Friday, March 23, 2007

Mojitos, Sting Rays & Glass Eyeballs

by Candy Calvert

Research is a cool perk for mystery writers, granting us license for all sorts of activities that might otherwise be viewed as “wasting time”--or, perhaps simply bizarre. And, because I’m the author of the funny & romantic Darcy Cavanaugh Cruise Mystery Series, my particular research requires me to dress in sequins, sip Mojitos and Chicken Dance in shipboard discos across the globe--very grueling, but I am dedicated. And I’ve learned some things:

1) Even if a Newfoundland Country Band begs you to join them onstage (and the cafe crowd waves lobster carcasses in encouragement), no one is ever drunk enough not to notice that you can’t sing. There’s a Simon Cowell everywhere.

3) Dancing the limbo atop a jet-powered catamaran requires balance. And rum.

4) Though mussels, three varieties of caviar, and raw salmon sashimi sounds like a “book-worthy,” appetizer combo, writing time is severely curtailed when you spend most of the next afternoon in a Bridgetown, Barbados lavatory.

And perhaps my most boggling discovery is that truth IS stranger than fiction.

For my upcoming release, MAI TAI to MURDER, I traveled to the Caribbean and participated in a “Sting Ray Adventure” on Grand Cayman Island. The following scene excerpt was part of my draft submitted to Midnight Ink--approximately one week prior to the tragedy involving Steve Irwin:

I treaded water and peered through the face-mask once again at the creature below me: slate gray, flat as a pancake, big raised eyes, pearly white underside . . . tail like a possum on steroids. But, the good part of this dubious adventure was that Marie was as wild with enthusiasm as that weirdo Crocodile Hunter guy. And had completely forgotten that she was pissed at me for involving her in the so-called investigation.

“Ooh, crikey,” she said, eyes bugging through her face mask as she lifted her head, “look at that big boy down there, Darc’. Bet he’s three feet across.”

While that bit of dialogue is gone, I still have goose bumps when I remember it--and count my lucky stars that my particular stingrays were having a good day.

Next research? Taxidermy maybe. For an idea I have about an Alaskan Inside Passage mystery. Hey, how much trouble can I get into juggling Glass Eyeballs? And how about you--where does your research take you?

Welcome to InkSpot and please c’mon back--we’re going to have fun here!



Mark Terry said...

Actually, I gave maybe a dozen or more library and Rotary Club talks and the subject is typically my research, comparing my novel research with my nonfiction research.

Like I talk about the research for an article I wrote about a pacemaker that helps with bladder control versus what I learned about HALO (high-altitude low opening) parachute jumps, MP-5s, etc.

I've learned a lot about Hawaiian mythology for my kids' book, and I'm currently trying to get competent on Stinger missiles, Los Angeles and Al-Qaeda for the 4th Derek Stillwater novel.

Candy Calvert said...

Whoa--bladder pacemakers, AlQaeda . . . ?

I'd have to choose the parachute jump--onto a Hawaiian Island.

Deb Baker said...

I write a Yooper (those are the Michiganders who live in the Upper Peninsula) series so research took me to the frozen tundra, where I was introduced to my first social sauna. Five women steaming naked then rolling in the snow. Take it from me, that experience feels like a zillion tiny needles stabbing you EVERYWHERE. After that I got to belly up to Herb's bar and listen to the men B.S. each other.

Joe Moore said...

"Dancing the limbo atop a jet-powered catamaran requires balance. And rum."

Would have thought it the other way around. :-)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Hmmm, sorry Candy, none of my research involved bonding with a lavatory. But I've researched the following for my novels:

Online adult cam sites; prostitution; collectible lunch boxes; read books on how to be a hit man and on serial killers; later this year I will be visiting and researching corn mazes.

We certainly know a lot of uncommon things, don't we? Maybe we should do a "Jeopardy" for mystery authors?

Amanda Stevens said...

I'm currently researching corpse cosmeticians. Fascinating subject. I never knew about the fluids.

Mark Combes said...


I've been Scuba diving for years and I too have had my "brushes" with Sting Rays. Not the "tame" ones at Stingray City on Grand Cayman, but flying over a reef I once came across a big Southern Stingray hunkered down in a hole, scaring both of us to death. He shot his barb up and it looked like a filet knife pointed right at my chest. Just missed me. We both quickly went our respective ways...


Bill Cameron said...

I'm hoping to come up with a story that involves a lot of sitting on a beach sipping umbrella drinks. And if I'm going to write about that convincingly, I need to spend a lot of time getting the vibe down. It could take months.

Chris Redding said...

In my quest for research, I have gathered a law enforcement harem as I like to call them. All pretty nice looking men. A campus cop. A Local Cop who is involved in homeland security. The head of a Forensic Lab. A small town cop and my crowning achievement.
A US marshal!
God I love men in uniform!
Chris Redding

Keith Raffel said...

Candy, I fear you are a little late on the taxidermy mysteries. I think the hilarious Brian Wiprud has that market cornered with his Garth Carson series.

Candy Calvert said...

Oh you guys are killing me: naked rolls in the snow, corn mazes, hunky US Marshalls? Yes, Sue Ann, Writers' Jeopardy for sure. I'll take Corpse Cosmetology for 100 dollars, please!
And Mark--man, I feel twice as lucky that I got the tame rays!
Keith--naw, not challenging the taxidermy mystery pros. Just think it would be a hoot to have the stuffed critters aboard ship. Murder by moose antlers could be fun. ;-)


Jersey Jack said...

For my debut novel, I refused to handcuff myself to a live, 600-pound tuna, but I did spend a lot of time at a Mexican bar and grill tasting tequilas and tacos. Herradura gold was my favorite tequila and thus got a product mention. I don't remember the tacos.

Good luck with the blog, InkSpotters. You've got some great great writers here.