The Joy of Research

We all strive for accuracy in our stories. Unless we’re writing an autobiography, that generally means we must do research. Does the idea of researching the fine points of your stories send chills down your spine? Do you put off making those phone calls and asking those questions? Or do you look forward to an opportunity to learn something new?

For me, it’s a little of both.

I need to track down someone in the West Virginia State Police to answer some procedural questions. I have an index card that I keep adding questions to. But I haven’t made the call yet. Why? I have no idea. Well, maybe I’m afraid they’ll think I’m some sort of kook who’s planning some horrendous crime. I did talk to one trooper while researching my first mystery. At first, he wanted to know who gave me his name. I got the feeling they were in deep trouble. But eventually, he softened up and gave me some great stuff. Still, I’ll try to find someone else to answer my questions this time.

On the other hand, there’s my research of life at the racetrack. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the backside of Mountaineer Racetrack. I now have my groom’s license. And I’m having a blast.

I step through the gate with my credentials clipped to my jacket and take a deep breath. The air smells of horses and hay. I get to brush the horses in my trainer friend’s barn. I dump (and fill) water buckets. I give the horses hay and, occasionally, peppermints. They love peppermints. If I crinkle the plastic wrapping, heads pop out of the stalls, ears at attention. They each have their own method of acting cute. “Feed me! Feed me!”

Sometimes I walk them around the shed row while their stalls are being cleaned. Sometimes I clean the stalls while someone else walks them. But my big area of expertise is dumping the wheelbarrow.

If one of the horses is going to the track for training, I tag along.

The interesting thing is the snippets of conversation I pick up, both around the track and around the barns. The denizens of the backside have their own language, rich and colorful. And they have their inside jokes. I take notes constantly for fear I’ll forget something I’ve heard.

Last weekend, I stood by and watched while a vet injected an ankle on one of the horses. It was a simple procedure, done all the time. But I’d never witnessed it before. My trainer friend explained exactly what was being done and why. The veterinarian happily answered my questions about the details. Out came the notebook. That procedure will definitely end up in my novel. My protagonist is a track vet and while she’s persistently playing amateur sleuth, I try to throw in some authentic veterinary work from time to time.

I think the best part of all this research is the way I’m now recognized by a few of the track regulars. I’m blending in. I may not yet be “one of them,” but I no longer feel like an outsider.

I love research.

Comments

Kristine said…
Great picture, Annette! I can see it as the author photo on the back of your published novel. :-)

The key is mixing fun with research, and it seems you have that mastered.

You've found your calling, girlfriend.

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