How to Have an Adventure and Survive It

How to Have an Adventure and Survive It by Pepper O’Neal

If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I’m an adrenalin junkie. Even as a child, I always had the urge to move on and see what was around the next bend in the river or down a lonely country road. I blame that on my nomad Cherokee ancestors. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up as my father was never content to settle down in one place. My mother and sisters hated all the moving. But I loved it. For me it wasn’t being in a new place that excited me. No, it was the “getting there” that was the thrill. Once I was “there” and saw whatever there was to see, it was time—at least as far as I was concerned—to move on. I’m afraid I drove my poor family crazy—everyone except my father who had the same degree of restless feet syndrome that I did. I was never one of those kids asking, “Are we there yet?” Oh no, I had my nose glued to the car window so I could watch the world go by. But after we’d been in a new place for a few weeks, I was asking, “Can we go now?” Even today, driving by a lonely county road makes me yearn to turn the car around and find out where that road goes. Doesn’t matter where I’m going or how late I am, I want to know what’s OUT THERE! Thankfully, I also have the luck of my Irish ancestors, so not only have I had to opportunity to have adventures, few of them have cost me much financially. Of course, there’s all kinds of adventures—some are good, some bad, and some ugly. (Sounds like the title of a spaghetti western, doesn’t it?) But, hey, an adventure is an adventure, right?

So how do you have an adventure yourself without paying a fortune? I’m not talking about going first class here. That’s a vacation, not an adventure. Vacations are fine, as far as they go. And some might even classify as adventures. But if you want an experience to remember—fondly, or not so—for the rest of your life, take a chance and don’t go first class. You’ll have some experiences money could never buy.

Okay then, how do you start? Once upon a time, you could work your way around the world. But that’s no longer easy or even advisable. Too many unscrupulous people out there. And human trafficking is a real problem. In fact, that’s the main plot point of my new book Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don’t, which came out in June. My heroine wasn’t looking for an adventure, but sometimes the best adventures happen when we aren’t looking for them. And anything you survive can be classified as a “good” adventure, which you will someday look back on and laugh about. Of course, this takes time—and with some adventures, it takes more time than with others.

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have an adventure fall into your lap, there are still inexpensive ways to travel. If you like boats, or think you might, contact the marinas along the closest coast to where you are and/or join the local yacht club. Most communities have a yacht club. Both of these things will put you in contact with boat owners. You’ll usually find at least one or two privately owned pleasure cruisers that are looking for crew. Sometimes, a single person sailing to someplace specific may want some company for the trip, as sailing by yourself is a lonely proposition. If you’re a male, handy with your hands, and willing to work, it’s fairly easy to snag a ride to almost anywhere in the world. If you’re female, it’s a bit harder, not to mention riskier, but it’s still a possibility. Especially if you can cook. While I was working as a researcher in Mexico and the Caribbean, I met a number of people who had hitched a ride on a yacht as a cook or crew member. Something to remember: some yacht owners can’t afford to keep their boats as pleasure yachts all year round. So they hire the boat out and provide the crew, including the cook. And some of them pay you fairly decent wages. You would live aboard the yacht, crew, or cook for the paying customers and get well paid for it. And see some really beautiful places. Just check out the boat owner, or renter, carefully. Talk to other crew or ask for references. Or both.

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Don’t want to get on a boat? No problem. Check ads in adventure magazines for jobs in foreign countries or for people traveling who want a companion. A lot of people still do, especially the elderly. And don’t forget the internet. But check the jobs and/or people out carefully before you commit. And if you’re already visiting in a foreign country, go for the cheaper modes of travel to get around, like trains and buses. One of the most memorable adventures I had was when a friend and I took a train trip across Mexico. (I don’t recommend going there these days as it’s gotten way too dangerous, but there are other places you can go where this information applies.) We paid for first class, which was very cheap. But for the whole three-day trip, we spent most of our time in second class, fascinated by the people and the things they had brought with them on the train: live chickens and pigs, baskets and barrels of exotic fruits, and whatever they’d bought at the market wherever they’d been and were dragging home with them. I remember one guy even had a toilet (new and unused, thankfully) he was taking home. My friend spoke excellent Spanish and translated for me, so we got to know some of our fellow passengers and heard some amazing stories of survival. As a writer, I gleaned a wealth of characters and story material for my novels.

