Thursday, October 09, 2008

Being there....Or Not

I am still working on a scene in a place I’ve never been and a situation I’ll never be in. I'd like to visit one day, but I'm a middle-aged mom with teenagers; if I enlisted in the military, someone at home would want to shoot me first. Fellow blogger and author Charles Benoit, who has been not only been in the place where I’m putting my opening (I think) scene and was also in the army, has been incredibly helpful. And it’s been loads of fun exchanging emails and imagining his experiences. So much fun that I had to call him and have a real-time conversation, which was a riot. I could hardly write ideas down fast enough.

A couple of things come to mind as I look at my scramble to describe a place I can’t visit. First and foremost, this endeavor, on paper and off, has to be fun. I love doing research, and this is the best kind. Chatting with Charles about his wild experiences reminded me of twenty-some years ago when my brother and I would sit on the lanai and drink beer and cook up thriller plots. For years, we just had fun—we never wrote them down. Finally, we both began to put them on paper.

Then the fun began in earnest, and I’ve had to branch out in terms of how I do research, which not only makes my writing better, but enriches me as a person. I’ve taken the eleven-week Citizen’s Police Academy class, I have the Medical Examiner’s direct phone number—and he talks to me in vivid detail (how lucky and fun is that?!). We (a group of writers and fellow crime fiction enthusiasts) started a Sisters in Crime chapter and we have authors, firearms experts, forensic entomologists, K-9 corps, and other experts speak to us on a regular basis.

So when I get a bit down about the publishing industry, book sales, how to publicize my next novel, travel expenses, and whatever other obstacles pop up, I think about how fortunate I am. How my world has expanded because of the active, intelligent people I’ve met in my work. How my TBR pile on the bedside table teeters even higher with gripping books. The rest of my family has begun to “borrow” from the stack—I have to make sure I get them back!

And I thank my lucky stars for being able to sit in my little office and visit Kuwait, where I’ve left my protagonist and six members of his platoon on night maneuvers near the Iraqi border, where something bad is about to happen. So please excuse me. I’d better go, they need my help.


NL Gassert said...

I miss Sisters in Crime and the wonderful guest speakers we had. Their contributions were invaluable. Now I’m here in Kansas, all alone :-)

I miss Hawaii.

Rick Blechta said...


I'm so glad that you've got someone like Charles to rely on for something you can't do.

My recent blogs have tried to get at the fact that if you CAN go to where you're writing about, you owe it to yourself and your readers to go.

In your case and in Charles' for his current work-in-progress, you can't got there in which case you rely on secondary sources of information. That is the thing to do.

By the way, how many times did your conversation with Charles go off-topic? The lateral offshoots of any chat with Charles are things to cherish -- and often very enlightening.

Yes, I could have faked my way through Paris and it would have been okay in the end (after having it thoroughly vetted by someone who knew all the places I am writing about), but by going there, my story is going to be so much richer.

Aren't you sorry now that you didn't enlist way back when and get to go to Kuwait? Think how much you would now know about your subject matter! ;)

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I've got to hand it to the members of our military (as opposed to the U.S. administration, oops, I should probably TRY to remain apolitical here). Kuwait might be one place I'd prefer to learn by proxy. Wait, I'd put present-day Iraq at the top of that list. Still, someday I would love to visit. These countries have history and culture that we can strive for and learn from.