Testing the Limits   7 comments

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

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Crazy? What’s Crazy?

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I’ve done a lot of research. I’m not sure any of it was crazy because it all lends to authenticity and that’s always a worthwhile pursuit for an author. I’ve also done a lot of things that other people consider to be crazy just because I live in Alaska where adventure is a cultural value. I don’t consider them crazy because I’m…well…crazy, but viewed from another perspective I’ve done some “crazy” things.

What Crazy Things?

I’ve hiked a glacier. Glaciers are dangerous and you don’t want to do what we did unless you have a friend along who has hiked some much more dangerous glaciers than we did. But even then — we had our dog along and Friday, who wasn’t a very obedient dog (huskies aren’t), refused to go the direction we wanted to go. She wasn’t scared. She was just going in another direction and refusing to change her mind. So our friend used his long pole thing to check the National Park Service-marked path in front of us. There was still an ice bridge over a moulin that was opening up. Had we tried to cross it, we might all have fallen to our deaths. It’s about the only time we praised Friday’s disobedience.

I dove off a cliff in Hawaii. Okay, I jumped. My husband dove. I couldn’t quite convince myself to slam my head into water that was 30 feet away. Yeah, it might have been fine, but breaking my neck didn’t appeal, so I jumped. Oddly, this might have been one of the scarier things I’ve done. I’ve done lots of things that were scary while I was doing them, but jumping off that cliff had anticipatory terror.

To get my driver’s license, my brother made me drive the ice track. It was usually used by “crazy” people to practice high-speed ice racing, but a lot of locals used it to teach their kids (or kid sisters) to handle driving on ice and snow. My experience there may show up in the next Transformation Project novel. There is nothing quite so exciting as losing control of a car on ice when going 50mph.

Hiking in the Alaska wilderness scares some people and I admit, I sometimes spook myself, but it’s a beautiful scary place and I’m glad I do it. I’ve crossed rushing rivers, canoed spring flood, caught wild salmon with a net on the end of a long landing pole from a river that claims a few human lives every year. I’ve climbed frozen waterfalls and read a novel while waiting in a moose stand 20 feet up in a tree to, prepared to kill our winter meat. I’ve hiked miles off the Dalton Highway to shoot a caribou for the same reasons. I’ve been (inadvertently) within an arm’s length of a moose. I’ve climbed rock faces with nothing but a thin rope to keep me from falling to my death. I’ve ziplined. I’ve carried my children in backpacks through the wilderness we love, where we might encounter a moose, bear or a pack of wolves at any time. I’ve flown a light aircraft (no, I’m not a licensed pilot). I’ve piloted an outboard boat along an Alaska river. I’ve fished for halibut in six-foot seas. (Trust me. In a six-pack boat, six foot seas are scary). I’ve crossed a river via a hand-tram (with a Labrador retriever secured between my knees).

Speaking of that Lab, we once shared one-half of the backseat to a Subaru Legacy for about six hours. It was pouring out and we were right beside a highway, so we had to stop because we couldn’t see to drive and we couldn’t tie her to the bumper because she would have been miserable in a downpour and might have been hit by a semi. We were loaded for fishing, so we created enough space for two adult humans and an 80-pound dog to sleep. My husband took the driver’s seat which reclined a little, I took the backseat, put my legs up on our gear on one half of the seat, my back against the door and Cana sat on the floor and rested her head on my stomach. SHE was a great and obedient dog.

Some of the things I’ve done were part of my employment including my journalism career. I’ve fired a 50-cal anti-aircraft gun. LOT’S of FUN!!!! And it impressed a military unit that I wasn’t afraid to do it. I’ve machete’d brush so the State of Alaska could build remote runways. I’ve worked a slime line — gutting fish to make money for college.

Crazy Writer?

I’ve done a lot of odd things for research purposes. My children laugh when we talk about the mock sword fights in our backyard. How can an author write high fantasy with no knowledge of sword fighting. I spent a week hanging out with a friend who owns five horses so that I could learn about horse care. Horses are truly cool animals, but I never want to own one. Way too much work. I picked a friend’s corn so I could learn how it’s done. I’ve climbed on my neighbor’s roof to check out his solar panels. I’ve toured GVEA’s wind turbine project. When I wrote the car chase scene for Life As We Knew It, I took my husband’s Jeep to a race track to assure my writing was accurate.

I hung out with a friend while he refilled bullets. I asked a gun smith if I could hang out in his workshop for a day. I hung out with another friend to watch him use his ham radio. I live next door to a military base and we hear their artillery often. And that’s just touching the surface.


I think the craziest thing I did for research was put a gun’s barrel in my mouth. Trust me, I know what I’m doing with guns, so there was no danger. I’d removed anything that could kill me and secured the firing pin. It was still an absolutely creepy thing to do, but I learned something interesting in doing it. As the first scene in “Transformation Project”, the sense of realism had weight and the taste of gun oil is not something I would have considered if I hadn’t done that.

Hail Research

I applaud writers who focus on research. Nothing drives me up a wall quite so much as when authors write from a character’s perspective, casting the character as knowledgeable about something, and gets facts wrong. A little research prevents that — usually. Sometimes you can’t find correct information on the Internet, but you can write from your own perspective and add authenticity to your writing. Obviously, if you’re writing about something really dangerous, you might just want to interview someone who did it. For example, I wasn’t going to hang myself for research purposes when I wrote Day’s End. But I know some crazy ice and rock climbers, so I interviewed them and I also interviewed a retired special forces soldier to see what he would do in the situation Shane found himself in. Everything in that scene came from research that either I did or someone I interviewed did, right up to Shane dislocated his thumb so he could free his hands.

Shameless Plug

A Death in Jericho will be out April 13. Meanwhile, you can pre-order it at a cost-savings.


Posted April 5, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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7 responses to “Testing the Limits

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  1. Oh my, I’ve never done anything like putting a gun in my mouth. Some things are better left to the imagination.


    • I wasn’t planning it, but I kept writing the scene and it was missing something. Attempted suicide is a visceral experience and deserves a visceral write. So, I was practicing with a friend’s 9 mm and he has a family tragedy with a brother playing Russian Roulette, so when I told him what I thought I wanted to do, he said “You’re crazy! But if you’re going to do it, let me disable the gun.” He showed me everything he did. He also was the source for the idea of the misfire. I’d always owned wheel-guns, revolvers, which don’t misfire very often. Semi-autos do. So he explained to me why it might. But I didn’t pull the trigger and in fact our friend had disabled both the firing pin and the trigger so the gun was really a paperweight. And, at that point, I tasted the gun oil and went “There’s the visceral element.” I wouldn’t have gotten that if I’d not done that research. But I’m also not sure I would have done it if our friend weren’t there to assure the gun was totally inert. It was a creepy experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m right with you on realism. If you base everything on a fact, you can extrapolate with confidence and produce what appears to be true. And, if you do it well, the line where fact ends and fiction begins is invisible (the X-Files did this to perfection). BUT, if you take shortcuts, you will only ever disappoint the reader.


    • Exactly. For example, I am not a licensed pilot (Shane is). But I’ve ridden right seat in small aircraft on numerous occasions, so I can thread my experiences in to provide realism and then I use authoritative sources for accuracy. Every now and then, I’ve run up against something the story demands that is beyond my experience, so then I rely on other people’s experiences and just try to do the best I can to convey it. Of course, I had some experience as a journalist so that helps a lot in interviews.


  3. I used to hang out with my uncle in his jewelry shop. I never repaired anything, but he was the inspiration for the titles for my mysteries.

    Liked by 1 person

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