Now whether your idea of an adventure is the same or different than mine, I’ll share the following tips with you that I believe apply to all adventures:

1. Don’t Go Alone. Whether you’re male or female, but especially if you’re female, don’t go off alone. Bad things can happen to people in that situation, and I’m not talking just about getting mugged, though that can happen, too. Plan to take a friend or two with you when you go if at all possible. If not, make some friends going your way and tag along. That way if something happens, you have some help.

2. Make Sure Someone Knows Where You’re Going. People can disappear while traveling, so make sure that someone knows where you are, where you’re going when you leave Point A, and when you’re expected to arrive at Point B. That way, there’s a chance if you get hurt, stranded, or abducted, someone will notify the authorities.

3. Don’t Put All Your Money in Your Wallet. Wallets can get lost or stolen. So have a money belt (or a money pouch you wear under your clothes) to keep your money (and ID) in and transfer it in small bits to your wallet as you need it. Then if your wallet goes missing, you aren’t stranded without any funds or ID.

4. Leave Your Prejudices at Home. Strive to have an open mind about the people and places you encounter. Yes, they’re going to be different than what you’re used to. And they may well seem primitive and crude by your standards. But hey, if you hadn’t wanted to experience something different, why did you go there in the first place? If all you’re willing to experience is what you already know and are comfortable with, you might as well stay home. Give the people and the experiences a chance. You won’t regret it.

5. Know Where the Nearest Consulates and Marinas Are. Whatever your nationality, know where your nation’s consulates are located in whatever country you’re visiting. Shit happens, folks. Believe me, I know. So before you leave, get on the internet and find out what cities have one of your nation’s consulate’s offices. The consulate is your main representative when you are in that country. If you get into trouble (lose your money or passport, unintentionally commit a crime, etc.), they are your best (and sometimes only) source of help. Also find out where the marinas are if you’re going to be on or near the coast. Marinas can collect mail for you and put you in touch with people who can help you out in an emergency. Write this important information down and keep it with you. You may never need it, but at least you have it if you do. And it may not be possible to access the internet if you need the information later. So be prepared.

6. Mix with the Natives. The beauty of immersing yourself in the culture you’re visiting is that you truly get to experience what life is like for the people who live there. If you’re friendly, most people will respond and, when they do, they’ll not only tell you where the real bargains in lodging, food, and entertainment are, they’ll take you to some of the private places that tourists never get to see or experience. If you don’t speak the local language, try to find someone who does to translate for you. Even if you have to pay them a few bucks, it’s worth it.

I’ve had some wonderful adventures following these rules. Of course, I also had some I hadn’t expected. I nearly got mugged in St. Thomas, spent a night in an abandoned motel in the middle of nowhere in southern Mexico, cowered in a hotel bathroom during a fierce tropical storm in St. Martin, broke my leg in Cozumel and my ribs in Tecamachalco, had to climb a mast—at sea in the middle of a hurricane—to repair the misen boom on a boat, took more than one shower with cockroaches the size of small dogs, and was medevac’d by helicopter during a gale after being creamed in the head by flying debris. As a friend once told me, if most people knew what was in store for them when they set off on an adventure, they’d never have the courage to start out on one. But, hey, I survived, so that makes them all “good” adventures. And now I can laugh about them—or at the very least, chuckle.

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A strange man has come to save her…but is he friend or foe?
Anderson Merritt’s been kidnapped, but when a stranger comes to rescue her, she isn’t sure he is who he says he is. He claims to work for her father’s boss. But someone close to Andi set her up, and now she doesn’t know who to trust. Every man she’s ever known has seen her only as a tool to get to her father or his money, so why should this one be any different? As the sparks between them ignite, and the danger escalates, Andi has to choose—go off on her own, or trust that some men really are what they seem.

He doesn’t want to hurt her…but he may have to if she doesn’t come willingly.
Ex-CIA black ops specialist Levi Komakov doesn’t believe in hurting women, but when the place is set to blow and Andi won’t cooperate, he has no choice to but toss her over his shoulder and carry her out of danger, determined to keep her safe in spite of herself. But the beautiful little spitfire doesn’t make it easy for him. With her abductors seemingly always one step ahead of him, Levi suspects there’s a rat in the woodpile, but who? Could it be someone close to Andi’s father, someone in the FBI, or someone in the family Levi works for? When a new threat appears, and even the CIA can’t help him keep Andi safe, Levi puts everything on the line—but will it be enough?

