July 23 – 29: What is the most extreme thing you’ve done in the name of research?

This week the Thriller Roundtable gets extreme when Joseph Amiel, Kathryn Casey, Thomas Young, Ken Pelham, Alex Kava, Lissa Kessler, Angie Fox, R. Thomas Riley and Kathleen George answer the question: “What is the most extreme thing you’ve done in the name of research?”


Lisa Kessler is an award winning author of dark paranormal fiction. Her debut novel, NIGHT WALKER, won a San Diego Book Award for best Fantasy-Sci-fi-Horror, and was also a double finalist for the Book Seller’s Best for Best Paranormal and Best First Book. Her short stories have been published in print anthologies and magazines, and her vampire story, IMMORTAL BELOVED, was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award. Lisa lives in southern California with her incredibly fun husband and two amazing kids.

Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of several books about vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night. She is best known for her Accidental Demon Slayer series. She is also writing a series about a group of paranormal M*A*S*H surgeons. The first book in the Monster MASH trilogy, titled IMMORTALLY YOURS, is due out from St. Martin’s Press in August 2012.

R. Thomas Riley is the author of the short story collection THE MONSTER WITHIN IDEA (2009-2011) published by Hugo Nominated Apex Publications and re-released as a Kindle exclusive in 2011. IF GOD DOESN’T SHOW (co-written with John Grover) will be published by Permuted Press and Audible.com, July 2012. DIAPHANOUS (co-written with Roy C. Booth) is available now. THE DAY LUFBERRY WON IT ALL was adapted to short film by Frosty Moon Omnimedia in 2010.

Kathleen George is the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIR and the author of  TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (Edgar finalist, best novel), HIDEOUT, and the forthcoming SIMPLE.  The novels are set in Pittsburgh.  The author teaches theatre and writing at Pitt.

Ken Pelham grew up in the off-the-radar South Florida farm town of Immokalee, sandwiched between coasts and snuggled against wild, wooly Big Cypress Swamp. Before turning his attention to novels, he wrote numerous short stories and articles. He lives in Maitland, Florida, with his wife, Laura.

Alex Kava is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve novels, ten in the critically acclaimed Maggie O’Dell series. She is the recipient of the Mari Sandoz Award. Her novels are published in over 26 countries. Alex Kava is also the author of two stand alone thrillers, ONE FALSE MOVE and WHITEWASH.

A novelist and an award-winning journalist, Kathryn Casey is the creator of the Sarah Armstrong mystery series and the author of six highly acclaimed true crime books. Her first novel, SINGULARITY, was one of Booklist’s best crime novel debuts of 2009, and Library Journal chose the third, THE KILLING STORM, as one of the best books of 2010. Casey’s protagonist is a Texas Ranger/profiler headquartered in Company A, Houston. Kathryn Casey has appeared on Oprah, Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen Network, Court TV, Biography, Nancy Grace, E! Network, TruTv, Investigation Discovery, The Travel Channel and A&E. Ann Rule calls Casey “one of the best in the true crime genre.”

Tom Young served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Air National Guard. Military honors include two Air Medals, three Aerial Achievement Medals, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal. Young is the author of THE MULLAH’S STORM, SILENT ENEMY, and THE RENEGADES. His newest novel, THE RENEGADES, is set in the Afghanistan war and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Joseph Amiel is an internationally best-selling author, whose novels include STAR TIME, BIRTHRIGHT, DEEDS, HAWKS and A QUESTION OF PROOF. He has also won awards for screenwriting and for his comedy-mystery web series Ain’t That Life. A graduate of Amherst College and Yale Law School, he is married and lives in New York City.

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  1. Well before 9/11, I had an interesting reason why someone who was not a terrorist would blow up airliners and thought it might make a good mystery at the heart of thriller about an airline in crisis. On the basis of three chapters containing the fuzziest research, my agent managed to sell my first novel Hawks to a publisher.

