As you may recall from previous posts, I’ve had some varied experiences when it comes to researching my books. And although research can be fascinating, it can also be a little terrifying, not because of the subject matter, but because I’m afraid I’ll get hung up on again. Once while I was on book tour, a woman showed up at the tail end of one of my presentations wanting to interview me. She knew nothing about my books and expected me to answer questions that had all been covered in my presentation. Now she was someone who deserved to be hung up on. I go overboard trying to not be that woman. I read and take notes and compile data and cross-reference and get my facts down and learn the lingo, and when I’m finally to a point where I just can’t go any farther without actually talking to someone, I call. The “call” I made this week was to a mortuary. And because I really, really, really didn’t want to get hung up on, I didn’t make a phone call, I made a house call. Or home call, I guess, because this was a Funeral Home (and Chapel). So okay. I’ve been inside a funeral home before, so it wasn’t the chapel and office and conference room that I was, uh, dying to know more about. It was the back rooms. You know. Where the bodies are kept. Let me take a little aside here and tell you that I finally recognize that I’ve gone about this whole writing career thing wrong. Some authors set their characters in Paris, then Madrid, then London… Trips to these places, for them, are tax deductable! Business expenses! Fun! My characters are homeless. Or limbless. Or living on a couch in a cramped apartment. Or, in this case, infiltrating a funeral parlor. Yeah, I’m an idiot. Anyway, it’s Sammy Keyes that’s getting tangled in this mortuary situation, of course, which, of course, means she’s not going to be happy sitting in the Funeral Chapel. Which, of course, means I’ve either got to make like Sammy and infiltrate the place from the back, or ask for help at the office. I decided to save the back door approach for another time, took a deep breath, and went to the office where I explained to a very pleasant-looking woman that I was a children’s book author and would really appreciate a little help with research I was doing for my latest novel. Now, it’s been very interesting over the years to see the varied reactions people have when I approach them with this request. Annoyed. Insulted. Excited. Surprised. Suspicious. It always feels like a crap shoot to ask, because no matter how I phrase it, the reaction is always unpredictable. It completely depends on who I ask, not how I ask. One thing is pretty standard, though, (well, unless they just hang up on me), and that is, it takes a little minute for what I’m asking to sink in. And then there’s the look of, are you a for-real writer? Anyway, I watched all that click through her mind, and even after I gave her a quick rundown of my publishing credentials and explained that really all I wanted was a tour, I was still holding my breath… especially since there were other people in the office. Men. In serious gray suits. With finely controlled hair. The woman eyed me cautiously and asked how much of a tour I’d be interested in. “As much as you’re willing to show me,” I told her. Then I eyed her and said, “You do embalming here, right?” What’s interesting is, she relaxed after that. Like, okay, this woman understands what she’s asking. After that, she got clearance from the guys in gray, and we made an appointment for me to return at four o’clock for a tour. (There are privacy issues with corpses, and they would all be tucked nicely away by four o’clock.) So okay. Of all the people I’ve interviewed (and places I’ve infiltrated) this whole funeral parlor thing was pretty high on my fear scale. I did not want to do it. I did not want to explain myself. I did not want to be misunderstood—or not given a chance to explain. And how do you explain that you have this character who’s heart is in the right place, but who does stuff like sneak in the back door of a funeral parlor because she’s looking for some guy she’s nicknamed the Vampire because she thinks he may have killed someone and she thinks he works at a funeral parlor? It sounds so disrespectful to the business; to the solemn work of preparing the deceased for their final resting place. But at four o’clock when I returned and let on that I really needed to see the back, the transport vehicles, the embalming room, the refrigerator, and then explained that my character was an impetuous, scrappy sleuth…but that she had a really good heart, that’s when my tour guide started warming up to me. She got a spark and a bit of a mischievous look, and when I met her husband (who’d just finished packing up a body for transport to Mexico), he really got into helping me, too. “She could hide here”… “She could go in through here”… they were kind and helpful and into it, and I left that funeral parlor feeling happy.
And like I had two accomplices. I was definitely not expecting that.