Saturday, September 29, 2007


by Suzanne Welsh
As any of the Banditas or any romance author will tell you, we try to use facts to keep our books authentic. This requires research. Sometimes that is as simple as looking up a word in the dictionary. Sometimes it is as complicated as interpreting a doctor's long-winded explanation of a disease process so that the author, and therefore the reader, can understand this over the course of a scene or a manuscript. Sometimes it's just plain fun!

Recently another of my critique partners, Jo Davis, asked me to accompany her to a fire station in Irving to meet and take pictures (I was the photographer!) with the team of firefighters she previously interviewed for her series coming from NAL Signet next year about a team of? you guessed it, firefighters.

What was a girl to do? Say "no" to spending an entire afternoon with real life heroes? My mama did NOT raise a stupid daughter. I of course said, "sure!"

Here we two mild-mannered romance authors are walking up to the fire station, greeted by Captain Steve Deutsch, when suddenly the guys get a call to an accident out on the highway. They usher us into the station to wait for them while they climb onto the fire engine, (which we learned is not a ladder truck) and off they go.

Now when you leave two writers alone in a strange place what do they do? Well they behave for all of five minutes. We peeked into the pantry, which was loaded with things like can after can of Campbell's soup, Gatorade, popcorn, a giant box of Oreos and the most massive canister of TUMS we'd ever seen!

Next we wander out into the engine bay where they have a second vehicle they use for chemical fires and two pontoon boats ready for hauling to the nearby lake if a call should require it. There was a treadmill out there along with a weight lifting station, with more weights than I've ever seen.

Our curiosity a bit satisfied, we wander back into the meeting room/kitchen and await they guys' return. Luckily it was a minor accident and they were back fairly quickly.

Let me introduce you to the guys of A shift. Captain Steve, is a handsome, whip-cord lean man with a deep voice and a keen intellect behind wire-rimmed glasses. Wally Harris, the driver, is a good-looking man, tall and broad of shoulder. He not only drives the truck, but mans the controls for the truck's water pumps, a job which requires skill and a knowledge of physics. Nick Franco is a firefighter, cute and happy to tell the lady writers some great stories. Not a beta man among them, ladies!

One of the things Jo wanted to learn more about was the thermal imagining camera. A fancy gizmo the firefighters use to help them distinguish different objects or bodies in dark smoky rooms or raging infernos. So once the guys returned, Wally made himself a steaming bowl of Spaghetti-O's. (Yes the lunch of heroes!) Captain Steve pointed the thermal camera at him and showed us how it gives them the temperature of Wally's body vs. the bowl of hot food vs. the cold bottle of water on the table. Way cool!

Another thing Jo, the ever-curious, wanted to know was what all equipment they'd take into a house fire. So the guys let her try on some of the equipment. The heavy jacket and the air-tank. (We learned it's a tank with room-air equivalent oxygen, or about 21% oxygen, not pure oxygen. Room-air is what you and I usually breathe. As a nurse I already knew what room-air was.) Jo also had to put on the mask, and attached to all this was the thermal imaging camera, a flashlight and the radio mic. Geesh, how do these guys walk, much less crawl into and out of fires or rescue people?

Then the piece-de-resistance. Wally hooked up one of the large hoses to the engine and Captain Steve had Jo hold onto the hose. They started with 50 lbs of pressure and water came gushing out of the hose. Then the captain had Wally crank the pressure up to 100 lbs of pressure. Jo nearly flew off the concrete drive! (The captain and Nick got a kick out of that when we returned inside for another Q&A session!)

I got to ask a few questions about Meth labs for my own work in progress (WIP), and the guys gave me some stories that would frighten most of us if we knew what was really out there. Then they explained that an engine pumps water while a ladder truck has one of those big ladders with the buckets on them.

So a big thank you to the guys and Jo. I haven't had that much fun doing research ever!
Have any of you had a great day or experience doing new research?


Helen said...

I haven't been lucky enough to do research but I really enjoyed hearing about your day with the firefighters they are such a nice bunch of guys most of the firemen I have seen here in Sydney are really good looking we have had the fire alarm go off at work a few times (false alarm of course) and they arrive to check things out and they are hunks, us girls at work really enjoy them arriving good for the eyes after working so hard. Thanks for the story loved it and the pictures. They would really have to be fit to have all that gear on and still move around in difficult places
Have Fun

Anna Campbell said...

Helen, you hussy! ;-)

Suz, great post. And lucky you! Let me know next time you're going off on a research foray. I think you need some input from Down Under. Oh, dear, just got a picture of Helen and me wrestling for the right to accompany you! Hey, Helen, I fight DIRTY!

Actually, Regency research is really fun too. You get to go to old houses and poke around in bookshops and wander the English countryside dodging the sheep poo. Not perhaps as picturesque as what you got to do but still a nice way to pass the time! Well, perhaps maybe not the sheep poo!

Helen said...

