Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Adventures in Research

Sandy Tritt
by Sandy Tritt

I thought it would be fun if we all shared some of the adventures we've had in the name of research. We'll pick the best ones and share them on this blog (with the writer's permission, of course).

Back in the pre-internet days, we didn't have a way to just turn on a computer, google something, and find out what we needed to know to make our fiction jump alive with authenticity.  One writer friend of mine who wrote murder mysteries called the local police department to inquire as to how long it would be before a dead body would begin to decay, and how deep a body would need to be buried to ensure the smell wouldn't escape. Even though she had told them she was a writer and needed to know for a story she was writing, within minutes her property was surrounded by law enforcement. They searched every inch of her property before finally deciding yes, she was just a writer.

These are the kind of stories we want to hear. I'll start the fun by copying one of my Adventures in Research. I still have pangs of guilt (and embarrassment) at the thought of this, but, hey, we live and learn.


I sat in my car and waited until five past the hour. Convinced the last stragglers had arrived, I sneaked through the heavy oak doors and slithered against the back wall, willing myself invisible. Normal people would have been satisfied to interview others or finish their research from the library, but not me. I wanted to experience an AA meeting personally so my fiction could sing with authenticity. So, here I was, feigning to be a coat rack, hoping no one would notice me.

I glanced around the room. It would be almost impossible in my small town not to recognize anyone, and sure enough, they were there. The sophisticated blue-haired lady was my best friend’s aunt. And the lady in red looked familiar as well—my mind scanned for where I'd seen her—my father's business associate, perhaps? And in the opposite corner stood Mr. Bogreens, the custodian at my church.

I should have left before anyone saw me, stepped back through the door as silently as I'd entered. I slid my right foot toward the exit, then moved my left to catch up. I concentrated on getting out, on escaping from this poorly planned escapade.

"Door prize?" A man with soft walnut eyes pressed an index card into my hand.

"No, thanks," I whispered.

"The first one's free," he said.

"No. I'm not—"

"Everyone enters the door prize," he said, his voice rising.

Fearing a commotion, I scribbled my name and mumbled my thanks. The rest of the group had formed a circle, but I didn’t join. I felt safe in my obscure spot by the door. I took out my note pad and concentrated on capturing all the details I needed to make my fiction real. A bare light bulb dangled from a dusty wire—surely it could be twisted into an apt analogy. Harvest gold paint decorated the walls and avocado green shag carpeting covered the concrete floors—leftovers from the seventies, as were some of those in attendance. 

The first speaker took his spot behind the podium and led the group in prayer. The PA system must have been a donation from the old high school stadium, because his voice blasted through the ceiling with the resonance of God's very own. I listened to the tone of the speaker's voice and watched his mannerisms as he spoke of his disease and recovery. I waited for the words I expected, "Hi, my name is Bob, and I'm an alcoholic . . ." And soon, sooner than I'd expected, the meeting adjourned with the recitation of the Serenity Prayer.

I'd survived. I buttoned my jacket and slid toward the door. Hopefully, no one had seen me.

Someone tapped the mike twice, then spoke so loudly her words hung on the ceiling and I had to wait for them to trickle down before I could make them out. "Sandy Tritt! Sandy Tritt!" The neon words fell from above, over and over, beating me down.

"You Sandy?" An elderly man pointed his arthritic finger at me.

I wanted to deny it, but by this time the buzzing crowd swarmed around me, and I understood how Jesus Christ felt when the crowd screamed, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

"You Sandy?" a young woman demanded.

I nodded, swearing to myself and to God above that I'd never again infiltrate sacred meetings in the name of research.

The kind-looking man I remembered from earlier shuffled over to me. "Congratulations," he said. "You won the door prize."

"I—I don't want it," I whispered, eying my escape.

A woman with evil eyebrows thrust a microphone in my face. "Speech!"

I was caught. There was no way out. What could I do? I took a deep breath, leaned into the mike, and made my confession. "Hi. My name is Sandy, and I'm—" I looked at the now silent crowd hanging onto my every word and realized the man in back looked way too much like one of my daughter's teachers, and undoubtedly the press was there and my picture would be splattered across the front page of Sunday's paper. My charade was over. There was nothing left for me to do, so I hung my head and admitted my addiction. "And I'm a writer."


Now it's your turn. Send us your stories! Email Sandy at IFWeditors@gmail.com.