Buy Now: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Ops-Chronicles-Dead-Dont-ebook/dp/B00LAN3B98

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Award-winning author Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad.

O’Neal attributes both her love of adventure and her compulsion to write fiction to her Irish and Cherokee ancestors. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.

Website: http://www.pepperoneal.com

Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Normally you’d associate a dude ranch with horses, right? But do you also add in opportunities to partake in educational lectures, spa treatments, fishing and gourmet food? At Tanque Verde Dude Ranch outside of Tucson, Arizona, you have the chance for these activities and more.

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I was pleasantly surprised as we drove up to the main lobby to note the green landscaping amid curving paths. Single-story pink adobe buildings are scattered throughout the property, each housing either guest quarters or public gathering places. It was pleasant strolling around the grounds and a hike in itself climbing the road to the haciendas at the top.

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Tanque Verde Dude Ranch   Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

The more expensive accommodations overlook Saguaro National Forest and the mountains beyond. We stayed in a casita, a large rustic bedroom suite with a fireplace, dining alcove, seating arrangement, and modern bathroom facilities. Notably lacking was a television. The theory is you’re so tired out after being active all day that you’ll retire early.

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Daytime activities range from riding horses to nature hikes to lounging by the pool, playing a round of tennis, or getting a massage. You can visit the nature center and speak to a naturalist about wildlife in the area or track down a wrangler for a horseback riding lesson.

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Tanque Verde Dude Ranch   Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

Evenings might find you at an outdoor barbecue, attending a lecture, or relaxing on your patio with a good book. Maybe they’ll add a ghost tour in the future if the resort is found to have some associated ghost stories. Cooking demos might be another added attraction as the food was excellent. The dining hall offers a buffet for breakfast and lunch and a sit-down menu for dinner. Stop by the Dog House Saloon for a drink later in the evening.

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In the same building as the dining room is a card room, cozy sitting room with leather couches and a TV, and a space for evening lectures. Nearby is a gift shop with souvenir items.

I didn’t get a chance to participate in any of the activities except for the evening historical talk because I was busy all afternoon interviewing staff members for my next mystery. I came prepared with a list of specific questions. Although I am not a horse person, staying at a dude ranch could grow on me. Certainly I like the feeling of being pampered, which you get with the inclusive meals and the spa facilities.

Taking walks, reading, and appreciating nature is a vacation in itself. I enjoyed strolling the paths and reading the labels on the desert plants and trees.

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Tanque Verde Dude Ranch       Tanque Verde Dude Ranch

If you want to get away from it all and be close to nature, a dude ranch vacation may suit your needs.

How does this location relate to my next story? In Peril by Ponytail, Marla and Dalton accept an offer by his cousin to stay on a dude ranch for their delayed honeymoon. Naturally, where they go, mischief and mayhem follows. Does Marla learn to like horses? Stay tuned to find out.

Thanks to the staff at Tanque Verde Dude Ranch for graciously answering my questions. If you want more information about this popular destination, Click Here.

You can see more photos here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

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Enter to win an ebook copy of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery and a $10 Starbucks gift card or one of three runner-up prizes! https://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

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Ghost Hunt

Have you ever hunted ghosts at a haunted site? We had the chance to go on our own ghost tour at the Jerome Grand Hotel in Jerome, Arizona. This five-story concrete structure used to be a hospital for miners populating the area in the early 1920’s. Our ghost hunt ($20 per person) began in the boiler room of the hotel with an orientation talk. The original 1926 steam boiler still provides heat for the hotel. Our guide told us ghost tales and the hotel history (see post on Jerome coming next). Here’s the boiler room. Can you spot the orbs? You might have to enlarge the photos.

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One ghost was a fellow who used to hang out at the bar and who disappeared for three days. He was found by the police chief hanging in his bathroom down a short corridor from the boiler room.

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Another ghost was a man who was found with his head smashed under the elevator that had stopped working. The coroner said the back of his head should have been bashed in, but the front had contusions. Had he been hit with blunt force and his body laid out there so it would appear to be an accident?

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Ghost number three was a 24-year-old female schizophrenia patient, who’d been drugged and restrained at night. On her last night there, she got loose and jump from the balcony to her death.

And finally, the fourth ghost could be the man who shot himself in his room.

Then we were given our instruments which included a Digital Camera, an IR Thermometer, and an EMF Meter that blinked red near electric sources.

