car?”
3) (most dangerous) see it as license to go out and acquire something of equal or greater value.
I’m terrible at research of this type because I’m shy and have trouble asking people for help. So research often lingers on my to-do list to the last possible moment. This summer for Boiled Over, book 2 in the Maine Clambake series, my husband Bill and I traveled far down east to Machias, Maine. We stopped in Wild Blueberry Land, (not a hardship) and went to the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival (also not hard). We toured Welch Farm and got lots of questions answered. (Also not hard. The family is lovely.) But then I had to do what I really came to do. To see the Passamaquoddy Blueberry fields and see a real blueberry rakers’ camp where the Mi’kmaq people stay when they come to Maine for the blueberry harvest. Everything was posted with huge No Trespassing signs. I’m such a law-abiding good girl, but I really felt, for all the research I’d done, I couldn’t describe the camps unless I’d seen one. So with Bill driving and egging me on, we did go to one of the camps. It was deserted, which in some ways was scarier. But it helped enormously in the writing to have actually been.
Jessie: I write about a volunteer firefighter postmistress in one series and a maple sugar maker in another. For the Granite State Mysteries I’ve visited the local fire station and have had a couple of different firefighters to dinner in order to pick their brains. For the postal questions I’ve been lucky to be acquainted with incredibly helpful people at the local post office. No matter how wacky the question they’ve answered patiently and generously.
For the Sugar Grove series I attended events during the NH Maple Weekend where I put myself through the excruciating task of sampling Sugar on Snow candy just to be sure I could accurately describe it. I’ve also been forced to purchase bottle after bottle of maple syrup and to test recipes using said syrup on my family. I also visited with an extremely helpful Conservation Officer from the NH Fish and Game department who allowed me to ride along on a rabid fox call.
Julie: I have wandered around a town that “fit” my story, and stopped and taken pictures all over the place. Not tourist “isn’t this a lovely home” pictures, but pictures of parking lots, back entrances, drain pipes, and close ups of windows. And then I did a video of a walking tour, narrating ideas as I went. And then I drove in and out of the town with my flip cam on the steering wheel.
I have also gone to a shooting range, tried different guns, and asked questions of experts. And I dream of learning how to pick a lock.
Readers: Do you spot errors in accuracy as you read? Authors, how far have you gone in the name of getting things right?
Very interesting… what you do for your writing!
Barb, I’m very interested in the blueberry fields. My grandmother’s sister and her family had a wild blueberry farm up by Moosehead Lake for a few generations. I was part of the urban Indian community in Boston and worked with many Mi’kmaq clients at the Indian Center there. They would go back north for blueberry picking in the camps you mention. Some would go further north for the lobstering season as well. I would see them at Tecumseh House in the in between times. That part of my own family came from the same general area of Nova Scotia. Despite the NS reserves and Maine reservations, it’s a very fluid community, but it is steady within the cycles. Most of the people know each other are often related. When I counseled at Tecumseh House I would meet one or two people every month who I didn’t know, but who shared with me a family name and ancestors, either French or Mi’kmaq, or both.
What an interesting background! That in itself sounds like a book.
Thanks, Sherry. Maybe…
I wrote about the camps because it is so fascinating. And a way of life that’s slowly dying due to mechanical harvesting. People are often related and return every year to see far flung family. It’s like family camp–with back-breaking labor.
Barb, I’m glad you wrote about it. And of course you are right about the gathering.
So many possibilities! In the Orchard Mysteries, I use more than one colonial building from the real town, and I’ve toured them all. I’m shameless these days–I ask if I can poke around in the attic and the basement, and take lots of pictures. When the “Warren” house was struck by a falling tree branch during a windstorm, I was there in days to look at what was inside the damaged walls, before the owners could repair them. (Luckily they’re friends now.)
I just paid $500 for a winter share at our local farm, even though I know we’ll get more root crops and bitter greens that we’ll want to eat. But the Local Foods Mysteries book I’m working on now is set in January and Cam has offered winter shares. So it had to be done!
I wanted to write a James Bond novel, so I had a wild affair with Daniel Craig.
Oh, you meant for real? I can’t think of anything outlandish. One thing I did do, inadvertently, was give birth to twins. I get a surprising number of questions from people about twin behavior. It’s never helped me, but I think it has aided the many people out there writing evil twin stories. (I don’t recommend having twins for research purposes. Just ask me, I’ll help you out.)
If I said that thing about the $5,000 necklace, my husband would either have a heart attack or run out and buy that boat he’s been talking about. That’s a dangerous game to play, Sherry!
Very funny, Ramona. And at least I came to my senses before making my husband mad. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of other opportunities!
Ah, yes, having twins for research purposes. WAY above and beyond the call of duty.
My husband is now a big fan of the Fluffertnutter.
I haven’t really done anything dangerous, but I’m so glad I did a 12-week course in Austin for Citizens’ Police Academy. That included a rideout. I also did a ridealong in Wichita Falls. They actually called them two different things. There were some, um, experiences. Like the guy that was being arrested, that I was left alone with, who peed in the back of the car. I was in the front and shielded, but he wouldn’t believe me that I was not a police officer and tried to talk me into letting him out. Another time my cop answered a call for a guy in trouble with drugs, ODing on Angel Dust, who probably died at the hospital later that night. I save maps of everywhere I visit and take pix, too.
That sounds pretty exciting, Kaye!!!!
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