Monday, August 10, 2009

Research Trips: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

IMG_5399 I thought I’d share with y’all a little about my Memphis, TN research trip. I needed to make the trip to put the finishing setting touches on my Memphis barbecue mystery (book one’s deadline is September 1.)

First of all, some handy tips if you’re writing a book set in a place you’re not living in:

It’s very helpful to have a friend in the town to drive you around and explain what you’re looking at. I was lucky enough to have friends of my husband’s family in Memphis. They were able to give me some interesting background on the city and even provided some newspaper clippings they’d kept for me on the street flipper phenomenon (something I knew nothing about.)

Remember to research small things as well as big. I had to do quite a bit of fact-checking. Some of my research even bored me: if residential neighborhoods were within walking distance of Beale Street, if a particular park had playground equipment or if it were simply an entertainment venue-type, etc. This is detail-oriented stuff, but if someone from Memphis reads my book and throws it across the room in disgust….well, that wouldn’t be a good thing.

Call the local Chamber of Commerce. Explain you’re a writer, basing a series in their town. See if they can arrange discounts for you.

Bring your business cards. When I walked into the very elegant Peabody hotel and talked to the manager there, handing them my business card made me look a little more legitimate. Especially since I was rambling on about murders.

Keep those receipts. This is just smart business sense. Keep track of your mileage, your food costs, ticket costs for attractions, etc.

Bring a camera. I looked like a major tourist and took about 400 pictures in Memphis. No, I’m not kidding. But digital cameras make that easy and I’ve got 2 more books (at least) based in Memphis after this one. I took pictures of even the most random things. Who knows what I might need for material later on?

The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Personal Notes from Memphis

The Good: My inlaws’ friends were wonderful guides. They asked me what information I needed for my book. I had a backstage pass for the ducks at the Peabody, I had free food at the Rendezvous restaurant…they were awesome! In addition, my husband’s dad and his wife watched the kids for me and the kids had a wonderful time in Memphis---fishing, shopping, etc. Oh…and Graceland? Oddly peaceful.

The Bad: It was a long drive to Memphis from Charlotte---10.5 hours of driving. That’s at the upper limit of what we’ll drive as a family. But at least the drive was pretty. In addition, although we stayed at a very fancy hotel, we all stayed in the same room. I now realize that my 12 year old son snores and my daughter talks in her sleep all night. Did I mention I’m an insomniac even in good conditions?

The Ugly: When you ask a 7 year old if she thinks she might throw up and she says no……just head for the toilet right then. Do not believe her. Because she’ll just upchuck all over you…..and I know. It’s like they’re in denial or something: “If I say I’m not going to throw up, then I won’t throw up….”

One more note: I know readers will ask why I’ve set a book in a location that I’m not as familiar with. The answer: Berkley Prime Crime asked me to set it in Memphis. I’m nothing if not amiable! :) And it’s a lovely city….I had a great time discovering it.