Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wild Things I’ve Done for Research

When I write a story, I like to get the details right. Wouldn’t it just be embarrassing to find a mistake in a technical detail of a story? You know someone, somewhere is going to call you on it and then the public humiliation will follow. To avoid all that, I check the facts and try to live the experience. Just so you know, I won’t be riding a bucking bronco no matter how many scenes I may write with one in it. Nope. Not gonna happen.

When I wrote Dark Isle, I included the McKnights, a human family who liked to fly airplanes, little Cessnas to be exact and in one scene, the airplane is piloted by a winged Nimway. The Nimway knew how to fly with his wings, but flying a machine was another matter. Naturally, he stalled the engine and the plane began hurtling toward the earth. I know nothing about airplanes except they are supposed to stay in the air and I still don’t know why. It just so happened that one of the doctors I worked with in the ER was a licensed pilot. Dr. Sonny Morton was my go-to guy for details about flying—and stalling—an airplane. He showed me how to read an aerial map, what things needed to be checked before each flight and what would cause a plane to go into a spin. Well, next thing ya know, Sonny said the only way I was really going to write about a flying experience would be to actually go on a flight with him. I have to stop and tell you right here and now I am terrified of flying on a big plane, but on a little Cessna…there isn’t a word beyond terrified to describe my feelings. My heart raced and I broke out in a cold sweat. I shook my head unable to even say the word no. Then this little writer’s voice in the back of my mind said, “Is that all you got? You can’t even be brave enough to get the story right? Surely you have some courage deep down inside somewhere.” Before I knew what I was about to do, I agreed to go.

I loved how thorough Sonny was about checking the plane and telling me each detail of what he was checking—and then he checked everything again. I should mention here that Sonny is a meticulous and methodical person. It’s just his nature and as much as I found that annoying at  work, on this particular day I was glad for his perfectionism. We got into the plane and put on our headphones. The engine is very loud and headphones provide a convenient way to communicate. My camera hung around my neck while I clung like a monkey to the back of his seat with one hand and the scaredy-cat bar with the other. He called to the tower our serial numbers and flight plan, found out what runway we’d use and off we went. I learned all about the transponder that is set for the destination and what the term “step on the ball” means when the plane goes into a spin and you have to pull it out. Before we reached our destination in Asheville, NC, he turned to me and said, “You know, if the plane goes down, clinging to it won’t protect you.” Well, I hadn’t thought of that. I had just gone into protective mode like I do when I’m in the car with my nephew. I also learned there weren’t any parachutes on board and no airbags. We hit a crosswind as we landed and hit the runway hard. All I knew was that I was back on the sweet earth. I could have dropped to my knees and kissed the runway. I didn’t know until later when Sonny told me, that the landing had been the most dangerous part of the flight.

When the flight was over, something in me changed. A feeling of accomplishment almost like euphoria took hold of me. I had done something I didn’t think I could do and I did it for the sake of my story. I can’t say that I’d pop into a plane and do it again without an ounce of fear, but I can say that I felt good about myself for pushing my fear aside to do something I would have never thought I could do.
Have you ever done something that was difficult for you for the sake of something or someone important to you? Did your experience change you in any way? Would you do it again? I hope you’ll share your experience with me.

THE DARK ISLE coming soon from Publishing by Rebecca Vickery

Find out how it all started at the beginning of The Legends of Winatuke series: THE DARK ISLE

Can love abide when evil awakens?

The queen of the Dark Isle has taken the Nimway prince, Gabriel, prisoner and is determined to send him home in pieces. Her daughter has only a little time to save him, but even if she does, will he want someone born of evil?
Once told of his brother's captivity, Raphael must go to the modern world to ask for help to rescue his brother. But his true love, a human, has accidently crossed over into Winatuke. The chances of her survival are slim to none.



Unknown said...

Sarah--what a wonderful post. You had me right there in the plane. I'm fearful of flying, as any sane person should be, but I'm not AFRAID to fly--make sense? I thought not.
I've flown over the ocean--and other places a lot, and I never felt perfectly calm getting on the plane. However, I have the ability to "psyche" myself out, so I can relax to some extent.
I've ridden in an Army helicopter that had the sides open, and that was scary, but thrilling. You sit just behind the open space, strapped in to the nth degree, and when the helicopter "banked" I had the feeling I would fall out. However, I wouldn't give anythiing for that experience.

As to your question--I cannot think of any way I've put myself in danger to save someone else. I don't remember any situation in which I had to act heroically.

Now I can't recall your exact question, but I do remember once being very scared of a man. My sister and I were staying with Mother on her farm just before we put her in the nursing home. Our cars were there, but a man in a pickup pulled in past the cars and on to the barn. He was a son of Mother's dead second husband--whom we couldn't stand.
This man began loading tools and things in his pickup--these things had been our Daddy's stuff--and my sister wanted to call the sheriff. I told her I'd go out and confront him. Now, she's always thought she was brave, but she was terrified of this man. She watched from the screen door with the phone in her hand.
I went out, and he had picked up a roll of chain--heavy stuff--and I told him to put everything back because no one was taking anything off this farm--not even me or my sister. He was furious, began saying really bad things about my daddy, and he raised the hand with the chain as if he would hit me. But he caught himself and threw it to the ground. Lord, I was terrified, but I stood very still and stared at him. We had a stare-off, and....praise God...he blinked. He dumped everything out he'd picked up and drove away. We did call the sheriff and report it, but said we just wanted it on record, and not to do anything.

