Reader Friday: What is the oddest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?


Some authors attend real autopsies, spend nights in haunted houses, or travel to exotic places.

I’ve toured FBI: Quantico and CIA: Langley, shot various weapons at the FBI Academy firing range and watched a bomb squad blow up stuff at my local police department. I’ve had a flash bang grenade blown up at my feet to see what it was like, and I’ve blindfolded myself to fumble around in a dark room to see if I could sense walls.

Writers do peculiar things in the name of research. Tell us about your most memorable experiences, what you learned, and how you used it.

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

26 thoughts on “Reader Friday: What is the oddest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

  1. Although not really ‘odd’ I did spend a week on a cattle ranch learning about cows and cowboys for my Triple-D ranch series.

    I’ve done ride alongs, civilian police academy, the Writers’ Police Academy, and what I’ve learned there shows up as needed in any of my books.

    And, speaking of research, I just started a book by someone who clearly knows his stuff and insists on putting every single detail onto the page. DON’T DO THAT. What should have been a high-octane action scene is bogged down in explaining every bit of his choice of weapon, how and why he loaded/reloaded his weapon, what it would have been like if he’d had a different weapon, where to stand/crouch, how to stand/crouch and why … and all this for a flashback within a prologue.

    • Huge pet peeve for me is an author regurgitating research ad nauseum. I’ve seen big authors do this too. Ugh. Great point.

      I love the cattle ranch research. I could get into that. Thanks, Terry.

  2. I hid in the bushes outside Teddy Kennedy’s compound–I was an intern at a Boston TV station, working for a crazy man Political Editor who wanted me to track the whereabouts of local politicos (read: stalk) in case some news broke and he needed to grab an interview. I would hide in the bushes whenever the security patrols or curious canines passed by. I’m really lucky I didn’t get arrested or bitten. ?

  3. At the Writer’s Police Academy, we studied death investigation, blood spatter analysis, dusted for prints (it’s harder than it looks!), and all kinds of hands-on research. I’ve watched autopsies; decomposition/putrefaction stages over the course of a year at The Body Farm (via video); what happens to severed limbs engulfed in flames…I could go on and on. But the strangest thing I’ve ever done was to ask my husband to bury me in a shallow grave in the backyard, inside a makeshift coffin. I’d just researched and wrote a post about how to escape your grave if you ever find yourself buried alive. In the name of research I wanted to test what I’d learned. Sadly, he denied my request. Here’s the post if you’re curious:

  4. I needed my pacifist main character to nonviolently escape a pre-planned meeting with a mobster. He’d toss homemade smoke bombs to cover his escape. I looked up how to make smoke bombs from household chemicals purchased at any hardware store and tested formulations and configurations in my driveway. Getting billowing smoke is a lot harder than it looks!


    • Neighbors to an author must have great stories.

      An author friend of mine wanted to see if she could escape a killer in her living room, lock herself in her bathroom & have time to shimmy out bath window. She invited a male guest to dinner, fed him, then put him to work. I would’ve loved to be her neighbor.

  5. Guess the oddest thing I’ve done for my muse was to learn how to rappel. While a long-time hunter and backpacker, I’d never rappelled. The protag in my story wanted to descend into a dark well during the day so he could keep a promise to his dying father and observe a rare astronomical event.

    So I did what the protag did in the story. I watched a YouTube video on rappelling and tried it. Not only was it fun, it gave the piece the authenticity it needed, and the story “Cameron Obscura” was accepted for publication.

  6. I am an old man. I can’t get out into the field much anymore. So when I decided to write a novel about bigfoots, my research was limited to correspondence and interviews with numerous bigfoot field researchers. And, since my story is not a run-screaming-from-the-monster story, I had to ask a lot of questions about bigfoot psychology. What I found is that, many, many human-bigfoot encounters have been frightening, possibly deadly. Many or most of the people I corresponded with do not advocate the hail-bigfoot-well-met approach of leaving apples, doughnuts, and other foods out. They advocate not trying to make friends with the creatures. They admit there are bigfoot lore and accounts of bigfoot-human interactions that have been very positive and even heroic. But it’s not worth the risk to see if the bigfoot you see and wave to, will return a friendly wave, because it may will charge you and . . . well, you can guess.

    On the other hand, many researchers are not at all in favor of the proof-will-only-be-substantiated-with-a-corpse theory, if you have to kill one.

    So, I have tons of notes and essays I wrote to myself to help make up my mind about about certain points and issues about the creatures.

    Also, I have spent time trying to figure out the how to write the sound that people make that is normally expressed by a tsk-tsk in literature. I think I’ve almost got it.