    Knowing little more than the average traveler about airliners, airlines, plane crashes, and explosives, I spent several months learning everything I could. Fortunately for me, a Congressional committee had recently published volumes of testimony delving deeply into the industry and how it operated; and radicals and others were publishing pamphlets on how to make bombs. To get a sense of what it was like to be in the pilot’s seat thousands of feet above solid ground, I took a flying lesson. But once I had done all of that research and created the characters and plot I had to be sure that, at least in principle, one could actually plant a bomb in that part of the jetliner I had chosen for the book. Making certain of that led to the most extreme thing I’ve ever done in the name of research.

    While on a commercial jet flying to a vacation, I locked myself in a lavatory and using only a coin, as I recall, unscrewed a ceiling panel. There in plain sight, in the area known as the plenum or plenum chamber, running the length of the fuselage above the cabin to the stabilizers on the tail, were the hydraulic and other cables essential to flying that plane. Today, smuggling the constituents for the kind of bomb my villain employed would be somewhat more difficult, but looking at those cables, I became assured that the bomb could destroy them and consequently the plane in flight while he was safely gone. I had found the plane’s Achilles heel. It felt weird and frightening. If a writer could figure it out, couldn’t someone with single-minded evil intent figure it out as well? For the briefest moment I debated the morality of revealing the method in print. But then I realized that I wasn’t revealing top secret information because anyone could figure it out as I had and, to be practical, how many potential bombers are wide-ranging readers.

    At that moment, my trepidation at removing the ceiling panel turned into near panic as it occurred to me how guilty I would look to an airline official: WRITER CAUGHT IN ACT OF DESTROYING PLANE AND PASSENGERS. One of those passengers was my wife, which turned into a sub-headline: DEVIOUSLY AVOIDS COMPLICATIONS OF DIVORCE. And a third: BOMBER’S OWN BODY NEVER FOUND (okay, survival is a primal instinct). I’m exaggerating somewhat here, but the fear of being apprehended, with only a flimsy lavatory lock for protection was vividly real.

    Heart pounding, I hurriedly replaced the screws, afraid I would drop and lose them. Then I pocketed my coin and slipped out of the lavatory, too frazzled to remember to use the cubicle for its intended purpose and worried that if I slipped back in to relieve myself, a wary flight attendant would become suspicious: “Only bombers go back into lavatories so quickly!”

    Because of all my research, my publicity campaign centered around my expertise in air crashes. For years, I was called upon to appear on TV and radio news shows to pontificate about possible causes of the latest crash, while I plugged my book. Larry King and I spent hours chatting on his late-night radio show. He wanted the company, and I wanted all the publicity my book could get. However, my guru status led to my closest call in the talking-head trade. I flew up to Boston for a TV show and, as we landed at Logan Airport, could see beside the runway the wrecked plane that had prompted my upcoming appearance. When I arrived at the TV studio, I was surprised to learn that my “counterpoint” would be an airline pilot who was the pilot union’s expert on plane crashes.

    For most of the hour, his smug technical assertions were giving him the best of it. I desperately eyed the achingly slow minute hand on the studio clock. Miraculously, his final assertion dealt with a crash over Paris with which I was familiar. To prove that an incompetent foreign ground employee and not American airline expertise was at fault, he said the cause of the crash was the French door handler’s inability to read the directions on the door and close it properly because he was illiterate. From some hidden synapse in my brain, a small fact wiggled its way into my consciousness. I responded, “Actually, the door handler spoke four languages and read seven. The plane took off from Paris. Why weren’t the directions on the door also written in other languages, one of them certainly being French?” At that moment, the moderator intervened: “Time’s up. We’ll have to leave it at that.” And I was out of there, my credibility intact and possessed of the realization that the research we writers insert in our books to make it appear we know what of we speak can save our asses.

    Writing about Hawks has amped my excitement about re-issuing it in a new and updated edition later in the year. But right now, my attention is focused on my legal thriller A Question of Proof, being launched this week in both digital and print at Amazon and, soon after, wherever books are sold online. But that’s a whole other story.

  2. In my military career, I’ve always been a flier–never an infantryman and certainly never any kind of special operator. But some of my characters are trigger-pullers, and to research the kinds of things they’d know, I took a long-range rifle course last month. I signed up for an introduction to sniper marksmanship, taught by a company that contracts with law enforcement agencies and the military.

