Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A little help

Two of my prized possessions as an author are my brother, who is an emergency room doctor, and his wife, who is a physician's assistant. Book characters are always falling down the stairs, or running out into the street without looking for traffic, or getting bonked on the head. At least, mine are. It is wonderful to have these two experts to tell me what would happen next. For instance, when I was writing Forget You, I wanted to have the two main characters in a car wreck. If the heroine had amnesia the next day, would she have been released from the hospital the night before? Quite possibly. Would she have good pain drugs? Probably not, because they might mask the symptoms of a more serious concussion. Could the hero break his leg but heal quickly? Yes, he could break his [whatever bone I put in the book]. Best of all, when I run into problems making fiction and reality fit together, my brother and sister-in-law offer suggestions.

Not all my friends and family members are such a big help, though. My dad is a doctor, too, but in response to my questions, he has a tendency to say, "That would never happen." To which I say, "Of course it would never happen. It's fiction. But if it did happen, can you give me the likely circumstances?" Sometimes I can talk him through this, but sometimes he shuts down. Currently I'm writing a book about teenage pilots, and since he is also a pilot, he is my main source of information. He has very kindly taken me up in his airplane and showed me around the airport. However, when I asked him how to crash a crop duster, he did not want to go there, and I'm afraid I'm going to be on my own for that investigation.

I think the difference is that my brother and sister-in-law are avid readers of fiction. They know how stories "go." They can picture an author needing to go down one path or another. They understand how research can change the book. So they can help me invent alternative scenarios, whereas my dad, who does not read fiction, which is a waste of time "because it isn't real," can't make that mental leap from "that would never happen" to "how would it happen if it did happen?"

I'm also writing a book about majorettes--baton twirlers in the marching band. Two of my best friends from high school were majorettes. In a few weeks I'm going to take them to lunch, then make them show me some of their moves. If you see three fortyish ladies out in the yard doing thumb flips and vertical spins, do not be alarmed. It's all for a good cause. And lucky for me and this book, both of these friends love fiction.


  1. You're lucky that you can go to your brother and sister-in-law for help when you're doing research. I've just been "writing what I know", but since I don't know much about life outside of academia (because grad school and teaching are so all-consuming), I know I'll have to branch out eventually to do more research.

  2. One of my favorite research sources is the local police chief. It would be great to have a doctor or two in the family, though. Lucky you!

  3. So cool! My mom is a nurse, so she is one of my prized resources and fortunately she is a big reader too, so she is good like your brother and sister-in-law in helping me find what I need to make my scene work realistically or sometimes just giving me information that I can turn into something. Like I have a character whose father has a stroke and while that is not my mom's area of expertise (she's a NICU nurse), we talked about my grandfather's stroke and how he kept swearing he could hear someone singing "Amazing Grace" after he had the stroke. It wasn't the usual cut and dried medical facts I'm looking for, but it might have been more valuable than any of those in terms of building my scene. (Though discussing it made my mom cry, which I still feel awful about!)