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Posts tagged with: research

It’s Hot in Here: Researching Fire Fighters

Minden fireman Tony Hall demonstrates how to wear the equipment

Minden fireman Tony Hall demonstrates how to wear the equipment

Honestly, I can’t believe it’s July already…and I can’t believe I’m facing the start of another book. My fifteenth Superromance. Yeah. Crazy.

So I pretty much thought by this point, I’d run out of ideas. It’s been a constant worry – what if the story ideas just stop? But, like most of you, something triggers an idea and BAM! I’m off and running with a new story. So when this particular one came to me, I knew where I would start, I knew what kind of heroine I was dealing with, and because my hero Jake is in other books, I knew the charming, devil-may-care firefighter hid dark secrets and a tragic past. What I didn’t know was anything about being a firefighter.

Kinda a big problem.

You see, both Eva and Jake are firefighters which means much of the action will take place on scene of fires and at the fire house. Much of their conversation will revolve around their fellow firefighters. Heck, they’ll be sharing a shower in the firehouse. So I sorta had to know what being a firefighter was all about.

Clueless, I took to Facebook to ask for some recommendations. And as you suspect, I got lots of help. Seems everyone knows a firefighter. Cha-ching!

So that got me to thinking about how writers do research about things they have no clue about. So, I’m here to share my experience in working with experts because I’m fresh off of being a good researcher after my field trip to a local fire station yesterday.

First, think about what you will need to know. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge just the amount of information you’ll need. Do you need to have the ear of an expert in the field? Or is it something you can easily look up on the internet? In other words, how integral is the research? There have been books where I needed a small fact which was readily available with the click of a mouse. For example, when I wrote chef Rayne Rose in A Taste of Texas, I scanned an article on the latest trend in culinary arts, chose one and after a few clicks found a few recipes that sounded perfect for her. At that point I knew could toss in dialogue about making a reduction or chopping cilantro she’d grown in the herb garden and it would read as authentic without my having to contact a chef and grill him or her (punny, huh?)  But this wasn’t the case when I wrote a college football coach. In Under the Autumn Sky, the plot centered around recruiting violations and watching Friday Night Lights, while helpful in a lot of ways, wasn’t going to teach me about recruiting schedules, NCAA sanctions or scouting reports. I needed someone who could tell me exactly what recruiting highly rated high school players was all about.  So assessing how important your research is to the plot is the first thing you need to do.

Next, determine the best expert source. This can be hard, too. In the case of my current wip, I knew I needed to talk to a firefighter. But not just any firefighter. I needed one from a small town roughly the size of my fictional Magnolia Bend and I needed one who had been on the job for at least a decade. Finding this fireman wasn’t hard to do. I grew up next door to him. But when I wrote about sugarcane farming in The Sweetest September, I didn’t have that luxury. I live in North Louisiana. We don’t grow sugarcane here which meant I had to find an expert willing to talk to me about harvest, crop rotation, pesticides who didn’t live right around the corner. Or when I wanted to learn about whooping cranes. Not so easy since their habitat is not my area. So often you will have to do some digging to find the best source and expert. Luckily, we live in a time of social media, so a nicely-worded plea will often reveal a friend who knows an uncle or a cousin who works with someone who knows exactly what you need to know. There are days I truly bless the wonder of FB and Twitter (and Google!) in finding what I need.

Next, make contact with the expert. A polite, professional email usually does the trick in establishing first contact with an expert. And strangely enough, people are willing to help in most cases. Why? People love to talk about what they do. Truly. Well, pretty much. I’ve met with detectives, football coaches (this is the research trip my husband actually went on!), doctors, attorneys, bankers and now a fireman. I’ve had phone interviews with the head of the sugarcane league, a Mardi Gras float builder, and a surgeon. I’ve exchanged emails with wildlife biologists, police officers and secret service. It amazes me how considerate and enthusiastic people can be about meeting with a writer.