I can fight dirty as well Anna when there are good looking Firemen around but I am sure that Suzanne would be more than happy for both of us to help LOL. Researching regency would be heaps of fun in the wonderful houses and estates you would have to visit at least sheep poo is small not like cows poo.
Have Fun

Jo Davis said...

Hey, Suz!

Great post! Very cool reading about out trip to visit the guys at the fire station! I don't think I've ever had so much fun doing research. The guys are always so warm and welcoming, and too cute. :)

I don't write historicals, but I love history--visiting cool locations with tons of history is my preferred vacation, even over the beach. I can see how much fun hands-on research could be fore the genre.

Suz's other critique partner, HIGHLANDER FOR CHRISTMAS author Sandy Blair, has been to Scotland several times and stayed in castles. I think firsthand experience can really make your books come alive.


Buffie said...

Suz, sounds like a wonderful day to me!! I can't wait to read Jo's books. I loved hearing about them when she visited us at Romance Novel.TV awhile ago.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hi Y'all! I have to thank Anna for actually posting the blog post early for me. The darn hospital won't let me get on the comments or posting pages of blogger at work. :(

Good morning Anna and Helen. I think I need a trip Down Under. I'm sure some research about the Beach life guards there would be VERYYYYYYYYY interesting, don't you?

Morning Jo! How'd you like being the photo model for the blog? And weren't those guys fun? I'll go do research with you anytime! Oh reminds me, do you know there's an old civil war museum and battle site on our route to Missouri next month? It's up in Oklahoma. Want to stop and make Sandy and Julie suffer through research?

Suzanne Ferrell said...

OMG Buffie, I just read the final manuscript of Trial By Fire, Jo's first of the firefighter series. (Fanning myself here!) You guys are gonna be blown away by it!

Unknown said...

Suz, that looked like so much fun and interesting research. Since I write historicals, I don't usually need to go anywhere but the library.

Jo Davis said...

Hi, Buffie! (waving madly) Great to talk to you again! Believe me, I'm as anxious to get this book out as you are to read it. :) Just turned in the book to my editor, and now it's on to book 2, UNDER FIRE (tentative title) No rest indeed, but no complaints!

Suz, being the photo model was fun and you're a great photographer! But those guys are simply the best. They're going to do inteviews with me for my real-life heroes angle, which I'll post on my website in the coming months, You all can check out my site now for character sketches on my heroes from TRIAL BY FIRE and the series, plot teasers, and sign up for my newsletter. :)

A definite must on the Civil War museum side trip! Sandy will probably like it with her genre in historicals. Julie will have to suffer. he he


jo robertson said...

How interesting, Suz! There's nothing like a little "hands-on" experience to authenticate your, ahem, research.

I love research as long as it's about the topic I'm interested it. Comes from minoring in history in college, I suppose.

The most fun I've had is taking Admin of Justice classes for my romantic/mainstream suspense works. The instructors are real-life lawyers and police officers and their anecdotes provide the most amazing accuracy.

Tracy Garrett said...

Wonderful post, Suz! A couple of years ago, I visited the King Ranch, in south Texas, to research the setting of my second book, Texas Rose (working title). We signed up for a private tour and ended up with a man who was raised on the ranch. He took us all over the place, back roads, feed lots, from the desert to the Gulf of Mexico. It was so cool to get him to tell stories of his experiences at each new location.

Anonymous said...

My research isn't nearly as fun as yours Suz! But I do have a real life EMT story--when my son was about 9 months old, he had RSV, a really serious respiratory virus that can make it difficult for little ones to breathe. (I can enjoy this story now that he's seven!) I was staying home with him while we tried to get him healthy.

Now it happened that we had just put our house on the market, and had replaced the carpet in the front room (imagine a very small ranch with no front hall). One afternoon, my son woke up from a nap and seemed to be struggling to breathe. A panicked mom, I called 911 and the fabulous person on the other end talked me through giving him his inhaler, and generally getting him mad enough to start crying, which perked him right up. Meanwhile, they sent the ambulance and firetruck my way.

A couple minutes later, when the firetrucks arrived, my little guy was looking much better. Then the guys got out of the trucks. All six of them, and each one cuter than the last! One by one, they tromped into the house with their big boots, and I remember being in such a daze all I could think was, "I hope they don't track mud on the carpet," and "My goodness, they really ARE as gorgeous as they look in the movies!"

They were so sweet, checked my son's vitals (he was doing great, even managed a little smile) and talked to me in low, calm voices. I adored them. Each and everyone.

Though I wished they would have left their boots at the door. ;-)

Jo Davis said...

What a great story! And I can picture my fictional team of heroes doing just what your firefighters did.

You know, writers can be scavengers of great real-life stories. Don't be surprised if you see that scene again one day... :)


Anna Sugden said...

Fab post Suz - thanks for sharing! I'm so in awe of all that firemen do and the training they have to go through. How cool that they let you try out their equipment *grin*.

You know what I'm going to say about my favourite research ... doing the work for my hockey books. I hope to have some pieces up on my website shortly about meeting the player who inspired my hero, an interview with one of the great players for the NJ Devils Ken Daneyko, my behind-the-scenes tour of the arena (where I got to ride the Zamboni) and a visit to team practice. It's amazing how quickly the players take their jerseys off after practice *sigh*.