So, in my current WIP I do have my heroine stare down an interloper, with her daddy's words ringing in her ears--"Don't break eye contact with your foe, honey. He'll get you every time."

Whew, I'm glad I remembered all that. And I hope I didn't bore you to death.
Good luck with your new book! And I'm proud of you.

Laurean Brooks said...

Sarah, while I was writing "Journey To Forgiveness," writer's block struck when I got to the scene where my heroine flew in a Cessna.

A lady college professor suggested I take a ride in a plane to get the feel. I didn't take her up on it. But writing the plane scene stalled me on this novel for 7 months.

Finally, I settled for the hours and pages of research I had done on pilots who flew these planes.

Guess I'm a big chicken. "Perk-perk!"

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Celia, I can't think of anything that would get me as fired up as some no-account saying something bad about my mom or dad. My adrenaline would make me do things I shouldn't do. I have to say, that was a brave thing you did confronting that ex-relative.
I don't know that I could muster the courage to strap into an open helicopter--maybe bullets flying at me me might. LOL
Thank you so much for all your support.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Laurean, Lordy, if I can do it, anyone can. I don't blame you for backing out though. It took every bit of courage I possessed to get in that plane. Trust me; I will never write a story about a sky diver who jumps from planes for fun. No way.
Thank you for coming by and sharing your story.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Sarah, you are braver than I am, girl! LOL No, I can't think of anything I've done except confronting a couple of principals over some things that happened in school--not just to my kids but to others as well. They got tired of seeing me coming. LOL I guess my story would be about what my dad did for me out of love, and I know it took every ounce of courage he possessed, though I didn't even think of it that way at the time. I was about 9 or 10, and we had driven up from where we lived in Seminole, OK to OKC to attend the state fair. That year, they were giving helicopter rides. These rides cost $5! Well, that was like $15 or $20 is now. I wanted to ride that helicopter sooooo badly--(I was quite the daredevil when I was young and didn't realize that things actually COULD happen that you didn't expect!)I begged and pleaded and finally my parents said yes, but my mom thought one of them should ride it with me "just in case something should happen." I know, I know, but this was her reasoning. Kill two of us instead of one. LOL Of course, SHE didn't want to do it, so that left my poor old dad, who rode it with me and was green the entire time. I remember saying over and over, "Look, Daddy! Isn't this FUN???? I LOVE THIS!" Of course, he put his best smile on and said, "It surely is!" But then I remember seeing his fingers on the seat--it's just engraved in my mind. His knuckles were white he was gripping the armrest so hard. That was the first time in my life I realized that my dad could actually be scared of something. That amazed me more than then helicopter ride. I remember reaching over and just putting my hand on his to try to comfort him. I would never have said anything to him, but I knew. Today would have been his 91st birthday. That was true love, for sure. Great question, and I love the answers.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Cheryl, what a wonderful story about your dad doing something that terrified just to make you happy. I know what it's like to see a parent who is usually a rock suddenly look vulnerable. Pop came to visit it me at work one day when I was in Coronary Care. I wanted him to come behind the nurses' station so I could show him the monitors and tell him what the patterns meant. My poor dad stood there amidst the IV tubings, ballon pums, CVP lines and crash carts looking pale and scared. He wouldn't come back to look at the monitors and I was dumbstruct that he could be so afraid of something that I did for a living every day. I could not have climbed up the weather tower to do OBS every few hours like he did. Crazy, isn't it?
Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. You're so sweet to take the time to do that.

Paula Martin said...

Sarah, I love this story - and you are definitely braver than me! Actually I don't mind flying, it's the going up and coming down that I hate!
I think my own claim to doing something that terrified me was crossing the Capilano Bridge in Vancouver. It's a suspension bridge over a gorge, about 250 feet high, and 400 feet long. I really hate heights but I was determined to do it. There were lots of other people on the bridge, and it wobbled and jiggled all the time, but I got across. I didn't dare stop to look down as some people did in the middle of the bridge, and I was shaking like a leaf. Having got across, I then had to come back across, and did it straight away before my courage could completely fail me!

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Paula, I have to tell you that humpy bridges scare the fool out of me. They're the bridges that start out straight and then curve upward like a hill on the bridge. I've tried everything I know to deal with it , but I just can't do it. The bridge in Vancouver sounds like one of those bridges. I couldn't drive over a bridge that "jiggles".
So, I think that was extremely brave of you to do it--twice.
Thank you for commenting on my blog.

Paula Martin said...

I was walking, Sarah, not driving, and this suspension bridge went steeply down to the middle then steeply up to the end! Google Capilano Bridge and you can see it! When I finally got back to sanity, I bought a teeshirt that said 'I survived the Capilano Bridge' LOL
By the way, we have loads of humpy bridges in the countryside here in England. Sometimes when you're driving over them, you can't actually see the road on the other side :-)

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I don't know which is worse, walking over that bridge or driving a car. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
Glad you told me about the humpy bridges in the UK. If I get a chance to go there, I will take a train so I won't have to drive. I don't think I could manage to keep on the correct side of the road. LOL
My sister and my great-niece are going to Europe at the end of June and will be spending time in the UK...but they'll be taking a train. My sister is going to drive from Dublin in Ireland to the countryside. Look out Ireland; my sister can barely drive the streets on the side with which she's familiar.