Next, be prepared. Go into the interview with prepared questions. Bring a notepad to jot down incidental notes, and take your camera to capture pictures. Have your business card ready and behave in a professional manner. If the expert relays that he or she only has a certain amount of time, respect that time, and always ask for permission for any sensitive information. Leave your contact information and ask for further contact information from the expert…or other experts who might aid you. If you are doing the interview via telephone or email, make sure the expert is agreeable to further follow up questions.

Finally, thank the expert. You can do this in a variety of ways. I brought cookies (cause what firefighter doesn’t want a plate of cookies to snack on during the domino game on their shift?) But a lovely thank you note works well, too. And if you want to mention on your dedication page the help you received from your expert, that’s a really lasting way to show your appreciation for the help you had on the research.

So there you have it. It’s a bit common-sense, but it’s always good to  be reminded. Haphazard research can lead to frustration during edits…or really nasty reader letters. You can have a great plot, great characters, a high concept and strong marketability, but if your research is dodgy, you’ll have regrets. So the next time you’re starting a new book, take the time to do proper research…and don’t be afraid to tap an expert on the shoulder and ask for help.

Oh, and so you know, my upcoming August book The Sweetest September includes research from experts in banking, law and sugarcane farming, and my November anthology Cowboys for Christmas includes research on women’s volleyball and being a large animal vet. I’m pretty sure I can deliver a breech foal now. So tell me what is the most interesting research you’ve done? What experts have you contacted or met with? I’d love to know.

 

Pipe Dreams, TV, and Random Research

002A writer looking out the window is a writer at work.  A writer sitting on a bench eavesdropping on a conversation is a writer at work.  Even a writer crammed into a tiny, cluttered space searching the internet while a cat wiggles his way into more and more of her chair is a writer at work—as you can see.  The list of things writers do that others see as wasting time or daydreaming is endless.

However, sometimes, even for writers, daydreaming is just daydreaming.

This is a healthy thing.  It’s a broom that sweeps all the cobwebs and mind-clutter away, opening the space, banishing the musty, and letting in new and fresh possibilities. It’s also a time for the great What if and to ponder the Why of whatever strikes your fancy.

It was in this state I started watching this season of Dancing with the Stars.

Free-for-All Friday: What are you researching?

Thriller writer Chelsea Cain recently tweeted:

ChelseaCain Tweet

 

I see I’m not the only writer who has these concerns, especially given recent revelations about government data collection. Um…NSA? FBI? DoJ? LMNOP? You know that very specific research I did recently, with the body decomposition rates in a very specific geographic area under very specific weather conditions?

It was research. Really. Kthxbai.

Every story, regardless of its historical era and no matter how reality-based or speculative the world, requires research to maximize the story’s authenticity. My recent research forays have included hematology, twerking, theoretical physics, burner phones, the House of Draculesti, Tasers, and Justin Bieber’s latest unfortunate tattoo.

Any government agency trying to build a digital profile of any author is going to have a mighty hard time. ;-)

What are you researching right now? Please share some of the weird, unexpected, notable, or interesting areas you’ve researched for a recent writing project. Did you learn anything that surprised you?

TamaraHogan_TouchMe1

GIVEAWAYS! Today, Ruby Sister Hope Ramsay and I are two of the featured authors at Dear Author‘s August Giveaway Extravaganza, celebrating romance readers for the entire month! Pop on over to have a chance to win our books.

Psssst! You don’t have to go to Dear Author to learn that my self-published Underbelly Chronicles e-novella, TOUCH ME, is free at Amazon Aug. 9-11! Grab one, fast! ;-) And if you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your honest review!

 

 

Hidden Gold

I attended high school in the days when we had to go to a bricks-and-mortar library to write a research paper.  I had to read books, scour through the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature, and ask questions of the experts–if I could figure out where to find them.

Fast-forward a decade (or three). I write historical fiction, which takes tons of research.  Fortunately, I don’t have to leave my bricks-and-mortar home to discover what I need to know. Reference books are now just a click away.  Search engines scour content for me. And the experts can be anywhere in the world.

Along the way, I’ve found some amazing online resources. In the spirit of giving, I have a gift for you: websites with free stuff.