    Turned out that all the instructors were former Army Special Forces troops, and when they learned they had a flyboy on their hands, I came in for plenty of good-natured teasing. They also brought with them the SF community’s suffer-no-fools approach to training. At one point as we were firing from the 500-yard line, the wind picked up. Some of the students failed to account for wind drift, and thus their rounds began to impact off target.

    After several complete misses, the head instructor called a cease-fire. “All right,” he called. “Bolts open, weapons safe. Gather round.” He stood with his hands on his hips and fire in his eyes.

    “Are you people f******* blind?” he asked. “Can you not see the wind blowing? Do you know how to use your windage knobs? Put those f****** rounds on target!”

    That moment was as useful as the shooting itself. I might eventually use it to help write a character’s flashback to his training days. And, by the way, a little negative reinforcement improved our shooting pretty quickly.

    The training center was located in the West Virginia mountains. In a briefing on the first day of class, an instructor mentioned that timber rattlers were common on the property. A couple of days later as we were setting up on a firing line, the instructor looked through his spotting scope and asked for everyone’s attention.

    “Look at the rock pile about fifty yards behind the targets,” he said. “See that thing crawling up the rocks? That’s a rattlesnake.”

    Big sucker, too. Now having grown up in the country, I respect every animal’s role in the ecosystem. I don’t usually kill snakes, not even poisonous ones. But I make exceptions when poisonous snakes frequent areas where people have to work. I wasn’t shooting at that moment. I was spotting for my class partner. I guesstimated the elevation adjustment for my partner’s scope. “Two clicks up,” I said.
    “Fire at will,” the instructor commanded.
    “Spotter ready,” I said.
    “Shooter ready,” my partner answered.
    “Send it.”

    My partner’s rifle barked. Seven other weapons fired as well, and that snake disappeared in a hail of bullets and a cloud of dust. At the end of the day I went home with a course completion certificate and a pad full of notes about the kinds of things my ground-pounder characters would know how to do.

    1. I’ve been in or around the military for the past 13 years, 4 years active with the Air Force and now with the Air National Guard. I’ve served around the other branches at some point. I always jump at the chance to pick their brains for my “other” day job.


  3. I’ve always loved research, but I can’t honestly say that I’ve done any that I would call “extreme.” Not jumping-out-of-airplanes extreme anyway.
    Since two of my novels involve scuba diving into caves, I took lessons, got certified, and hit some springs here in Florida. Diving into the vent at Blue Spring was creepy, much more so than I’d imagined. It’s narrow and craggy, with a tree trunk wedged into the opening, so you squeeze your way around without dislodging your dive gear. In dive training, you’re taught to remove your mask underwater, replace it, and purge it. You’re also taught to remove your tank, let it sink to the bottom, and wriggle your way back into it…without panicking. The idea is to prepare you for, say, getting your tank and mask knocked off in Blue Spring. That spring is DEEP; you can’t see the bottom. It just disappears into darkness, so if my tank does get knocked loose, I’ll kiss it goodbye and head for the surface.
    For Place of Fear, I traveled to Belize and Guatemala. Something that wasn’t supposed to be extreme, but kind of turned out that way, was crossing the Belizean border into Guatemala. This was a frenzy of bureaucratic head-scratching and took a couple of hours. After we got going again across this remote countryside, we see a handful of soldiers along the roadside. But are they soldiers? I’m not even sure. One soldier steps forward and starts flagging us. Now, keep in mind that the drug wars had spilled in recent years from the Mexican border on the east into Guatemala. Not long before we’d arrived, the drug lords had beheaded a couple dozen Guatemalan peasants for being in the wrong place. So I slow down, but I’m leery of stopping for anything or anyone. An ambulance came up behind me and passed without stopping. I floored it, determined to keep the ambulance in sight. I wanted to get to Flores before dark, to say the least.
    I’ve got the full travelogue of Belize and Guatemala on my website, http://www.kenpelham.com.

  4. Thank goodness, I haven’t been to war, and I haven’t broken into panels above bathrooms in commercial airliners. The truth is that I haven’t even been scuba diving. I’m suddenly feeling very boring. That said, I’m a crime writer, mysteries and true crime, so I have had some rather unusual experiences.

