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Thursday, June 6, 2013

You did...WHAT?!?

By Ellie James

His bound wrists would prevent him from using his arms to swim, but with his hands holding onto the wood, at least he could keep himself afloat while he kicked. Fifty yards. He could do that.
He grabbed the branch, ran to the dock, and dove into the dark, brutal current.

            Hmmm.  Would that work? Is it possible to make your way across a swollen river wearing handcuffs? It sure seemed possible, especially for the resourceful, tough-as-nails Sandro, but I couldn’t let myself run with the scene, not until I knew. So I did what any dedicated writer would do: I brought rope to my husband and asked him to tie my wrists together. Yeah, I got a look at that, but he (quite happily I might add) obliged, and off I went to the backyard. My husband quietly followed. I found a 2x4 to play the role of the stick, then jumped into the deep end of the pool, fully clothed (couldn’t wear a swimsuit, since poor Sandro didn’t have that luxury.)  Then I swam. Kind of.  Holding the wood beneath my chest, I kept my head above water and kicked my way to safety, and voila! Presto! I had my answer: If I could do it, surely my fantasy guy Sandro could. Dilemma solved!
            Research. Sometimes there are no shortcuts.
The Internet is a writer’s best friend. While the thought of research can send you straight back to school and that term paper you didn’t want to write, the reality is getting the facts straight is critical. (Just be careful you don’t end up on the FBI watch list. That’s happened!) We all love making stuff up, but you can’t say a heroine can free herself from being duct-taped to a chair just because you want her to. You need to know if that’s possible. That’s the challenge bestselling author Virginia Kantra faced when she decided to duct-tape herself to her office chair to make sure she really could free herself. Um…she couldn’t. And it wasn’t even noon yet, DH was at work, the kids at school, the phone across the room. So there she sat, in her office, bound to her chair as minutes dragged into hours. Finally her teenage son came home, followed her voice to her office, and walked in on something he’d never imagined walking in on! I would have loved to have seen the look on his face!  Fortunately, being a writer’s son, he immediately deduced that he hadn’t walked in on a home invasion, but rather, his mom doing what all good writers do. Research.
But sometimes research means leaving the house. How else do you find out if it’s possible to escape while handcuffed to a police cruiser?  When romance author Diana Duncan found herself in line at Starbucks behind a uniformed cop, she immediately seized the opportunity to solve a key plot problem. Thrilled, Diana struck up a dialog with the cop and soon found herself out in the parking lot being handcuffed to his car, while her horrified teenage daughter looked on.
For my current YA series, the Midnight Dragonfly books, there’s not one New Orleans locale that I haven’t explored myself, including a late night sprint from Bourbon Street to the levee, to see how fast you could feasibly get from one place to the other. I’ve sat with the psychics and had my palm read, and I’ve climbed the fences and hidden behind trees and…um….sorta gone somewhere no one was supposed to go.  I can’t say where, but the second I learned about This Certain Place, abandoned since Hurricane Katrina, I knew it was perfect for a crucial dramatic sequence. And despite the abundance of YouTube videos about This Certain Place, I knew I had to make a visit myself. I needed to see the swamp encroaching upon the parking lot and the chain link fence (to make sure it could be climbed), the abandoned buildings and…well, I can’t say what else I needed to see, except whether it was true that certain objects were still there after over five years of abandonment. I needed to breathe the air and smell the decay. I needed to see the graffiti and feel the despair.
And I did.
And it was amazing.
I was scared to death, but that’s okay. Knowing that, how frightening it was to be there, how many places there were to hide, the realization that there were probably others there, hiding—watching—only enabled me to add that much more authenticity to the scenes.
And that’s what it’s all about. Authenticity.
I do have to add that not all research involves risking your life (or breaking the law). When I first started writing Shattered Dreams, I researched the most popular brands of jeans among teenage girls, and found myself in a Buckle store to see for myself. The next thing you know, I’ve been fitted for my own awesome pair of Big Stars!! 
Research definitely has its perks, the more extreme the better.

Remember to leave a comment to receive a copy of one of Ellie's Dragonfly series. You'll still be eligible for the Kindle Fire HD Tablet.


  1. Ellie, what a terrific post! I love research, but mine has only involved breaking the law (a little bit) once. My husband and I didn't get arrested, but we did get escorted. That's why your books are so fabulous, you have experienced what your characters face and can translate that into mesmerizing fiction.

  2. Ellie this brings back haunting memories. I write Action-Romance and my group of guys work for the President of the United Stats. So, I needed lots of information about the White House and how someone might go about blowing it up. DO NOT GOOGLE: WHITE HOUSE AND EXPLOSIVES!!!! Yes, the FBI WILL pay you a visit! LOL!
    If you ever need information, every branch of the military, local law enforcement, and government agency has a Public Relation Officer. This people have everything you need as far as information goes. And, all I've contacted (a bunch) have been very nice and informative.
    Great article, Ellie
    Geri Foster

  3. Hmm. Well. As someone who LOVES the Midnight Dragonfly Series, I remember well that scene in "That Certain Place". Now I know why it jumped off the page. Oh, the cleverness of you! Wonderful post!! ((Hugs))

  4. Ellie,

    Great article on research! I'm getting a visual on the swimming!

    This weekend, several of my friends will be joining me for a treat to Chocolate Secrets in Dallas. This location will be making a cameo in my upcoming release, Chasing Air. I love taking places and creating fictional scenes within them.

    Loved your post, I want to check out your series.


  5. There's nothing like experiencing something you're writing about. I never could rope worth a darn, so had to work on that before I could finish the third book in the Hearts of Owyhee series. Also, research is a good way to get scene ideas you aren't expecting--such as when things go wrong. LOL.

  6. Interesting info about research

    I follow via email

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  7. Research can be the most fun. I don't think I could willingly jump into a pool with my hands tied, go you, but I've gone to the gun range to see if I could fire the gun I wanted for my heroine(and not end up on my butt). Once, I crashed a plane(on paper of course). I've had great conversations with the NTSB, Customs and Immigration. Thanks, Ellie, for your fun post.

  8. Wow. Now that's hands on research. WTG! I've done my share but it's not always possible, of course. Very fun post. Thanks Ellie.

  9. I think at some point in their career if not every book, a writer has to do hands on research to know how the characters might react and the consequences of their actions. Good post!

  10. Fun post! Hands on research is great, but not always possible. I've used my experiences as a Civil War reenactor to get the feel for living in the 19th century both in and out of an army camp.

    Can't imagine doing what some of you have done, though. WTG!

  11. Okay, this was a funny post. I like to visit the place I write about, but my adventurous spirit never involved taping myself up with duck tape. I laughed out loud when I read that.

  12. Wow! I've traveled thousands of miles and dragged kids and husband with me, but I have yet to jump in a pool while clothed. Now that is dedication!

  13. Great post! Ah, the things the husbands of authors are asked to do. *LOL*


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