Don’t Let Your Savvy Reader Down

Romantic suspense readers are savvy.  They know their stuff.

Some RS readers enjoy reading stories set on foreign soils. The unfamiliarity of the setting might add to the reader’s intrigue. Or, this reader feels more comfortable knowing the danger the characters face is far away from their safe world. Others, on the other hand, might get an extra charge knowing the dangerous world unfolding between the pages could be set in their own neighborhood. These are the readers that sleep with their lights on and double check their locks. You the author must decide what is the best location for your novel, and know stuff.

What stuff?  Well, besides general setting, which is a no-brainer, and since we’re discussing romantic suspense, you need to know what law enforcement agencies are found in the region you’re using, and, very important, which agencies would be involved in your case at the particular time frame of your plot.  Nothing is more annoying to a savvy RS reader than the author using the wrong agency.

Has it happen?  Yes. It did for me and I promptly returned the author’s work.

Did you know…

…most cases are initially handed at a local level. Under certain circumstances state or federal agencies are involved. There are many partnership tasks forces in place. That is not saying the state and federal resources and data banks are unavailable to the local agents. Those data banks are always available. Always check state and local procedures to involve federal agents.

…the CIA and FBI are both members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The CIA, however, is not a law enforcement organization. Its function is to collect information only regarding foreign countries and their citizens and analyzes the information vital to the formation of U.S. policy, particularly areas that impact USA national security. It is said, that the CIA is prohibited from collecting information regarding “U.S. Persons,” (U.S. citizens, resident aliens, legal immigrants, and U.S. corporations, regardless of where they are located.)

…The FBI is a primary law enforcement agency for the U.S. government, charged with enforcement of more than 200 categories of federal laws. The FBI task forces have proven to be a highly effective way for the FBI and federal, state, and local law enforcement to join together to address what are called concurrent jurisdiction cases, where a crime may violate local, state, and federal laws all at the same time. Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft.  To learn more about what the FBI investigates visit; http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/what_we_investigate

…Single-mission agencies such as DEA which is in charged with enforcing drug law and the ATF, which enforces federal firearms statutes and investigates arsons and bombings works closely with the FBI on cases where jurisdictions overlap.

…US Marshals Service (USMS) is the nation’s oldest and most multi-talented federal law enforcement agency. The Marshals occupy a uniquely central position in the federal justice system. Its mission is to protect, defend, and enforce the American justice system. It is the enforcement arm of the federal courts, and as such, it is involved in virtually every federal law enforcement initiative. The U.S. Marshals Service has been designated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as the primary federal agency for apprehending fugitives that are wanted by foreign nations and believed to be in the United States. Additionally, the Marshals Service is the primary federal agency responsible for tracking and extraditing fugitives who are apprehended in foreign countries and wanted for prosecution in the United States.

…there were five branches of the armed services. Yes, five.  Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army and the Coast Guard. The United States Coast Guard is the one branch of the armed services that does not trace its chain of command through the Department of Defense. It falls under the Department of Homeland Security and as such it is responsible for protecting our shores and inland waterways.  As we all know, the Coast Guard does so much more.

When I brainstormed the plot for my most recent RS release, SEIZED BY DARKNESS, I knew three things. One, I wanted the story to be set in my backyard, northeast USA.  Yup, I’m a making-sure-my-doors-are-locked-and-gun-loaded kidda of girl. Two, the story was going to be about a kidnapping victim reclaiming her life, which meant the FBI probably had been involved in the case but since years had passed my heroine’s case was probably buried under thousands of others. Finally, I wanted the hero to be a part of an elite division of a U.S. agency. But which agency?

Since I was planning a series revolving around a top task force, I needed an agency that is constantly involved in a wide array of cases and the setting could be anywhere in the world. After some research, which led me to the Adam Walsh Child Protection Act of 2006, the decision was a no-brainer for me. I went with the US Marshals and my C.U.F.F. team came to life.

As a result of the Adam Walsh enactment, the USMS established the Sex Offender Investigative Branch (SOIB) in August 2006.  The USMS is the lead law enforcement agency responsible for investigating sex offender registration violations under the Act.  This information and more took my story on a different path—a more emotional one.