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The ground floor has the lobby and boiler room, plus a gift shop. The lobby used to be an emergency entrance for ambulance patients. The men’s wards were opposite the women’s and children’s wards on floors two and up. Room 26 (our room) used to be the x-ray department. This was spooky in itself, since my husband is a retired radiologist. Room 27 was the nurse’s station.

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Floors one through four contain the hotel rooms and former patient wards, the former operating room, cafeteria, x-ray department, and solarium. The old-fashioned Otis elevator is enough to spark your imagination. You have to close a grate and then the outer door. A key is needed to reach the higher levels. Below is the incinerator where body parts were disposed along with other bio-hazardous materials after surgery.

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The third floor was the psychiatric ward. The fourth floor had been an enclosed rooftop and was converted to rooms for wealthier private patients. (If I get any of this wrong, it’s due to my note taking and not to the lecture). The cafeteria was off one end of a floor. The operating room was at another end at a different level. There was also a solarium.

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All are being converted into guest rooms. We walked through these sites on the ghost hunt tour, including the new areas under construction.

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As we went around, we didn’t find any cold spots. I took a lot of my own pictures, hoping something would show up later when I put them online. We were promised a disk of everyone’s photos from the hotel cameras, but so far, this item has not arrived. However, a lot of orbs showed up on my photos as you’ll see. If you want more information on this phenomenon, check out these resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orb_optics

http://www.ghostweb.com/orb_theory.html

http://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/o/orbs/

http://strangeoccurrencesparanormal.weebly.com/orbs-explained.html

What do you think about orbs? Are they spiritual entities, or are they artifacts like dust motes and water vapor droplets?

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Fall into Reading Contest, Oct. 28 – Nov. 15

Enter to win an ebook copy of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery and a $10 Starbucks gift card or one of 3 runner-up prizes! Enter here: https://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/

 

 

Desert Botanical Gardens

Setting is an integral part of any writer’s story arsenal, and sometimes you have to go to a place in person to learn more about it. Arizona was as foreign a setting to me as stepping foot on another planet. Expanses of red dirt dotted with scrub brush and cacti plus mountains stretching into the distance boggled my imagination. What were those wondrous plants called? The saguaro cactus made its remarkable presence known immediately, its tall stalks reaching toward the sky.

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But what were those beautiful green-barked trees or that intriguing purplish cacti? And why did my cousin warn me away from those lovely flowering cactus plants?

A trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens proved illuminating. Taking notes and photos as we roamed, I learned more than the names of the flora decorating the desert landscape. I learned not to rely on a mountain as a landmark. Oh, the entrance is opposite that mountain there? Well, guess what? There was more than one peak! My cousin and I got lost trying to find the exit. Yep, this intrepid author, armed with notebook and camera, couldn’t even find her way out of the park. Thirsty and tired, we finally met up with my husband in the gift shop and immediately headed to the café for cold drinks.

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How might this relate to my story? My heroine, Marla, could easily get lost on a path like this same as me. Only in her case, a killer might be on her tail.

The park lists four deserts in North America: the Mojave, the Great Basin, the Chihuahuan, and the Sonoran which is where we are located. Here are some of the plants we identified.

The dangerous plant that looks seductively appealing is the Cholla bush. Its sharp needles can blow off in a breeze and pierce your skin. Steer clear in a wind.

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I liked the purplish prickly pear cactus with its elephant ears, as they’re called. Being a Floridian, to me they looked like Mickey Mouse ears.

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My favorite trees are the green-barked Palo Verde and the shady Mesquite. No doubt Marla will stand in its shade at some time during my story, or she might trip over a creeping devil that hugs the ground like a snake. At least I’ll know what to call some of these plants now, and if I don’t have it in my notes, I can look it up in Cactus of Arizona Field Guide or the pamphlet on Arizona Trees & Wildflowers that I bought. Truly I was surprised by the abundance of greenery. The scenic beauty can grow on you.

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So where are we going next on our virtual tour? To the Grand Hotel in Jerome, an old mining town. We stayed overnight at the haunted hotel and took a ghost hunting tour.

 

Arizona Research Trip

The importance of visiting a story location as a writer really made its mark with my recent trip to Arizona. The scenery was different than anything I’d expected. I traveled there to research my next Bad Hair Day Mystery, currently titled Peril by Ponytail. The first impressions that hit me driving from the airport were the colorful southwestern designs on the bridges and highway borders. Next was the landscaping. Instead of green grass and palm trees, a variety of cacti and small shrubs dotted the reddish-brown earth.