    To prepare for my three novels, the Sarah Armstrong mystery series, I did things like frequenting gun ranges, interviewing folks who’d been caught in streams during floods, and (kind of) learning to ride a horse. But for the true crime books, the research is exhausting. After all, it’s about a real case, so I can’t make anything up. I have to know what actually took place. The result is that I start by spending weeks on end sitting in on a murder trial. It’s invaluable, really. I get to know the defendant, the person accused of a murder, and the families on both sides of the equation.

    If you’ve never been to a high-profile murder trial, it’s an experience. The tension is palpable in the courtroom, and the stakes are high for both sides. Emotions run hot, and it all plays out in a confined space, a room in which the family of the accused often sits within five feet of the family of the victim. I’m not with either side but there to observe, to take notes and try to figure out what happened.

    After the trials, I start researching, looking at the evidence and interviewing sources. That lands me in the living rooms of folks who have just suffered an unspeakable tragedy, the loss of a loved one to violence. We can imagine what it would be like to have a husband or wife, a son or daughter murdered, but none of us truly knows unless we’ve experienced it. There’s inconceivable sadness and pain, and often tremendous anger.

    Then there are the prison visits. To be fair to everyone involved, I always try to talk to those convicted of the crimes. For the new book, “Deadly Little Secrets,” I traveled a couple of hours north of my Houston home to the prison where Matt Baker, a former minister, is serving a 65-year sentence for murdering his wife and staging it to look like a suicide. (He almost got away with it. It’s an incredible case.)

    I enter the prison, and there’s the slamming of the steel doors as they lock behind me. At that moment, I’m armed with only my tape recorder, a pad of paper and two pens. Then the interview starts, a nervous time as I remind myself to give the inmate the benefit of the doubt – because, after all, some people are wrongly convicted.

    In the end the evidence, the interviews, the small facts I collect all become pieces of a puzzle that forms the final picture, the one I do my best to paint in my books. The challenge is to not only explain who, how, when, and where, but to answer the most important question, why?

    While disturbing, the interviews aren’t usually dangerous. A couple of exceptions, however, were rather worrisome. The first was a psychopath I interviewed, James Bergstrom from “Evil Beside Her.” For some unknown reason, the powers-in-charge in the jail put us in a small conference room and left us alone there for hours, without a visible guard or glass between us. Bergstrom kept looking toward the door. The following night before our second interview, he called me. He’d checked the location of the room we met in, decided it was near the outside, and proposed that I help him escape.

    Then there was “A Warrant to Kill,” about a deputy, Kent McGowen, convicted of murdering a woman who lived not far from my house. The hitch was that at the time my book came out, McGowen was still free on an appeal bond. He was unhappy with the book. I got threatening phone calls, and my yard was repeatedly trenched. The most nervous time was the afternoon I ended up riding in a courthouse elevator with McGowen. Just the two of us. He glared at me for seventeen stories.

    Sometimes I think fiction is the better gig. You see, there’s this thing about writing true crime: the bad guys are real.

      1. Based on what he told his mistress, the pretty, young music minister’s daughter, Matt figured that God forgave him and didn’t hold him responsible. As you can imagine, Matt had a way of talking around a lot of things when the subject was his own accountability. It really is an amazing case. If Kari Baker’s family hadn’t forced the issue, Matt would certainly have gotten away with murder. It turns out that rather than a man of God, Matt was a serial sexual predator.

  5. I wish I could say I went caving or piloted a plane in order to be able to write about it.  But mostly I do things like go to the Forensics lab to look at heroin.  I know, I could learn about heroin by being hip and street smart, but I’m just not in the right circles for that.  For SIMPLE my most exciting research was a visit to the county jail.  Before my visit I had always held the belief that if I had to go to jail for some reason, at least I would have enough time finally to read and write.  But once I saw the cells, that fantasy exploded.  The futon mattress was thin and stiff, the cell smelled bad, the chair was a metal stool bolted to the floor, and the “desk” was a tiny table bolted to the floor.  A good fellow, Captain Flood, showed me around.  I asked to see the inmates in the general area, relating to each other, watching TV, etc.  We began to go to that area when the jail went into lockdown.  I never found out the reason—some panic button was pushed.  Zoom.  Metal, metal, metal sounds, buzzers, alarms, and not a person to be seen.  In seconds, everyone but staff was behind bars and even staff was locked out without a code.  So I didn’t get to see any interaction.  Only closed doors with barred windows.  But I did learn that the inmates could all see me.  Flood said, “They speak to each other through the toilets.  By now everyone knows Captain Flood is showing around a woman with a notebook.”  I found this fascinating.  And I was grateful for the accident of the lockdown.  I got a good lockdown scene for SIMPLE.    

