Thursday, January 24, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: When we were chatting recently about resolving to do things that were out of our comfort zones, I started wondering what we'd been willing to do for the sake of our novels.

Most of my research has been fairly tame, unless you count driving in the UK (which I do count as extremely challenging, most days) or walking around in the less salubrious parts of London, camera in hand.  I've done things like tasting whisky in the Scottish Highlands (fun, but not scary,) learning all about narrow boats on the English waterways (but sadly, I didn't get to actually go on one.) I suppose you might count walking down Brick Lane in London's East End after midnight on a Saturday night as wee bit dodgy, but not really terrifying.
But then, there was the rowing episode. Reading about competitive rowing was fun. Watching it--and the rowers--was even more fun. But then I got invited to actually go out on the Thames, at Henley, in a double scull with Olympic gold medalist rower Steve Williams. I blithely said, "Sure!"

And then spent the next two days quaking. I'm not athletic, or coordinated. My only experience in a boat with oars was in a canoe! I wasn't even sure I could get IN the boat without drowning, or worse yet, making a total fool of myself.

But I'm also stubborn, and there was no way I was going to back out. So I showed up for my rowing date with Steve Williams (who is the nicest, most patient guy imaginable, and the best teacher) and I did get in the boat, and I did go out on the river.

And you know what?  It was fabulous. Exhilarating. Maybe one of the best experiences of my life. And it sure did make the opening scene of NO MARK UPON HER feel real.

So I'm thinking, yeah, maybe we should push the envelope a little more often. What about you, REDS? What's the scariest thing you've done for research?  And would you do it again?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Hmmm, I think the scariest thing I've ever done in my writing career was giving a talk at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Not exactly life-threatening and not exactly what you meant, but I don't really deal in scary. I am totally jealous of your rowing experience though. That sounds like a blast!

: Hats off to you, Ro. Public speaking probably goes up there with sky-diving for most of us.

RHYS BOWEN: The one time I really pushed the envelope (apart from walking through the not-so-safe parts of New York City) was
to agree to be an author-to-the bush in Alaska in winter. When I was in Anchorage for a convention the government decided to fly authors to remote communities to encourage young people there. I don't like small planes and said so. I was flown to Naknek on an eight seater and then to South Naknek, across the frozen river, on a two-seater. How much smaller can you get. I had to climb up an icy wing to enter. The seat belt was broken. It was sleeting heavily. On the way back I felt a little more confident and started taking pictures. "You want a closer look at that?" said the pilot with enthusiasm and dropped the plane alarmingly to within a few feet of the ground.

I also went ice fishing, dog sledding, snowmobiling. All were amazing experiences and I'm so glad I said YES.

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Rhys, I went to the Bush in Alaska too. Only it wasn't really the was Homer, Alaska, and Lori Avocato and I stayed in a little bed and breakfast. A lovely experience meeting wonderful people, but I've always kind of wished I checked the boxes for small planes, sleeping on floors, eating whale, and pooping in a bucket...

My scariest experience for research? Playing with two real live professional women golfers in a tournament. I was terrified. But they were amazing, and like with your rowing Debs, I never could have gotten the details by standing on the sidelines.

HALLIE EPHRON: Rowing with a gold medalist. Flying to Back of Beyond Alaska. I have lived a very tame life by comparison. I once toured a brain bank. Another time I got into an MRI machine to see what a brain scan would be like. I test drove a GEM electric car -- though it never made it into the book. Toured a prison. None of it death defying.

DEBS: Lucy, I'd have been terrified. At least I wasn't competing, only hoping to stay afloat. Rhys AND Lucy, I so wanted to go to that Bouchercon in Alaska. We were going to make a family vacation of it, but the dates turned out to be too late for everything we wanted to do. I think my idea of adventure would have been closer to Lucy's, however. Rhys, I think you get the bravery gold medal here.  

But Hallie, I confess, I'm claustrophobic, and might rather go up in a small plane than be stuck in an MRI scanner.