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Most remarkable were the saguaro cactus, with the “gu” pronounced like a “w.” My cousin Janice, our hostess, explained how it takes up to 75 years before a saguaro branches out. The plant lives several hundred years and can weigh up to 10 tons from the water inside. In the distance, mountains rose as mysterious peaks tempted exploration.

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We headed outside Phoenix, past Scottsdale, and into Fountain Hills. This lovely community features expansive homes in mixed Mediterranean and Adobe styles amidst rolling hills. A lake boasts its own fountain that jets upward on the hour. Interesting restaurants, shops, and picturesque views invite a leisurely lifestyle. You can see the four peaks on the McDowell Mountains where the only amethyst is mined in the U.S.

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Our first free day, we visited the weekend flea market in Mesa. We drove past a casino and through the Salt River Indian Reservation into the desert to get there. Everywhere you go, you see large expanses of uninhabited land, but they aren’t bare. Either they’re cotton fields grown by the Pima Indian Nation, or they’re full of desert plant life.

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The flea market has great prices on jewelry and gift items if you get the chance to go. So does Old Scottsdale, which we visited that same afternoon. Here’s where you can buy western wear, cowboy hats, souvenirs, hot sauce, or that turquoise and silver pendant you’ve always wanted. Stop for ice cream at the infamous Sugar Bowl and take a peek at the modern Performing Arts Center. And give yourself time to adjust to the time chance and dryness if you’re from a humid climate like Florida. We were lucky to come in October with ideal temperatures. Drinking lots of water in either location is essential.

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You do know I like to show pictures of food, yes?

Coming Next: The Desert Botanical Gardens

Discovering Your Story

Plotting your story can’t take place until you have an idea of issues you want to explore, setting, and character. Before you take pen to paper, you engage in the stage of Discovery. What does this mean?

Normally when planning a mystery, I start with the victim. Once the dead guy makes himself known, I create the suspects around him. Who had reason to want this person dead? What do they stand to gain? Who are the vic’s friends, business associates, and relatives? What secrets are they hiding? What issues are involved? Then I begin to explore possible motives. My research branches out, sometimes in new and interesting directions. Different elements swirl in my head, seep into my subconscious, and brew together until the plot pops out. Usually at this point, I can sit and write the entire synopsis.

But in researching my next mystery, I find myself going in a new direction totally. My characters will be transplanted from their normal Florida suburb to a ranch vacation in Arizona. I’m pondering a story that’s more an adventure than a whodunit, and the more fascinating items I research, the more excited I am getting. Copper mines, water resources, cattle ranches, ghost towns, haunted hotels, train rides…oh, my. A research trip is definitely required.

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So far my notes are confined to Internet research but the various issues are becoming clarified. I am beginning to see what is possible and what may be implausible. These determinations will help when I debate my characters’ secrets and motives. I’m driven to discover more, to uncover additional tidbits that might influence my developing story. And I’m wondering if my readers will like reading more of an adventure or if I should stick to a traditional whodunit.

Or maybe this is all a pipe dream and these elements belong elsewhere, not with my series. But I’m excited for my happy couple to meet new challenges in a different location. Every few books in a series, when the setting gets to be same old, same old, you need to transplant your protagonists somewhere new for variety.

Sufficient time must be allotted for this discovery process. Plotting, research, and exploration are part of the pre-writing mode. Never feel guilty that you are not actually writing. You have to get it right, and only by digging into all the possibilities can you offer new material for the reader.

I am uncertain where I will go with this information I’m collecting. Maybe I’ll throw it all out and plot a traditional murder mystery. Or maybe I’ll go with the flow and drop my characters into a morass involving disputes over water resources, mining rights, ghost towns, and more. What do you think?

Being An Earnest Researcher

The Importance of Being Earnest Researcher by J.H. Bogran

The truth is that you never know who may end up reading the works you publish, so the best course of action is to be sure of what you write is accurate.