So far I’ve referred to USA law bureaus, but if you’re writing a foreign setting you’ll need to know the appropriate law enforcement agents there.  A simple search, as I posted below, can start you on your way to learning facts that will set your novel apart from others and ensure accuracy.

Did you know…

… it is the French DST, “Département de la Sûreté/SécuritéTerritoriale” (Department of Territorial Safety/Security), commonly referred to as la Sûreté that is equivalent to the American FBI.

…the equivalent to the CIA in China is guó ān bù 国安部. Qíng bào bù 情报部 is military intelligence.

…In Britain SOCA (serious organized crime agency) are the UK FBI equivalent. MI5/ 6 are the equivalent of the CIA. (Enter James Bond.)

Once you know the agency, you can gather details about the organization and their agents that will enhance your story and bring your characters to life. Taking the time to research will earn you the respect of serious RS readers.

It’s All About the Story

Though I’ve lived in California all my life, up until February, I hadn’t been to Disneyland in seventeen years.  Seventeen years without Space Mountain.  Without Pirates of the Caribbean.  Without those strangely delicious corn dogs.  So when my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I had my answer ready.

Pardon My French

Oh, #%*$!!

Oop! Did I say that out loud? Pardon my French!

Pardon my French. Where do you suppose that idiom came from? Really, what does it mean? Under most circumstances, the expression is an apology for when the speaker curses or says something vulgar that might offend people in present company.

But isn’t French the language of loooove, a language of romance? I think of bistros by the Seine, twinkling lights on the Eiffel tower at night, long-legged beauties strolling along with pink poodles, suave men and champagne, love-sick Pepe LePew, and mimes. To me it seems if the French curse, it would sound down right silly or too formal sounding to be offensive.

So where did the expression come from? Why isn’t it Excuse my Swahili, or Pardon my Portuguese?

It all started in the 19th century. English and French were dominating languages in Western society.  But from there, many have their own opinions of how the expression became linked to profanity.

Well-educated people spoke both languages. But if one of these intellectual English stiff upper lips spoke French to someone, well, less cultured, they might be using the euphemism to show-off while looking down their noses.

Maybe the speaker meant the expression as a dig. It goes without saying England and France weren’t always the best of buddies. Could the utterance be linked to the chauvinistic mindset of “us” against “them” and thus the speaker demeaning the one being spoken to? Or is it simply that anything out of a Frenchman’s mouth was considered offensive, thereby when cursing one might pardon themselves for acting like a Frenchman?

Another suggestion stems from the British attributing many of life’s unpleasant misfortunes with the French, most notably that involving sex and the vile diseases that come from doing the naughty. So when something repulsive was said, the speaker apologized (maybe sarcastically) for being representative of France.

The French are pretty laid back people. And from what I understand, cursing is not seen as vulgar as it is expressive. Perhaps when someone let’s loose they are only being frank.

Theories abound, but what do you think? Why Pardon my French and not Pardon my Latin or Excuse my ass-backward Southern drawl? I’d love to hear your reasons.

Dressing the Part – Corsets, Torture, & Voyeuristic Pirates

The woman, a complete stranger, left me winded, dizzy. Like a thief, she stole my breath away and along with it, my good sense. Reining me into her designs armed with nothing more than a scrap of leather.

What’s this all about?

Since my passion is writing fun, steamy, adventuresome pirate romances, I’ve been toying with the idea of dressing the part – for appearances and book signings, of course. A few weeks ago, I visited a boutique specializing in Renaissance and pirate paraphernalia, including authentic clothing. Its proprietor is a saucy sort, old enough to be my grandmother and sharp of tongue. She was eager to help me once I explained why I was shopping in her unique store. In hindsight, she might have been too eager.

