In my simplistic mind, there are three basic types of research. Internet and/or books, interviews and hands-on experience. In order to give the reader a rich experience, I believe the author needs to know and experience the places and situations in their writing. For example, I know that China has a smell to it. You walk down many streets in any city in China and there is an odor. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it follows you, tracks you down and permeates your clothing and hair. Mostly it’s a sour mix of burnt cooking oil, sewage and diesel fumes. Oftentimes it’s very subtle, but it can quickly get overwhelming. I would never know that, except for having been there. And of course, smell is most closely linked to memory.
But what I really want to talk about is that hand’s on stuff, like Annette Dashofy’s Citizen’s Police Academy and Ride Alongs. In my second novel, I start off the story with an explosion in a fictitious Atlantic City Casino. Okay, I didn’t fly out to Atlantic City, because I didn’t have to. The scene takes place IN the casino and that’s what I had to become familiar with. The noises, the atmosphere, the feel. I HAD to go to a casino for my readers. At least that’s what I told my wife. Okay, I’ve been in a casino or two or a few dozen, so I don’t think I actually had to go, but what the heck, seemed like a good excuse and my wife bought it.
So I went to Harrah’s here in St. Louis and I sat and listened to the rowdy shouts from the craps tables; the stink of the cigarette smoke and subsequent tightening of my nasal passages. I wandered through the maze of slot machines and their monotonous melodies, dodging the blue-haired ladies trying to stuff dollar bills into the machines and then slap the buttons with fervor.
I listened to the simulated sound of coins dropping in the tin pot as the machines print payoff tickets instead of dropping coins. I went to the bar and listened to the overly polite bartender work the patrons. And the husbands telling their wives that they are pretty much even for the night. I’ve used that one before. Yeah, I probably didn’t have to drop the $50 at the craps table, but it was burning a hole in my pocket.
So, I came home and put a lot of that experience on paper. (You can read a bit if you’d like by following this LINK.) Then I realized something. In my novel, when the ATF and FBI come and investigate the explosion, they will want to look at surveillance video. By the way, ATF is in charge of investigating explosions.
I could have relied on my knowledge of casino video surveillance gained through watching the TV series Las Vegas, but that would be akin to relying on watching CSI as a primer on forensics. So, I jumped on the internet and surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, there is little to no information about casino surveillance capabilities available. So, the next step, pick up the phone.
On the way to the exit, Mr. Smith suggested I drop a book off when I’m done. He said that the Security Chief never talks about his baby to anyone.