    So now I’ve also got to write a story about someone saying, “tsk, so bigfoots ARE real.”

  7. “He been stabbed!” The words were shrill and desperate.
    The young black woman struggled toward the emergency room entrance half-dragging a young black man who collapsed face-down to the concrete at that moment. There was no ambulance or car in sight. Another drive-by dump and ditch of a critically injured person.
    “Save him!” she screamed. She’d not abandoned him
    I ran to the man, then rolled him to his back. His eyes were closed, his color gray, and he made failing, fish-out-of-water gasps. A small hole and a trace of blood showed on his shirt above the left breast pocket. From too much experience with violence and death, I knew what needed to be done. I scooped him up in my arms, then ran him to the Crash Room calling out orders for what we needed to do and what instruments were needed.
    I placed him on the bed and ripped on surgical gloves, as the members of the scrambling trauma team sliced off his clothing and reached for oxygen, monitors, and IVs. The man’s girlfriend was screaming.
    I checked for a pulse — there was none. His efforts at breathing had ceased. There were no signs of life.
    I splashed Betadine about four inches below the bloodless, horizontal gash in his left chest and grabbed a scalpel from the bedside tray of hastily assembled instruments. With a number fifteen blade I slashed open a two inch track through the skin and muscle down to the rib bone at a point four inches lateral to his nipple. He did not react.
    “You be killing him!” A security guard and nurses were able to restrain the panicked woman as she lunged for me. I grabbed the curved Kelly forceps, placing the tip of the glistening, oversized, needle-nosed pliers-like instrument into the newly cut track. I positioned the tip immediately above the exposed rib, then gripped the steel and drove it through the chest wall causing the man’s body to lurch as it entered his chest cavity with a meaty “pop”. A long rush of air jetted out, sounding as if I had driven a blade into a car tire. I forced the handles of the tool open, widening a path into the chest. The smell of blood filled the trauma bay.
    The man’s collapsed lung and the deadly pressure that had developed inside his chest had stopped all bold flow and breathing. With the release of that pressure the vital functions quickly began to return. I slid a three-quarter inch diameter tube into his chest. Nurses attached it to suction.
    His chest heaved like a bellows and his color returned. His eyes blinked open wide, and he stared into my face with an expression more lost and terrified than any I had ever seen.
    “MuthaXXXker!” he screamed and attempted to grab for the tube. I caught his hand and locked eyes with him and got him to understand his situation.
    No more than four minutes had passed since I heard his girlfriend first call out. She was almost silent now, standing with hands tented prayer-like in front of her open mouth repeating “sweet Jesus” over and over.
    Three minutes later we’d controlled his pain, and his vital signs were normal. He would be okay.

    I thought when this event occurred I was working as an ER physician– now I realize I was doing research for writing medical suspense-thrillers 🙂

  8. I was an extra in the Miami City Ballet’s Nutcracker. Scariest thing I ever did. But I totally get why performers get such a high from being on a stage. 🙂

    • Wow. Gutsy. Nutcracker is iconic but I would imagine a Miami performance would be packed & well-attended. You can learn a lot about yourself by performing a character on stage & getting into the magic of theatre. Great experience.

      I was in high school drama for 3 yrs or so. A very innovative program that got national recognition & we were featured in Life Magazine, the cover feature. We almost performed with the Who in Dallas when we did TOMMY. It’s a rush.

      • I loved the theater when I was in high school, but never dared to try out for any roles because I was a severe stutterer. So instead I turned to scenery building and painting. My best compliment was after I spent two weeks painting a flat to resemble a brick wall outside of a window for a play. I heard an audience member behind me mumble, “Where the hell did they get the money to build a damn brick wall?” A rush? Oh, yeah!

  9. 1. lay face down off the trail in a forested park sniffing deep at the odours of the forest floor as I gradually dig layers of leaves, and dirt as I listen to the myriad of ambient sounds around me and try to identify them. This was in order to come up with good description of what a sniper senses while sitting in a hide for hours on end.
    Take away: There’s a lot going on in nature, and so many smells it can overwhelm a person.
    Effects: While it had not negative side effects people were walking by not far away probably thinking I had found the magic mushrooms that grow around there.

    2. Stand myself in a corner between two concrete buildings to focus the sound and shock waves of a massive fireworks display less than 100 feet away. This was to simulate being under an artillery barrage without risking getting actually blown up.
    Take Away: After nearly an hour of body thumping ear shattering noise that put me at risk of losing my bowels, I know for certain I never want to experience the real thing.
    Effects: That was fifteen years ago, and my ears are still ringing.

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