She produced a damask corset from behind the counter. An investment, she insisted. Now, I recently lost 40 pounds, but when she said the corset was a size 30 in the waist, I laughed. She suggested it was too big. I disagreed considering I couldn’t get the blasted thing to latch around my ribcage. I wondered if I might have peeved the woman for chuckling as she slapped down on the counter a corset the next size smaller. She was either a witchy woman ready to deliver otherworldly spite upon me or a tarot card short of a complete deck.

She had me unlace the corset while she rang out another customer. When I misunderstood and removed the laces instead, she chastised me with a wag of her finger and a vicious shake of her head. Hey, in my defense, I write about taking these things off, not putting them on.

I followed her to the not-so-private dressing room. Ironically, I shared the space with a life-size cutout of Will Turner from the Pirates of the Caribbean. Not that I minded. After finally attaching the first button (I swear it took five whole minutes!), I was drenched in sweat. Oh, but we had only just begun.

The crazy proprietor tells me to turn around so she can lace me up. Tugging away, she informs me she has arthritis and may not be able to tighten the corset completely. Really? Imagine, if you will, the scene in Gone With The Wind with Mammy lacing Scarlett’s corset. All that yanking and cringing … I’m holding onto the door jam, giggling like a crazed fool, as the lunatic conducts torture with her arthritic hands. I half expected her to brace her foot against the wall for leverage as hard as she pulled. It’s all fun and games until someone cracks a rib.

All blood flow had been cut off to my brain, my vision blurred with the spinning of the room. Breathing had become a luxury and came only in short gasps. Good grief, by the time she was done, my boobs, which is one of my better assets, were eye level. I needed mirrors and a guide dog to walk across the room. No doubt the contraption was created by a man. Had to be. Or at the very least, for his viewing pleasure. Speaking of which, this is when I noticed the twenty-something man lingering by the same racks he’d been browsing before we started this cruel and unusual punishment. Hmm…

Perfect! the delightfully batty shopkeeper claimed. The lack of oxygen must have caused a momentary lapse in reasoning because I agreed. I bought the “investment”.

The things we do for our craft.

Have you ever dressed the part for your stories or bought something to help inspire you? Let me hear from you, but speak up. I can’t hear you over this heavy breathing.

 

 

The rights/wrongs of History

I’m a history bug. If it’s old, I’m curious about it. And so the title of this blog is a misnomer, but I didn’t have four lines to work out a correct title. What I really want to ask our readers is: what are the rights and wrongs of historical romance? I don’t mean the sort of wrong that has my Viking hero arriving by helicopter to save the heroine, although that might be fun. I’m talking about the sort of history that can’t be made romantic because of what happened then, and how we look at that era today.

I’ve never seen a romance set in the south between the 1890s and the 1950s. In the 1890s, former slaves who had gained the right to vote and hold elective office had all their rights taken away in the course of a few years. Our local state representative, who was black, was a sitting member of the body that in 1898 took away his right to be a member of the assembly as well as his right to vote. He went on to be a productive member of society for many years afterward. He didn’t blow up the capitol and his former colleagues, as much as he might have wanted to. A heroic figure who could be the basis of many of our romance characters, by finding a way forward when other routes were blocked. Heroic yes, but this part of history hasn’t been touched in romance novels.

The brides of centuries past were much younger than we portray them in our novels, due to life expectancies and political and economic realities. The idea of a historical romance novel featuring a fifteen year old heroine would bring out the worst of the anti-romance novel brigade while a more literary historical novel could portray a married fifteen year old girl and not raise an eyebrow. Authors have changed their heroines’ ages to match contemporary expectations, and in a way lose the innocence and passion of these girls. Instead, historical heroines become uniformly jaded and headstrong as the authors find ways to keep them unmarried long past the date they should have wed or married to brutes for their first husbands.

And then there’s the Nazis. They left a terrible scar on history, but if you’ve seen the movie Schindler’s List, you’ve seen a way to make a man mixed up with this terrible group a romantic, heroic figure. Freedom fighters are romantic figures bucking the social order or invading armies to liberate their homeland from oppression. But what if these freedom fighters are called insurgents or criminals by our social order, such as the Mexican revolutionaries fighting along the US border in the early years of the twentieth century or the Russian revolutionaries who eventually overthrew the Czar and founded the first Communist country? Every revolutionary is a criminal to someone, as 1776 clearly tells us.