TracyG how cool that you went to the King Ranch - I did a lot of internet research on them when I was doing my GH finalist Love by Bequest (the one about the Texas cowboy who inherits a sheep farm). I had enough experience of visiting English sheep farms as my Dad used to live on one!

Foanna - sheep poo isn't as bad as cow poo!

Kate Carlisle said...

Suz, what a fabulous day you must've had! Thanks for sharing your adventures!

Hmm, research. I love traveling for research (or so I tell the IRS, LOL). Naturally, I love Scotland, doesn't everyone? But closer to home, one of my favorite places for roaming around and doing research is Lily Dale in Western New York. Anyone else been there? It's charming and fascinating, mostly Victorian, with psychics and mediums making up a good part of the community. Next to a beautiful lake and surrounded by woods (that's where the pet cemetery is, very eerie). If anyone's writing paranormal--ghosts, psychics, unexplained phenomena--it's the place to go! ;-)

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hey Jo-mamma...(not to be confused with CP Jo)...some of our chapter members here in Texas have taken "citizen police academy" classes with the local police departments. It's usually one day or evening a week for 4-6 weeks. The girls learned a lot about police procedure, firearms, and stuff like that. They even got to do a "ride around" on their last day. Do they have anything like that where you are?

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Christie: my hubby isn't much into reading any kind of fiction, much less romance, but he will indulge me in stopping at any historical site to dig around first hand in historical research. :) He even spent half a day at the Alamo last year when we could've done the guided tour in less than an hour!

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hey Tracy, nice to see you this afternoon. (I just woke up!) Nothing like a man to tell you great stories to make the research come alive is there? I take it the King ranch is way south of Dallas...hehehe, my northern roots showing here?

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Anna: You got to ride on the Zamboni? I don't know much about hockey. (okay, one guy stands in front of the goal with lots of padding on while the other guys try to hit a small, hard object aka the puck at him at about 100 miles an hour) but I do like to watch the guys work the Zamboni. That must've been great fun!

Kate: Roscoe Village near Coshocton, Ohio is a recreated town from the early 1800's when the Erie canal was in full swing. They sell products made the same way as they were made back then, the historical society ladies dress in period costumes and conduct tours and if you schedule it early enough, you can take an actual ride on one of the preserved canals. (Poor hubby had to take me, his sister and mom a couple of years ago!)

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Kirsten: It's scary when our kids are injured, but much easier to deal with later on, isn't it? And I have to confess, even though ambulance arrivals on our unit can be either quite exciting or a big waste of tax-payers money, we nurses always enjoy seeing the firefighters in their gear, sans coats. No matter the age or marital status we all try to come flirt with the guys!

Keira Soleore said...

Suz, thanks to your CP Jo for allowing us a look-see into contemp research, and (cough, cough) a gander at cute heroes.

Loved her stories at RNTV a while back. Sure can't wait for the first book!!!

V.Anna, you're up next with photos of your sports team.

As for me, I'd love to share pictures, but unless my hawt heroes can time-travel forward 200 years, we're SOL. (sigh) I leave the pictures of sheep poo and cow pats to Foanna.

Keira Soleore said...

Just read the rest of the comments...

(((Kirsten))) When scary things happen to the littlest ones, it's always heart-stopping. Glad you got some recreation in while getting your reassurance. :)

V.Anna: Aha!! Photos are forthcoming. Good, good. When??

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Hey Keira! Good to see you today. Wouldn't it be great if some of our historical heroes could time travel forward for just a day or two? Ah, but then we might not want them to go back, or at least not without us!

jo robertson said...

Suz, I'm sure we have similar programs, but I haven't checked them out. I like to take the entire semester class because I'm such a geek LOL. Actually, I find I retain the information better that way, so I'm becoming quite a forensics expert!

Anna Sugden said...

Keira - I'm hoping to have some pics on my website next week. I'll let you kno! Unfortunately I don't have any of them without their shirts one ... but I'm going to practices again this year - so hopefully ... *grin*

Keira Soleore said...

Suz, I'd greatly prefer hanging on to the Regency time traveler, instead of going back to his era, especially given my love affair with the, ahem, porcelain bowl.

V.Anna, one can only hope! Though I'm sure the locker room is going to be off-limits to you no matter how good a case you make for authentic research.

Christine Wells said...

What a great day, Suz! I'm with Foanna on the stately homes, but eating a cream tea (scones, jam, clotted cream and English breakfast tea)in the Pump Room at Bath while a string ensemble played was a wonderful way to experience the ambience of a Regency setting.

Caren Crane said...

Christine, I dream of a cream tea in Bath! (that sounded a bit naughty *g*)

Suz, what a great opportunity for hands-on research! *snork*

I, unfortunately, have little, do cool research. The most I've done recently is to drive around Raleigh, check out historic homes and visit the Junior League thrift store. Why can't I write about Scotland?!