What about you, readers? What have you done for your jobs that pushed your limits, and would you do it again? I'm going to give away a signed hardcover of NO MARK UPON HER to one of our commenters today, just because we think you all are pretty terrific.

P.S. And the winner of David Corbett's THE ART OF CHARACTER is Terri Herman-Ponce! Terri, if you'll email me your mailing address at deb at deborahcrombie dot com, I'll pass it along to David.  Congrats!
And just for


  1. I must admit that I don’t have much of an adventurous spirit . . . Neither rowing nor golfing would be on my list of things to do . . . I wouldn’t mind flying in the little airplane, and maybe the dog sledding, but I’m much less certain about the ice fishing and snowmobiling. Shortly after we were married, I went rock climbing/rappelling with my husband . . . I was never so glad for a day to be over in my entire life! Totally petrified and to this day I am surprised I actually managed to survive the experience. Would I do it again? Not happily, but I suppose I would if my husband asked me to . . . .

  2. I've done two things that I found enormously scary. I did them when I was MUCH younger. Would I try either of them today? Pffft. No way!

    I surfed in Hawaii and actually made one ride all the way to shore and was greeted by applause (after the first 100 or so ill fated tries).

    And I took a ride in a powerboat. Powerboats are a very big deal in Cambridge, MD (and have been since 1911). My cousin, Billy Mowbray, has been the race announcer in Cambridge for many years and has written a book about the sport and the people who race. He, knowing of my fascination, arranged to have me take a ride. I have no idea how fast we were going, but faster than I ever want to go again. For those who love research, here's an excerpt from his book -

  3. For the novel being shopped, I went off highway in the southern California desert, drove through a couple of Keep Out signs to approach the All-American Canal and the Mexican border. I wanted to see what would happen. Got myself a semi-friendly scolding, but also a believable, detailed scene with two Border Patrol agents.

  4. Jack Getze - that really is a "what I'd do for my art" moment. I go on a prison tour- you'd get yourself arrested. You'd get the better details.

  5. Not for a book, but because two different boyfriends wanted me to join them.

    The first was the Wild Cave Tour at Mammoth Caves. I had to check to see if this is still going on, since I did it in 1974, but it is. Six hours of crawling and climbing over five miles of caves, 300 feet underground. Some of the places we had to crawl through were seriously terrifying. Before we left the leader showed us an opening of 22" by 8" and told us we'd be squeezing through some places that small. My boyfriend at the time was a big guy, 240 and 6'4". There were some dicey times, with people pulling his arms on one end and pushing his feet on the other end.

    The other adventure I'd do again, even at my advanced age. The New and Gauley Rivers have fabulous all-day raft trips, with lunch in the middle, bracketing by thrilling and scary furious paddling, waterfalls, and swirling eddies. It was exhilarating.

  6. Karen -- I wouldn't go caving like that for anything or anyBODY, let alone research. Yikes! That scene is what my nightmares are made of.

  7. I rowed in high school and loved it. My mom was all concerned because you don't wear life jackets when you row and your feet are strapped in. I never fell in, but a certain medical college crew rammed a boat into the bridge and sank it. I loved the teamwork aspect and your crew became your family. I preferred male rowers over football players. ;0)

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  9. Okay Debs, VERY VERY BRAVE,
    but hmmm.. am I the only one who is noticing how good looking your rowing instructor was/is?

    I can tell you the most fun thing I ever did for book research was drive in the passenger seat of a police cruiser as it careened through East Greenwich after someone - for Yesterday's Fatal. I am not usually a speed kid - but I have to tell you, it was exhilarating.

    I think the scariest things I've ever done were not in research but hanging out with my husband - sailing the tail end of a tornado - threw up 7 times and I don't usually ever have seasickness - and flying with him in a small plane best described as a Volkswagen with Wings.

    Jack - I think that running off the road through the desert to the border sounds pretty cool. I think, in fact, you win the pushing-the=envelope contest.