And if we look at risky periods in the past, we have to remember the religious wars. There’s a lot of history that could be painted as romantic or bleak, depending on your point of view. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Huguenots, the Pilgrims, all could be background for wonderful romances or horror stories.      

What is your take on this? Can we look past the racial, morals, religious and political divides to find romance in all times and places in history, and can we bring this to contemporary readers, along with the historical background that would have shaped those romances? With today’s e-pubs and indie publication, do we have the latitude to write stories about unpopular characters and times? How daring do we want to be? Or are there parts of history too painful to dig into for romantic fiction? Do we follow the advice to never discuss religion or politics in our stories so we don’t offend anyone? Where do we as authors draw the line?

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Nan Dixon

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Nan Dixon, a finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance category for SAVANNAH SIGHS. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Writing and Travel

I’m a writer living in the landlocked Midwest and I had the audacity to set SAVANNAH SIGHS, my 2011 Golden Heart manuscript, in Savannah.  What the heck do I know about this southern gem of a city?

Initially, not much.  When I first drafted SAVANNAH SIGHS, I’d only visited Savannah for a long weekend.

Let me take a step back.  I have 3 sisters – we do not discuss ages – since we are – amazing as it seems – all 39.  (No, my mother did not have quadruplets.)  For the last nineteen years, we have taken a long weekend – a Stevens Women’s Weekend.  Initially with our mother, now just sisters.

One sister acts as the social director and plans the whole trip.  The social director rotates each year.  I’m next up in 2012 and have so many ideas.  What is unique about the planning is the other 3 sisters do not know where we’re going.  The social director gives out clues: temperatures, what clothes to pack, possible sight-seeing items, but never tells us the destination.  (The guessing is part of the fun.)  Even airport staff and TSA cooperate by not letting us see our boarding passes or bag tags.  We never sit in front of the correct gate in the Minneapolis airport.

My turn as Social Director rolled around and I had always wanted to see Savannah.  Then I started researching the area.  Do you know that River Street is paved with flagstones from England?  The stones were ballast on ships coming to the Colonies and then dumped at the Port of Savannah to transport cotton or tobacco back to England.  Our industrious ancestors did not waste those stones.  I used that as a clue for my sisters – “Although we will not be going to England – we will be walking on parts of England.”

We flew into Atlanta.  Driving down to Savannah I caught my first sight of cotton growing.  In Minnesota, I see corn, wheat, soybeans, and cows – not cotton.  We drove into the historic district of Savannah, drove under the live oaks covered with moss, and I fell in love.  Sure, it may take you twice as long to get somewhere in Savannah because all the squares are one way – but what an incredible detour: the flowers, the statues and the people are amazing.

As we wandered Savannah, enjoyed a ghost pub-crawl, kayaked at Tybee Island, ate, and ate, and ate, the seed of a story grew.  What if four sisters owned a B&B in Savannah?  What if the mansion ate money?  What if their mother had named all her daughters after presidents’ wives, and all the rooms in the B&B, too.  Of course, there would be a ghost and a serial-killer cat.  Cooking and baking were a natural.  How would the four sisters find true love?  What trials would they face?  What would rip them apart?  Would all four sisters really want to run a B&B – or would it be a calling for some – and a cross to bear for others?

My love affair with Savannah started with my sisters and then became a romance series.  When I dragged my husband down for more research last spring, he also fell in love.  If you get a chance, I recommend taking the fascinating Bonaventure Cemetery Tour.

What happens when you travel – even just to the mall?  Does the ambiance end up in your stories?  Do you eavesdrop on other people’s conversations?  What’s your favorite book setting and how did you come up with it?

Nan Dixon is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and proud member of the Unsinkables and Starcatchers.  A self-confessed contest junkie, in 2009 she won the Contest Diva award with 18 finals (3 manuscripts) and plans to bring the recently received tiara to nationals. You can find her at www.nandixon.com.

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