    1. As many prisons as I’ve been in over the past thirty years, and there have been a bunch, I have yet to be in one during a lock down, Kathleen. Sounds really interesting. Did you find it disconcerting when the prison doors locked behind you and you were, at least temporarily, cut off from the outside world? It’s always kind of a nervous time for me. I guess I’m worried that they’ll decide I belong there and refuse to let me leave! LOL

      1. I was so busy taking notes, I don’t think I got nervous. I think the captain showing me around got nervous. His key card wouldn’t work for a moment, etc. After that I called a cousin who works as a cook in a state prison. That was interesting, too. he talked about supervising people wielding knives, people who had committed violent crimes. He told me he always showed respect and they told him if there was trouble, they had his back. I hope that’s true.

  6. I’ve had a ball with research for my Accidental Demon Slayer books. The biker witches ride Harleys, and I’d never been on a motorcycle before. Plus, one of the protagonists in my books has a dog, and I had to figure out how to get the dog on a bike.

    I went online and learned about the Biker Dogs Motorcycle Club, made up exclusively of Harley riders and their dogs. I ended up meeting some of them, along with a few other bikers along the way. These bikers were so great to me. They hoisted me onto the back of their Harleys (with dogs in tow). They took me to biker rallies (note to self: don’t wear pink). And they laughed at me when I tried to put my helmet on backwards (I still say I was distracted by the Pomeranian wearing a tiny pair of motorcycle glasses).

    After a few outings with my new biker buddies, I was able to make my geriatric biker witch characters a lot more realistic. And I took home some great pictures, too.

    1. lol, that is some fun research! I am sure they enjoyed sharing their love of bikes and pet with you just as much as you did!

    2. I wish I could have seen you on the motorcycle with a dog, and the Pomeranian with the goggles! thanks for all your hard work Love the books


    3. Sounds like you had a great time, I’d have love to have seen the dog 🙂

    4. That is too fabulous for words!! Plus, pink is great, I am wearing it right now! I can so see you looking terrific and having fun.

    5. I wish I knew how to post pics. These comments are cracking me up. You know, I was a little afraid when I met some of these bikers for the first time, but wow – they were so open and accepting. I ended up weaving that element into the series as well. That’s the great thing about in-person research. You think you’re looking for one element – and you end up learning so much more that you never expect.

    6. Thank you for doing all the research. It added to the tapestry of characters and helped this series become one of my all time favorites!

  7. Hi Everyone –

    This is my first time at the Big Thrill Roundtable! Thanks for saving me a chair…

    My new Night Series introduces a new immortal race into the world, Night Walkers. They’re similar to a vampire, but their origins are actually from the Mayans, not Vlad in Romania.

    In order to make my world and my Night Walkers real, I took a trip to the Yucatan to see some Mayan ruins and learn all I could about their culture.

    This is probably where I should mention I’m terribly afraid of heights…

    Anyway, after touring a few different Mayan ruin sites, nothing prepared me for Chichen Itza. It was hot, humid, and completely glorious. Maybe that’s how I lost my mind and decided it would be a great idea to hike the El Castillo pyramid!

    First my daughter and I climbed up inside the pyramid. There is actually a smaller pyramid inside, and scientists say there is another one beneath that. The Mayans believed in cycles of life and at the end of a cycle they built right over the old. Our muscles ached when we came out and our guide explained it was carbon dioxide poisoning!

    Apparently there is very little oxygen inside and there were a bunch of people hiking up and down inside so there’s more carbon dioxide than oxygen… But it was really cool to view carvings that haven’t seen the sun in almost 3,000 years…

    Next we tackled the huge outer pyramid. It’s a serious climb! The steps are VERY narrow and super steep. There’s no handrail, and nothing to protect you if you start to fall. We basically crawled up. It didn’t seem so bad. Until I got to the top and looked down. YIKES!

