Tag Archives: Research for Writing

Why I Find Comfort in Crime Fiction

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A few months ago I almost signed up for an “urban escape” training weekend. We’re not talking getting out of the city and into the woods though. The course description is this:

While on an international business trip you are kidnapped and held for ransom. or, a terrorist attack closes the business district of your city and you find yourself in a dangerous, chaotic fix. How do you stay alive? How do you get to safety on your own?

This class provides leading-edge skills to civilians who live or work in challenging urban environments or who may find themselves in a destabilizing urban area during a crisis. Topics covered include covert movement (day vs. night), the judicious use of caches, understanding urban baseline movement and urban awareness training, the use of disguises and false papers/identification, lock picking, escaping from unlawful custody, obtaining and driving local transportation, the use of “specialized” urban gear, and instruction on how to develop urban escape and evasion go-bags. A one day urban escape scenario is held the final day of class.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? One of the classes was offered in Las Vegas during my daughter’s spring break, and I suggested we take it together–spend a couple days in Vegas ahead of time for fun, then go to the class to learn some new skills. Great mommy-daughter bonding time, right? She seemed as excited about it as I was.

When I suggested I wanted to do this, my husband was appalled. He didn’t understand why we would be attracted to this kind of weekend. Learning how to escape from being kidnapped? Sure, it would be awesome research for my writing, but I wanted to do it. For me. I still want to.

As I spoke to more of my friends about this, I learned that women were more likely to be attracted to the class than men. As women, we are taught to walk down the street with heightened awareness and actively think about the threats that surround us all the time. Is that man crossing the street toward me? What kind of lighting is there? Can I see who is around me? Who is nearby that can harm me? A class like this would give me some possible skills to use if I am ever pulled into a passing car or a bag goes over my head from behind.

As I rationalized my desire to take this class, I realized my relationship to reading (and writing), and my intense focus on all things scary had to do with coping in life. Crime fiction, mysteries and stories that deal with horrible things provide a sort of comfort to me. It is to many women what Grimm’s Fairytales are to children.

Reading about someone surviving a terrifying situation, especially if they are part of their own escape from it, helps us, as women, cope with the possibilities. It makes it so we can walk down the street knowing others have survived, we can too.

note:
I ended up not taking that particular class because of timing and cost issues. Good thing, too. The weekend I was looking at ended up being the same one where I had an emergency appendectomy. Being locked in a car trunk with an exploding appendix would have not been a good time. I’d still like to take the class sometime…

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The Research Hole

So, here I am, committing myself to editing this novel I started a long time ago. It’s the one a lot of friends have heard me talk about–Bess loses her entire family in a fire, moves to Redmond to live with her gay aunt, and goes survivor-guilt-crazy with sex and drugs. My daughter called the first draft a depressing read, but the agent who read the first 75 pages asked for the entire novel within two weeks–a clear sign of “Literary Fiction”, right? I rushed to complete the thing, a noob mistake I’ll never do again, and I shelved it after hearing that the pacing was off after the first 75 pages. No surprise, really. I took two years of dibble-dabble writing meticulous crafting to complete the first 75 pages and six months for the last 250.

After a couple of years on the shelf, it’s been creeping back into my consciousness lately, both as ‘unfinished business’ and a real desire to see the story completed. I have been struggling with the problem created by the unreliable narrator of a mentally ill fifteen year old. I finally figured out how to re-write the novel to solve the problem, but it means, well, re-writing the novel. Almost all of it. At 120,000 words,it was heartbreaking for me to contemplate trashing so much of that work. This is the hard part of writing…editing. Tossing out the chaff, recognizing what doesn’t work and just moving on.

I have committed to two hours a day of editing work on this particular novel, followed by the daily promise of blogging or writing erotica as a reward. If I lose myself in the editing process, that will be awesome, but this part of the journey is torturous.

Here’s an example of what is going to take up time that has little to do with the actual word-craft. I’ve changed the timeline so that a good part of the story takes place in 1991. I originally wrote it as a contemporary piece, and find myself in a bit of a bind. A character has slipped and fallen and needs help. In the original draft, she pulls her phone out of her pocket and calls for help. The re-write has the story taking place in a fictional remote town in Kentucky in 1991. See where this is going?

Argh. Not only did I need to find out if there were cell phones in 1991 (there were, see the photo), but I needed to decide if cell phone coverage would have been likely in a remote town in Kentucky. A single line in the text, and I’ve spent half an hour or more looking into how much one detail changes the scene entirely. (Try finding a map of cell phone coverage for 1991.)

Looking for one bit of information, sends me on a Wikipedia click fest in no time. I had no idea that the first portable handset was developed in 1973. I don’t remember seeing one until I was working at Quadtek in 1990. It was this huge brick of a thing that spent most of it’s time attached to the wall charging. We bought my first in 1994 when I was pregnant with our first child, and though it was a good deal smaller, it was still pre-flip phone. So, for someone to be carrying one in 1991, it probably wouldn’t be in her pocket, and she probably wouldn’t be using it out in the middle of nowhere.

Now I am looking at a section that I had written entirely in email format. Yikes. When did home email become common, and would a teenager in a small town in Kentucky have access to it? This is not a rhetorical question. *sigh*

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