A few months ago, I wrote a blog post entitled The Kindness of Strangers When Researching Your Novel that I’d like to expand on. In that post, I talked about the how the contacts I made while researching my first novel (prior to actually writing it) made all the difference in how that manuscript turned out.
I learned my lesson well from that trip and planned this summer’s family vacation around a second trip to Massachusetts, this time with my daughters in tow (my poor husband got stuck at home...). It was a real pleasure to be able to show them an area that I’ve loved since I was their age, but, more than that, it was great to be able to involve them in my novel planning. Writing takes a huge amount of my time, so if they can be involved in the process, it makes it a more enjoyable experience for all of us. There’s nothing better than being boots-on-the-ground in the places I’m writing about to achieve that.
But this trip ended up being about more than just my work-in-progress. Through the kindness of my contact at Boston University, Dr. Tara Moore, I was able to get into their forensic anthropology labs to talk to the researchers and instructors there about their current research, their body farm program that is just getting off the ground, and the trials and tribulations of being involved with law enforcement.
In a marathon four-hour session, we met with the retired FBI agent who teaches their crime scene courses at Boston University, the neurobiologist who now works as a forensic anthropologist/osteologist, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services lab in Boston, and the State Police liaison with the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office. The information I learned applies to the entire series and was pure gold in terms of writing their world correctly. To top it off, my youngest daughter (those are her hands, above, holding the skull) was offered a position next summer sorting bones for a week, which she would love to do. Lucky kid... what an offer for a grade nine student!
We met with the Salem Fire Department, laying the ground work for much of the fire investigation in our work-in-progress. Ann and I are already working with our California fire contact, Captain Lisa Giblin, however, we wanted to make sure that our protocols were firmly east coast vs. west coast ― getting into the fire department ensured that. We met with many members of the department; everyone was very friendly and willing to share their own personal knowledge.
We toured the sites in Salem that will be used for scenes in the book as well. As a visual writer, getting pictures of places I want to write about is absolutely crucial. Google Earth is great, but this is the kind of detail that I really need.
Our biggest adventure was when we attempted to cross the salt marsh on the Essex coast. This site plays a major role in DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, but when I visited two years ago, I didn’t actually enter the marsh as I was on my own and was worried I might get into trouble. Well, this was an eye opener. The marsh looks so pretty, but try to cross it and you can get into some major trouble very quickly. Both myself and my older daughter had to be pulled free from the very deep, sucking mud in the Essex River channels, and when we finally admitted defeat after over a half hour later, it was to emerge bloody from marsh saw grasses, covered with greenhead fly bites and literally covered up to our knees in mud. It's a beautiful and tranquil area... and is incredibly treacherous!
It was a great trip and I made some fantastic new contacts that will really go a long way in writing this new manuscript. There are a few things I’d like to tweak with the currently submitted manuscript, but it’s all good and just adds richness to the detail already there. A big thanks to both of my daughters for being the best traveling companions a gal could ask for, and as well to my oldest daughter, Jess, who was my official photographer on the trip.
Next week, I’d like to talk about Salem, specifically about the new memorial they’ve built there in memory of the 20 innocent victims killed in the 1692 witch trials. They did a really wonderful job, so much so that I think it deserves its own blog post. So, more to come next week...
Photo credit ― Jess Newton