    I hyperventilated, almost cried, admitted to the kids there was no way I was walking down those steps, and my son who was only about 7 at the time had to rescue me. He sat on the top step and I sat beside him. Together we scooted down each step on our butts and I’m happy to say I lived! LOL

    To get a feel for how steep these stairs are, I have pictures on by blog…


    You can’t hike the pyramid anymore, so in hindsight I was really lucky to gain that perspective for my research, but at the time, it was MUCH more extreme research than I ever intended! LOL

    Hope you’ll check out the photos…

    Lisa Kessler

    1. What an amazing trip, I’m also scared of heights but I think I would brave it to see that!
      If you ever need to come to Scotland for research remember to visit 😉

      1. Oh I’d love to go research in Scotland, Michelle!!! 🙂

        My grandfather was building our family tree and traced us back to the Crawford Clan… Highlander’s in my family history! Woot!!! LOL

        Thanks for commenting!

        Lisa 🙂

    2. We climbed it partway once. And once, long ago, I did a pretty good chunk of the Great Wall. I was, however, younger if not more fit. I think endurance was greater.

      1. Wasn’t coming down scary??? And no railing… Yeek!!! LOL

        I’d love to hike the Great Wall someday… Sounds like you’ve had some super adventures! 🙂


  8. lol! I would be just like you…I am afraid of heights too, but what a fabulous trip for the sake of research. Maybe next time you should send your characters to Hawaii I would totally have done the butt crawl too!

    1. Hee! The butt scoot was the only way I could get down without a rescue helicopter! LOL

      And sending my characters to Hawaii sounds like a genius idea!!! 🙂

      Thanks for commenting Sharon!


  9. I started out writing horror and dark fiction and slowly gravitated to writing thrillers (with either a horror element or supernatural angle). My last two novels relied heavily on thriller elements. In North Dakota there are a few abandoned ghost towns across the state. I’ve been to every single one at least once, but one, in particular, I’ve been to one multiple occasions. Most of these towns were abandoned in the late 80’s as the railroads were diverted or new highways were built that bypassed them. There’s a few of these towns where only 3 or less families now live. One town, really caught my imagination. That town is called Temple and it was established in 1906 and abandoned sometime in the early 80’s. There are multiple houses, a church complete with gun ports (for warding off Indian attacks of old), a schoolhouse/city hall and quite a few barns and the like. There’s the remnants of the Great Northern Railway.

    I wrote a short story and a crime novel set in Temple because the place spoke to me. I know we’ve all read about writers staying in haunted places for research and I did as well. Temple is creepy in the day time, but I decided to stay a night out there and it’s even creepier at night.

    My imagination is already quite active, but staying there over night really put me in touch with the feelings and emotions of the characters I was writing about. I don’t really believe too much in the supernatural, but I do think most people really believe they do experience “something”, whether it be from an over active imagination, or perhaps. something more. I’m pretty undecided, for the most part. While most writers say they write in a coffee shop or what have you, I can say I’ve been back to Temple multiple times since and usually I find myself going there to write. The place is very inspiring with its atmosphere of disuse, abandonment, and decay. It’s my writing spot.

    R. Thomas Riley

  10. Lisa, I read somewhere (having done a lot of research on the Maya myself) that pyramid steps were intentionally designed to be ridiculously steep and dangerous. The priest class wanted the commoners to understand that, yes, there was a difference between the two.

    1. Hi Ken –

      I also heard from our guide that the Mayan people were smaller than the 20th century folks so their feet could fit on the narrow steps…

      The other cool feature about the steps was that if you stand at the base and clap, the echo sound that comes back is a screeching sound that mimics an eagle’s screech. They also erected it at the perfect angle so that and as the sun sets the shadow of Quetzalcoatl serpent looks like it’s slithering down the sides of the pyramid! Amazing stuff!