Last year I was reading a story where the main character took his toddler to Disney World and made a point of mentioning the kid had enjoyed a particular attraction. I was immediately surprised because when I took my own kid to that same attraction, he cried his heart out; he freaked out in the dark environment. After calming my five-year-old I took a closer look at the program and indeed it had a warning stating the attraction may be frightening for small children. So, don’t ask me what happened in the immediate chapters because I fumed about the tiny little thing for the next following pages of the novel.                  JH Bogran cover

For my novel in Spanish—Heredero del Mal or Heir of Evil—I had short prologue where I show Adolph Hitler smoking a cigar when it’s a well-known fact that he didn’t smoke nor drink. A keen observer brought this fact to my attention just before the book went into print. After a self-imposed and much deserved slap on the face I went to correct that detail.

There are other examples like people telling they made sure the safety is on when they have a revolver. Revolvers, wheel-guns, six-shooters, whatever you want to call them, don’t sport a safety. They are very secure weapons because they are reliable, durable, and overall very cool. A revolver plays a very important part during the climax of my novel Treasure Hunt.

K. L. (Karen) Dionne wrote an ecological thriller titled Boiling Point. The climax was atop an erupting volcano. She had the opportunity to travel down to Chile and visit the Chaiten Volcano there. She saw the aftermath, the ashes, smelled the sulfur, and heard the chirping birds or the lack of them. It was an eye opener experience for her and Boiling Point is a much better book because of it. Karen wrote a bit about her adventure in Chile.

Of course, not everybody is lucky enough to visit intended locations. However, you can contact people who have been there, get maps, or read the almanac.

The internet is one of my most valuable tools for research. One bit of advice, though, is don’t believe all you read online; search for secondary confirmation. Another fabulous research tool is a questionnaire. Search through your network of friends—remember Six Degrees of Separation? It works—and find a person in the profession or field that you plan to write about. People generally like to talk about their day job so it’s not like pulling teeth.

When it comes to names, they must also be researched thoroughly. My main character in The Assassin’s Mistress uses the alias of Robert I. Prescott, or R.I.P. His thinking is that once he takes a contract, his target goes to Rest in Peace. My research struck gold when I discovered the French name Chantal means “stone.” I had just found my female lead character and Robert’s love interest’s name.

In the end, the knowledge the author acquires before the final draft goes great lengths to improve the story. The details seep through the page and they even help with the suspension of disbelief. If you read all the way to the end of this post, I guess you know what my favorite part of penning a new novel is.

JH Bogran Author

Author Bio and Links:

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator.

Website at: www.jhbogran.net
Blog: www.thetaleweaver.blogspt.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jhbogran
Twitter: @JHBogran

Blurb for The Assassin’s Mistress

A random encounter leads to deception, love and murder. While vacationing at a ski resort, professional hitman Robert Prescott meets a strange and beautiful woman. They discover passion and embark into a dangerous game hiding their relationship from her powerful husband. Then a further twist of fate makes Robert’s occupation collide with his new found love.

Buy link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007BOC0OW

RESEARCH: ON-SITE LOCALES

When you research an area in person for your story, observe your surroundings with the Writer’s Eye. What does this mean? Use the five senses in recording your observations. Back up your notes with photos and recordings if you wish. But later, when you have plenty of reference materials, you might forget just how hot it was outside or what sounds    you heard unless you’ve jotted it down. So what are you looking for in your on-site research?                                      

SIGHT means more than just seeing with your eyes. It means looking at things with a critical view. Examine the buildings along your route. What color are they? Is the paint fresh or peeling? What are the construction materials? How well is the roof maintained? What do the windows remind you of? Think in terms of analogies. Are they yawning windows like open mouths? Or blank like vacant eyes?

How does this object make you feel? Layering your observations with attitude or emotion contributes to the experience. Describe the front door. Is there a doorbell or knocker, and how does it characterize the occupant if it’s a house? Examine the lawn. Does the grass need a trim? Are weeds taking over? Note elements like overhead electric wires, stray cats, tilted street signs, cracked sidewalks. These details make the setting come alive in your mind after you go home.

Be observant of nature: plants, animals, weather.  Inside a place, note the furniture, art work, knickknacks, room layout, decorating accessories. Look for new ways to describe things, such as objects possessing reflective nature like water, glistening like a cobweb in sunlight, moist with dew, glossy like a polished piano, and so on. You’re not only writing down what you see, but also its characteristics.

What SMELLS do you notice: Stale cigarette smoke? Floral perfume? Barrel-aged Cabernet? Beer and pretzels? Pine wood smoke? Vanilla and nutmeg? Heated asphalt, or rain-tinged ozone? Newly cut grass, or fresh paint? Tar or diesel fumes? What emotional reaction do these scents evoke in you? You can use these smells to convey mood in a story. A honeyed scent will make the reader feel differently than the odor of burnt toast.

