July 9, 2013

Ride Alongs, Doctor Calls, and Drug Busts: All in a Day’s Work

By Liz Everly

Last week I was at Fourth of July party and had an interesting conversation with an educated woman, whose husband is even more educated. Let’s just say they are in the medical profession. She was shocked when she found out that writers actually do research—not the book kind of research one might imagine, but that they actually call on experts and ask them questions. She didn’t realize this  until a writer called her office to ask questions. The woman I was speaking with thought we simply made everything up.

Hmmm. I wonder how many readers think like that or simply never give it a thought. I mean we are mostly here to entertain readers—so I guess if readers are not thinking about everything that goes into the book, maybe we are doing a great job. And I kinda like the notion that readers think writers are a fount of information and don’t need to reach out to experts. But most of us consider research to a be big part of the job of writing—even when we are writing fiction. We still need to get the facts within the fiction right. It makes the story more believable. You don’t want your reader to stop dead in their tracks while reading and think “that’s not right” and maybe set aside the book because from that point on, it’s difficult for them to believe your story. Even though it’s fiction.

I’ve done all kinds of things in the name of research. And I usually do it while I’m writing or after. I fill in the gaps of my writing after I check out more specific things with my research.. I have police officers, lawyers, chefs, and doctors that I call on to answer questions. I’ve found that people really like it when you ask them for advice.

One of the things I’m most excited about is a conference that I’ll be attending this fall. I’m hoping to make a lot of contacts that I can call on. It’s beneficial for everybody for crime and suspense writers to get the facts straight. Even though I write culinary romances as Liz Everly, there is an element of suspense in them. (And I write mysteries under another name.) “The Writer’s Police Academy” will offer classes in forensics, self-defense for women, jail tours, patrol ride along, sessions on gangs and human trafficking. First hand knowledge. You can’t beat it.

When I Google “ride along,” this movie trailer came up and I have to say it made me laugh. Especially the part where the trainee shoots the gun (which I will not be doing, because I didn’t sign up in time). But I am in the lotto for a ride along and it’s serious business for which you have to sign a waiver and dress in decent clothes–not jeans and a t-shirt–because you don’t want to be confused with a suspect at any time. Here’s a clip from “ride along.”

What the craziest thing you’ve done for research?

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  • Post authorAlexa Day

    Wow, I honestly do not know what to make of that lady’s thought that we just make everything up. Seriously, I’m at a total loss there. Wow.

    The craziest thing I ever did for research? I took a discovery flight with a flight instructor. I have a story in my to-be-written queue with a hero and heroine in one of those little single engine planes, but I’d never been in one before. I took the discovery flight just to see what the inside felt like, find out whether it was noisy, see how much room a person had to move, that sort of thing.

    Well, things took a turn for the unexpected when he put me in the left seat. Sure, he had a yoke on his side, too, like the driving instructor has pedals. But when we got to the end of the runway, he turned to me and said, “Go ahead and take off. Try to keep it in the middle of the runway.”

    So I did. I’d never been so terrified in my life. But I did it.

    Now that’s on my extended bucket list — once I get enough money, I want to take a whole set of flight lessons. You never know where research will take you!

    Reply to Alexa Day
    • Post authormadelineiva

      Alexa that’s crazy!!!! I would be screaming the whole way. Wow!

      Reply to madelineiva
  • Post authorLizEverly

    Wow! You are one brave writer. I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation. At the Writer’s Police Academy, there will be some kind of driving simulation. Two key words. “Driving” (not flying) and “simulation” (not real). Hahaha. Maybe it will be some kind of chase simulation. Might be fun.

    Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authormadelineiva

    Prowling around the back alley’s of a city neighborhood known for robberies is probably the craziest thing that I’ve done as an adult.

    However, when I was a young idiot, I had to take a train across the U.S. and decided to imitate a character I was writing about who was a huge mooch/free spirit type. I personally hate to ask for favors, but I thought I’d try to see how much I could mooch off of folks during my travels and what kind of responses I’d get.

    I very quickly learned that women are great to mooch off of. Borrow their phones, borrow some change, get advice on where to eat when in town, get a ride from the train station to my destination…they were very very generous.

    However, I learned that when you mootch from men they think it’s because you want to have sex with them. An interesting though perhaps not quite logical assumption.

    I shared a taxi, borrowed cell phones, trade stories, played poker, etc, with a group of nice guys on the train and in Chicago. The nice guys got this little question look in their eyes — even as they started offering to give me far more than I was asking for. One even stammered out “What do you want exactly?” even though I think I was just asking for his last piece of gum.

    It got a little hair-raising at one point–the big mistake I made was that this one guy had an empty bed in his private room. You’re cringing already I can tell. No, I was fine, though I learned that I simply do not have the nerve for this kind of life style. My heart was pounding most of the night.

    It didn’t help that he got up in the middle of the night and started talking to me non-stop. Now, he had a lot of buddies on the trip with him and they all worked together–I’d talked to all of them for a few hours–they all seemed totally sane, but obviously this guy really wasn’t. He ranted that he was inventing a perpetual motion machine and then went on to tell me about his encounter with a U.F.O. one night in Idaho. I pretended to fall asleep and waited until he got back in his bunk and fell alseep, then I slunk out of the cabin and hid from him until he was off the train.

    Eeesh! But now I know exactly what that kind character (so not me!) would go through in her travels.

    Reply to madelineiva
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      That is one crazy story! Honestly, I do a ton of research (much of which never ends up in the stories, of course, but it helps to have the knowledge when writing), but I haven’t actually done too many crazy things in the name of research. Like Liz, I have cops, doctors, lawyers, etc. on whom I can call when I have questions. One time I did do a ride along in a car with a guy who was a professional race car instructor. Thank God I have a strong will to have endured that one! It was terrifying!

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore

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