      Lisa 🙂

  11. After our research trip to Central America, my wife asked, “Where to next? Scotland?” She was grievously disappointed to hear that my next novel would be set on the muddy shore of Lake Okeechobee. She wants me to change the locale. No can do…

      1. Trying new things for the experience, even without research for specific writing in mind, is always a good thing. Keeps you young, but also is plugged into the memory banks for future reference if you do find a scene to use it in. For instance, I’ve taken sailing lessons and gone ballooning, and never written about either, but something tells me that someday I will. But mostly, it’s just fun. Heck, blog about it and write the expense off when you do your taxes (disclaimer: not a tax attorney here, so use my advice at your own risk!).

  12. I love Angie Fox’s books, and I love how she did her reserch for the Biker Witch’s. As I have ridden bike’s myself, I know how realistic she has made it.

  13. You get occupied with something else for just a day and look at all the conversation that happens when you’re gone. Really interesting and entertaining experiences in the name of research.

    I just went to Thomas’s photo of Temple, ND. The sense of abandonment by the people who once lived full lives there is haunting. Thank you, Thomas, for putting up the photos.

    The surreal views that evoke what is missing reminded me of a very different experience for research on Hawks than exploring a jetiner for a bomb’s devastating hiding place: a visit to an ancient hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City that specialized in fitting prostheses on people who had lost a limb. I saw amputees training with their new devices, which was hopeful, but then I was taken to room full of artificial arms and legs and hands just waiting for their war- or accident-victim owners sure someday to arrive.

    For A Question of Proof, my book coming out tomorrow, the most exciting thing I did was sightsee around Philadelphia and explore City Hall, which contains some 99 courtrooms. Oh, yes, and eat very well. There is something to be said for less perilous research.

  14. My apologies for coming so late to the table. I’m in the middle of book tour, and Joseph, air travel is frustrating and exhausting enough but now I’m going to be keeping an eye on every passenger who goes into the plane’s bathroom and doesn’t come out quickly.

    I can’t say that I’ve done anything too extreme in the name of research but my research has certainly taken me some interesting places and introduced me to some interesting people. Probably my most interesting was a trip to Quantico. My series character, Maggie O’Dell is an FBI agent who specializes in profiling. A friend of mine knew the training director at Quantico at the time and arranged the tour. Actually it wasn’t an “official” tour. I ending up spending the afternoon down in the Behavioral Science Unit talking to three special agents.

    Most interestingly, as the afternoon progressed and their level of comfort with me increased, the stories started. I always contend that fact is so much stranger than fiction and invariably my best resources have been people — experts in their field who have agreed to sit down and just talk to me. The bits and pieces they’ve shared have been invaluable.

    Since that trip to Quantico I’ve met dozens of experts in law enforcement and other fields who have offered up themselves, along with their phone numbers and email addresses, to answer questions and share information. I remember when I was writing SPLIT SECOND I emailed one of these experts and asked very briefly if he knew how big a human kidney was. His reply came with weight and dimensions for female and male plus he ended by telling me that one would fit quite nicely in a container the size of a sandwich. I hadn’t mentioned why I wanted to know and yet, he had correctly guessed my intention.

  15. Research certainly gives you ideas that hadn’t occurred to you before the research. You go in thinking “this” and come out thinking “that.”

    1. For me, at least, research only serves to make the world an even more scarier place when you realized just what can be “done” if a person puts their mind to it….


  16. Ken, that’s for sure. It also makes you look at certain things differently. Anyone else have that experience? I can’t look at a regular Dumpster anymore without wondering if there might be pieces of someone inside. A trip to the hardware store has me looking at various tools and imagining what damage they might inflict.

  17. This is one of the more interesting Roundtables I’ve ever read. It’s nice to see so many authors serious about getting things right. As an old-guy motorcyclist myself I enjoyed reading Angie’s post about bikes/bikers. My characters ride and I spend a good deal of time contemplating storyline on the back of my BMW. I think the best feedback we can get is when some professional soldier, gunfighter, copper, special agent, pilot or motorcycle racer says we got the little nuances right..

    I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last 29 years in law enforcement–part of it overlapping my writing career. Getting tased, hit in the face with pepper spray, hellacious fights, firearms training–and spending hours with men and women on both sides of the law–was all sort of a university for thriller writing. I’ve always said I have learned some of the most valuable lessons about life from the hookers I’ve talked with over the years–always on a professional level–my profession, not theirs.