SOUNDS:  Close your eyes and listen to what you hear. Birds singing (melodious, raucous, or warbling?), ducks quacking, pounding construction, car engines, airplanes zooming overhead, trickling water, rustling branches, droning air-conditioners, loud grass blowers. See how many different sounds you can distinguish. Are these pleasant or unpleasant to you?

While your eyes are closed, consider your sense of TOUCH.  How does the air contact your skin? Is it warm or cool? Does a breeze lift the hairs on your arm? Ruffle your skirt against your legs? Does the sun beat upon your back and raise perspiration on your brow? Do you feel an insect crawling over your ankle? When you are walking, do you feel the uneven pavement underfoot? Do you trip over an unseen rock? Or is the ground wet sand with a spongy surface? Now consider objects that you encounter. Are they rough or smooth? Silken or thorny? Describe the texture along with the temperature, and if the sensation is welcome or not.

TASTE  is often related to your nose. If you smell sea air, you may taste salt on your tongue. If you smell ripe grapes, you may taste wine. We’re not talking about describing only what you eat. That’s too easy, although you can note the temperature and texture in that regard. This is where you try to detect a taste where there may be none obvious. It’s just another way bringing the scene alive for you when you’re back home.

When you meet people along the way, note their physical appearance, mode of dress, dialect, gestures, gait, and accessories. Take photos so you can remember details later. Ditto for street scenes. A picture can be worth a thousand words as long as you record the sensory details.                                               

Collect useful resources as you go, such as maps, tourist brochures, history books, guides to the flora and fauna, menus, and postcards.

Virtual tours online can get anywhere these days, but they will not convey the five senses that you need to bring your scene alive. Steep yourself in the sensory details, and readers will exclaim how real the place feels when they read your story.

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REFERENCE BOOKS

Who said books were outdated? A home library can be a boon for writers even with the advantages of the Internet. For example, I needed to know the difference between a Chinese junk and a sampan for my current WIP. My characters have to go from an island off the coast of Japan all the way to Taiwan. They hire a boat from a small fishing village. Which type of vessel would be appropriate? Here’s what I found.                                               Chinese Junk

First I looked online at Wikipedia on these sites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_(ship)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampan

From these articles, I learned a sampan is a flat bottomed boat used for fishing or transportation in inland waters like lakes and rivers. It’s propelled by poles, oars, or an outboard motor. Sampans are still used in rural areas in Southeast Asia. They may have a shelter on board and be used as living quarters.

On the other hand, a junk is an oceangoing vessel with several sails. War junks and merchant junks were common in the past. With their longer range and multiple uses, this type of ship suits my purpose. I have only to watch videos of Horatio Hornblower to get a feel for the claustrophobic interior.

Suppose my characters walk the deck. What do I call the different parts of the ship? Here I checked my home library and found the following books:

SHIP: The Epic Story of Maritime Adventure by Brian Lavery, Dorling Kindersley ,2004.

The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley, 1991.

I love these visual dictionaries. You can find almost anything. We have several of them on our shelves and they’re wonderful references.

Here are some more recommendations, although I have older versions:

The Dorling Kindersley Visual Encyclopedia, Dorling Kindersley, 1995

The Visual Dictionary of Everyday Things, Eyewitness Visual Dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley , 1991

Ultimate Visual Dictionary, Dorling Kindersley, 1994

What’s What: A Visual Glossary of the Physical World, Reginald Bragonier, Jr. And David Fisher, Ballantine, 1981

Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary, Marc McCutcheon, Ballantine, 1992.

Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, Reader’s Digest Association, 1997.

Sometimes as writers doing research, we uncover obscure, fun details to add to our stories. Look what I found when I put Japanese Fishing Boat into an online search function: A Japanese trawler was sunk by a giant jellyfish. Cool, I can use this info in my story. These creatures are real and can weigh up to 400 pounds. Read more about it here:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2009/11/02/enormous-jellyfish-sink-japanese-fishing-boat

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/6483758/Japanese-fishing-trawler-sunk-by-giant-jellyfish.html

 So while many things can be looked up on the Internet, sometimes a real book is just what you need to meet your research requirements. With the digital age upon us, don’t toss these tree killers–or whatever activists are calling them these days–into the bonfire just yet. Regard them instead as treasures of knowledge.

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