    Kaye, I tried to surf once when I was young. I didn't get too far. I am pretty impressed you rode all the way to shore and IN HAWAII!! I wind-surfed for a bit, but that is much, much, much tamer.

  10. Jack, I wouldn't do it again, that's for sure. For one thing, now I would actually think about what it meant to be underground like that.

    My boyfriend at the time pestered me to death to go. I resisted for weeks, and can no longer remember how he wore me down. Afterwards, I was glad I did it, but man, was I sore. For a solid week!

  11. There are two things I would never, never do, even if there was a million dollar prize at the end.
    1. skydive
    2. crawl through caves like Karen. I'm not horribly claustrophobic but squeezing through a tiny hole in a cave? No way
    Oh, and I once wrestled my husband on the kitchen floor in the name of research. The children were bemused and embarrassed.

  12. Melissa, I'd take male rowers over football players any day:-)

    And, yes, Jan, did I mention that Stevie Williams is a wee bit good looking?? He's also about 6'4, which you don't get in the photos. Since he retired from rowing after two gold medals, he's climbed Mount Everest. Now that's something I wish I was brave enough to do.

    Rhys, with you on the sky diving and the caves. Shudder.

  13. I'm with Rhys and Debs on the sky-diving and caves. I am very claustrophobic! Even MRIs leave me shaky and tearful (and I've had to have a number of them).

    I've toured a prison, including the death chamber. I used to teach writing classes in a big urban jail, and I've been all through that puppy. I've ridden with a campus police officer and an urban police officer for my books.

    The scariest ever was not for my books, but because my late first husband insisted on it. We'd been on a vacation to the Ozarks where it was pouring rain all the time (which somehow became my fault). It was pretty miserable with a high schooler, a middle schooler, and a newborn, all on my hands. My husband insisted we do an African safari park "so we'll at least have a little fun." Near closing time, we pay and enter in gray, muddy weather. No other car or anyone seen for miles. And the animals are not fenced off from the road. We're driving a tiny Fiat. One herd of water buffalo almost overturned the car. And then it started to rain and get muddier yet. The car stuck, and a pride of shabby lions surrounded us. The kids are screaming. I'm holding the baby and praying. My husband's revving the tires deeper into the mud and cursing. The lions start nudging the car with their bodies (they are really big, much bigger than they look like on TV) and we almost go over on one side. Fortunately, we didn't, and that dislodged us enough to get traction. That pride of lions surrounded us all the way to the exit. Went into the gift shop/ticket office at the end because the kids were about to pee their pants. Found out someone let us in after the park was closed, and if we'd delayed five more minutes, we'd not have been able to get out.

  14. I could never match you all in bravery in going to adventurous places, but I have (for years) been doing research on an idea for a writing project. The scariest thing for me was contacting the Library of Congress looking for a specific 30 second piece of film from the Edison Studios from 1896. I was scared to ask them, sure that they wouldn't reply and, worst of all, that I was wasting the time of the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS! I was thrilled to receive a swift response (there are no known extant copies) and once I looked up extant, I was happy that I had made the inquiry and was not made to feel silly about it.

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  15. For the novel I'm working to get out there in the world--keep changing the title but for now it's called A BONE-STREWN GROUND--I snuck around a hospital in Ireland to get the lay of the land. I felt like a filthy voyeur in the midst of all that pain. Though I did manage to talk to one of the nurses for awhile.

    I also hung out with the matchmaker who resides over the annual matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare. Terrifying? Cramming myself into the "The Matchmaker Pub" that was packed to sardine-level with shag-seeking singles. :-)

    I also sat down with a couple of sergeants, complete with my tape recorder, and picked their brains about local police procedures. The tour of the local garda station was fun.

    None of this was terrifying, but it was outside my comfort zone because for the first time I was approaching people as a novelist. I felt like an imposter. You know what I mean?

  16. Omigosh, Linda. That is seriously scary to consider what may have happened.

  17. Rowing is my favorite sport. I was never any good at it but I never enjoyed anything so much. Being good was less an issue than surviving the row, anyway.