    Years ago as a young detective I made an incredibly stupid tactical error that got me dragged hanging half out a vehicle window by a soldier in the Mexican Mafia–afterward, at the hospital, I remember saying what great research it was going to make for a future story. I had yet to get anything published at that point and my wife was not amused.

    1. I say that to my husband as well – this will be good research (when actually a lot of the time, what I want to do is more fun or interesting than real research). But it can work out. Like I really enjoy New Orleans and whenever we’re down there, I always want to go to the voodoo shops. The problem is, I don’t really believe. But it’s just so interesting to see what they have in these places, so I’ll drag my poor husband to five and six voodoo shops in a day, where I shop and yet refuse to buy anything. Always calling it “research”…

      But then one day, my editor called and asked if I wanted to be in a zombie anthology. Yes, yes, yes! I was able to use the research I’d stashed to write Gentlemen Prefer Voodoo. So you never know how it will work out!

  18. For what it’s worth, a lot of police departments offer Citizens’ Police Academies that give free classes on police investigations, philosophy, tactics, etc. A great research tool for a thriller writer!

  19. Marc, what great stories you have inside! I sheepishly admit I hope to never get to that level of research.
    Tom, that classroom stuff for weenies sounds like an approach I’d prefer over being dragged behind a car by a Mexican mafia boss.

  20. The coppers and cop tactics are easy enough to learn about–citizen academies, ride-alongs, etc. Most of us know at least someone in law enforcement nowadays. One could even go to an MMA gym and let the big guys throw them around if they wanted to see what it was like to get hit in the nose. My personal pet peeve is that not enough fight-scene writers know what that really feels like. Soldiers know “No plan survives first contact.” Cops (and my characters) know: “Everybody’s got a plan…until they get hit in the nose.”
    I believe it’s the baddies that are elusive. I write about over-the-top villains but oddly enough, even with three decades on the job, I have only met a handful of people I would call truly evil. Most of the bad buys i’ve arrested still root for the cops on TV and would cast themselves as misunderstood good guys instead of the villain. Even the few that have been seriously intent on trying to kill me had what they saw as legitimate articulable reasons, like the Mexican Mafia guy who really just wanted to get away. They’re interesting folk.
    The truly bad ones…those are the enigmas. I spent a very productive 350 mile trip talking to one such pig-eyed guy (capped his childhood mentor in the back of the head, raped his estranged wife–among other things– in front of their three year old then stuffed her in the trunk). He used a looped jail shirt to do pull ups on the bars every day–along with hundreds of pushups and sit ups. Bull-strong and absent a hint of conscience.
    He was intent on telling me his story on the long drive to prison. I took a ton of notes. Though cordial, each of us knew that the other would have been all to happy to shoot him–me if forced, him if given any opportunity.

    1. Mark,
      My bad guys sound like your real/ actual bad guys. They are just working. They think they have reasons for what they do. I am actually fascinated by the bad guys who are not totally bad. I love to talk to police. They have such stories to tell–often really funny ones.

  21. Sorry for the change of subject yesterday. I was writing my newsletter and gathering email addresses and thinking how much I’d rather be writing fiction. I’ve discovered I love research and first drafts–all that discovery is the best. Plus it actually not lonely. The people at the other end of the phone or in the room with me are always interested and open. The police who do computer crimes showed me a lot of stuff in their techy office. Then the cop said my husband’s name. I said “Oh, how do you know that?” He said, “Hey, you don’t think we let you up here without totally checking you out, do you?” Of course many of them by now have probably looked into everything about me.

  22. One of the other things I enjoy about in-person research is how I can go into places that would normally be off limits. When I was writing The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, I wanted to set it some of the book in the inspection tunnels underneath Hoover Dam. So we were able to arrange for me to go down there in person.

    It was the neatest experience. An engineer took me down to the old, old tunnels. They were amazing to see – dark and winding. They still had the hand-written chalk notes on the walls where inspectors from the 1930’s and 40’s monitored the concrete as it cured. There were these grates in the floors – you’d look down through them and the drop seemed to go on forever. And of course, I had to get the one engineer who thought he was a comedian and kept turning off the lights on me.

    I loved it. And my experiences down there made the book so much richer.

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