I went to the Museum of Modern Art with a college friend this past weekend. Before we went inside, I said, “Hey, do you mind if we walk around the block for a minute? I need to see if this museum has a side entrance that might plausibly lead to a kitchen.” When she looked at me like I’d suddenly sprouted several additional heads, I found myself giving the explanation that all writers give whenever we do anything particularly strange:
“It’s for research.”
Here are a few of the other things I’ve done in the name of research:
1) Checked out books from the library that were so embarrassing I couldn’t take them out in public. The book I’m writing right now deals with reality TV, and I needed to read up on the audition process. Unfortunately, the only books I could find on that subject were less than subtle. One was a massive, oversized tome called HOW TO GET ON REALITY TV, which had a lime green cover plastered with photos of Donald Trump, Tyra Banks, and Simon Cowell. The other, titled SO YOU WANNABE ON REALITY TV [sic], featured a tarantula, a boxer, a crying baby, and a woman in a wedding dress on its cover. So… yeah. I read them both cover to cover… inside my apartment. Thank GOD for the self check-out machine.
2) Sneaked into the grand ballroom of the W Hotel on a Sunday morning and snapped a bunch of photos. Turns out you can usually find a side door that’s unlocked, even if the main door isn’t.
3) Read up on what grubs tasted like. In case you’re interested, there are several types of grub, and they all taste markedly different. The most common ones taste similar to chicken with an undertone of almonds, if you can get over the texture.
4) Grilled my doctor friends on traumatic head injuries, subdural hematomas, drilling into someone’s skull, how to conduct a neurological exam, broken bones, sprained ankles, physical therapy, extracting DNA from blood cells, and which code you write on a lab sheet when you’re testing someone for gonnorhea. Absolutely none of this information made it into books that any of you will ever see.
5) Watched lengthy YouTube videos of guys playing “House of the Dead 4,” a zombie-shooting arcade game. I have actually played this game on a number of occasions, but it had been a while, and I needed a refresher course.
6) Taken the 600-question Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory Test. This test helps determine whether or not you are psychotic, and it’s routinely administered to people who are applying for high-level security clearance in the Department of Defense and the CIA. I had heard it took hours to complete and wanted to see if that was true. It wasn’t—the test only took me 35 minutes. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I hope it doesn’t mean I’m psychotic.
7) Attended a beauty pageant. This was, by far, the highlight of my book-researching career. Two years ago, when I was writing RED, I went to the Miss Brooklyn Outstanding Teen Pageant. It took place in an auditorium that was connected to a church, and I think I was the only person there who didn’t know one of the participants. I saw really bad Bollywood dancing. I saw a girl who was dressed like a doll sing opera while dancing on pointe. I saw an evening gown that looked like a mermaid suit and a salsa dress with pink feathers all over the butt. I heard a contestant recite original poetry that was so bad I literally had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Before the pageant, one of the contestants came out in the audience and asked her boyfriend—who was already in his seat—to please change out of his jeans and into a pair of khakis she’d brought before he watched her compete. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for research? Please share in comments!
I think I'm a little bit scared of what your books might contain! These are hilarious, though.
The strangest things I've done probably have to include:
1) Running around a medieval castle to figure out my character's escape route. This included checking sights through arrow slits and figuring out if someone could fit in an alcove in a small room that (at the moment) smelled like animal dung. I spent the whole time pointing out to my sister– "That's where Sara hides!" while she held her nose.
2) Crouching and perching myself in random spots in some Roman ruins to try and figure out where my character would sit during the scene
But I don't think either of these live up to your research moments, especially the beauty pageant!
I love all those things. Sound like so much fun.
1) Yes, my library book list looks like it belongs to a crazy person. Maybe it does.
2) I've dragged my kids to three different caves to check out what it would be like hanging out in there. Have one more visit set for later this summer. Still trying to convince one cave owner/operator to let me have a private tour. In total darkness. They keep yammering about lawyers and liabilities. Whatever. I'll keep trying.
3) There's this one idea still in the back of my head and to decide if it was even feasible I've visited seven tattoo shops. And more visits will be in my future since I've decided the idea is a go. Perhaps getting another tattoo-in the name of research, of course.
Kiera Stewart says
Another great post! YAY! You are very brave. And not psychotic. Not at all.
My answer: Urinal cake research for FETCHING.
And yet there are still some I'll never admit to.
I once tried to clock how fast one of my overweight friends could run if they had a REALLY GOOD REASON, by asking them to do a normal run for as long as they could and adding 10%.
I also researched common misconceptions about various types of advanced physics. Not for the real answers, just trying to find mistakes that a lot of people make so my characters could make them as well.
Not to mention asking a bunch of people at a firing range how likely someone who had never touched a gun before would actually be able to load and fire in a high-stress situation.