    See you all tomorrow! Gin

  18. Wonderful stories! You have to use the lions somehow Linda! Jack, hope we see that one in print soon!

    No skydiving or cave spelunking for me either. Did anyone read Nevada Barr's BLIND DESCENT? I can't believe she didn't go caving to get those details. Absolutely terrifying!

  19. Roberta/Lucy, I keep wanting to put that scene in a book, but it never works for whatever book I'm doing. May have to build something around it, I guess. Since I know it took many years off my lifespan in sheer terror, I need to get something back from it. :-)

  20. We adopted our daughter in Peru. Part of the legal paperwork had to be done in the county seat where she was born. That meant taking a 7 seater plane into the "eye" of the Amazon. We landed on a dirt strip and road partial cars into town (window, doors, etc, might be missing, but they ran). As the afternoon progressed and our departure got closer, a lightening storm came in. We rode back to the airstrip with rain pouring down (and in!). Once the plane showed up (that's a whole other story) we flew back in the midst of a rollicking thunder and lightening storm. The co-pilot told us that God was taking flash pictures of us.
    It was well worth it to get our fabulous girl.

  21. I have a fear of heights, or maybe it is more being at the edge of a big drop. Anyway we went on a zipline tour in Roatan 2 or 3 years ago. I actually did all right and enjoyed it.

  22. I haven't really done anything scary for a book. I did ride a zip line forty plus feet in the air because my daughter wanted to try it and had to have an adult with her. That was fun.

    And I was chased out of Tiananmen Square at gunpoint by soldiers, which was not fun.

  23. SO behind!

    I did this all backwards..I did the "research"--going undercover. in disguise, hidden camera, little plane in scary places, going with firefighters, being in tear gas, white-water rafting the Chattooga---before I knew I was doing "research!"

    My scariest was the time we were going in a tiny plane to northwest Vermont..and I noticed the pilot was falling asleep!

  24. And right, I so agree. NO jumping out of anything. Really, I could NOT do it.

  25. Like Hank, most of my scary encounters have come with the day job--lawyers do occasionally deal with some unnerving people! Or outdoor activities -- there was that rattlesnake, and that time with the sail boom ... .

    But now I'm writing foodie cozies. Will eat almost anything for research!

  26. LOL Leslie, it's a tough job, but some of us persevere...

  27. So far it wasn't for research (but might yet pop into a story), and it wasn't really THAT dangerous, but in 1992 I took a solo trip from the capital of Mali (yes, same Mali that's falling apart right now) by train for 8 hours into the bush, then found the truck I was supposed to meet up with and bounced with them for two hours, then found the moped driver I needed and rode behind him for another hour to reach a remote village where a USAID training was taking place for traditional midwives. I had an American Peace Corps volunteer host (a woman who had earned her white hair) as translator, and I learned so much from these hardworking women with barely enough to eat in a HOT dry part of the world who were working so hard to save the lives of birthing moms and their babies. Four days later I reversed my steps and made it safely back to my husband and two little boys. One of the richest experiences of my life.

    Already dreaming up a future series with a world-traveler protag so I can say it was for research!

  28. My daughter used to row, in high school and for a season in college, so I know how hard it is and admire anyone who would row!

  29. I didn't know that I was being adventurous in pursuit of the perfect picture: I climbed part way up a fence for a better shot of a ship in New Orleans & was informed by one of their employees (a relative) that I was lucky I wasn't shot.

  30. I've worked a fatality accident with the DPS, dug up dinosaur bones, inspected toxic waste dumps, ridden along on witness transfers, and hung out with a wide variety of rock musicians--most of whom were sober. Someday I ought to work some of that into a book.

  31. I am so late and so sorry I missed this fun blog and comments.

    I don't know what I've ever done that was very scary. Maybe bouldering on the beach was, especially the climbing back down part. The day I failed to consider splash-off from more distant rocks made mine slippery and someone from a local boatyard came by to tell me where to put my feet. Next to swimming the harbor it was my favorite activity as a girl.