Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Research--part II

I didn’t realize until I started writing fiction how much research can be involved in putting together a story. Even if the story takes place in your head, you still have to have your facts straight or someone will call you on them. (See yesterday’s post.)

In my latest work-in-progress, I have a character whose father is in prison. First step: how did he get there? Luckily my son’s baseball coach is an ICE agent (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and he gave me some insight as to crimes this guy might have committed that would have landed him in a federal prison. Since my character goes to visit his dad, I needed to know more about how that would play out. I chose Beaumont since it’s in Texas (where the story takes place) and is a federal correctional facility. It took about 20 phone calls before someone ever answered their phone (glad I didn’t have someone incarcerated I was trying to reach), and then three more tries before I connected with someone who would/could talk to me. Now I have her name and direct line. She told me about security procedures, what the inmates would be wearing, guards, parking, everything I needed to know without actually having to make the drive.

I also have a character who drives a racecar around the Texas Motor Speedway—just for fun. Dawn Stokes, the CEO of the Texas Driving Experience, was more than willing to talk with me and even invited me out to the track in July. I’ll be there.

Another character in the story rides a motorcycle. (I seem to be drawn to them—probably because I was raised around bikes and even had a mini bike of my own that I shared with my sisters. My dad and brother raced dirt bikes.) One night at critique, I read about this character getting on his bike. Two guys in the group immediately started grilling me: what type of bike was it? what did it sound like? did it have a back rest? etc. And they were right. The type of bike he owned would say a lot about his character. Did he ride a ‘crotch-rocket’ or a Hog? So, more research. Now he rides a Triumph Tiger. (I found one on eBay and was careful not to bid as I checked out the features.)

This book is set in Dallas (and I’m writing it with my critique/writing partner Joan), so we spent an afternoon wandering around downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum, and uptown to get a feel for where our characters might live, work, eat and play. A chatty waitress named Maggie at Ten (a sports bar), a friendly valet, two cops on foot patrol, and assorted others helped us get a feel for the area, and we worked many comments and details into our story.

What I’ve learned is this: people are willing and so helpful when asked for their expertise. We couldn’t have put together this story and made it authentic without the input from others who know more about ‘stuff’ than we do.

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