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Kiss of Death

So you know I went to the RWA National Conference last week and met fabulous writers, both published and unpublished. I arrived a couple days early to participate in activities with my online romantic suspense/mystery chapter: Kiss of Death (KOD).

Yes, it's a bunch of ladies (and a few men) trying to figure out interesting ways to kill people…uh, I mean characters. On Tuesday (7/27), we took a tour of MacDill AFB near Tampa, and started the day with an inside/outside tour of a KC-135 Stratotanker (a refueling plane), complete with two pilots and a boom operator to answer questions.

The KC-135 Stratotanker, ready for 45 romance writers to board


It was awesome. The guys had great stories, and the KC-135 has an incredibly important mission. For one example of how they support other aircraft, check out this article.

After baking in the heat and humidity, we had lunch with airmen who had volunteered to eat with us and answer questions. Laura Griffin, Lexi Connor, and I sat with a Senior Airman who worked in satellite communications. He was shy but happy to talk about his career and future goals.

We left the group with thank you bags (which I diligently stuffed the night before along with many new KOD friends) with free books and goodies from our published authors, several of whom were in the room, though most of the men and women who joined us had no idea.

After lunch we went over to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), which has a hangar on the base. These are the crazy folks that fly into hurricanes and other storms to monitor and study them. Among other things. The pilot we talked to was a former Navy flier. NOAA is actually a uniformed service (though not an armed service), so he gets to retain his rank, pay, and retirement. NOAA falls under the Department of Commerce.

Cool fact: Jim Henson created muppet mascots for three of NOAA's planes. Uncool fact: Disney will not give NOAA the license to use any other muppets for the newer planes in the fleet.

NOAA plane with original Beaker and Super Gonzo art by Jim Henson


We ended our day with the parachute riggers (the guys who pack the chutes). I thought this would be boring, but it might have been the most fun part of the whole day. We got a static-line chute packing demonstration, a simulator demo, and a talk from the free-fall riggers who were also jump masters.

And yes, the free-fall guys were under the special forces umbrella. I saw that maroon beret peeking out from a pants pocket…

Static-line jumps are for low altitude jumps, and the chute is triggered by the line to which the jumper is attached. You see these on TV and movies all the time where the guys are hooked to a cable and they jump one after another while somebody yells “Go, go, go”, and their chutes open almost immediately after they clear the plane. The person yelling is the jump master, by the way.

Static-line chute rigger


Free fall chutes are used for high altitude jumps where there's a need to go in quiet. They are shaped differently from the static-line chutes, and are made of more durable material. You may have heard of HALO (high altitude low opening) or HAHO (high altitude high opening) jumps. These are often used by special forces. The men can be dropped miles away from their target (often at night) and avoid detection by the bad guys.

Free-fall rigging

We grilled the guys on how to kill someone by messing with their parachute and determined it was near impossible without involving an entire group of people. Ah, well. Another method then.

The day wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without all of the new friends I made. It was great being surrounded not only by writers, but by a whole group of people mainly focused on romantic suspense.

The Kiss of Death has breathed new life into my writing, and I can't wait to do it all again next year!

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Research Smesearch

I have to admit that I sometimes avoid research like the plague. I've had a few of those moments where a good idea comes along, and my next thought after “cool” is “too much research”. The two factors in whether or not I want to do it are:

  1. Does the topic or area of research interest me?
  2. Do I know how to find the information I'm looking for?

The littlest things can trip up an author when writing about a world they're not intimately familiar with. It's one of the reasons I really want to go to a shooting range. Not only to be able to write from personal experience about weapons, but because I may notice something I'd never thought of.

On the other hand, if we all wrote only what we knew, there probably wouldn't be very many books getting published. Who wants to read about a former manufacturing engineer who runs errands, works out, helps with homework, and writes all day?


In the end, I do a lot more research than I think I'm going to, and sometimes it's all for naught if a scene or scenario gets cut, but I choose topics I want to know more about. I'm currently writing books about DEA agents. I read books about going undercover, I watch documentaries and the DEA TV series, and look a lot of stuff up on the Internet.

I don't think I've ever even met a DEA agent, but I do happen to have a helpful source who used to work as a cop assigned to a DEA task force. Without him, I wouldn't have any confidence that I could pull this off.

I hope that any errors I make are small enough to be forgiven by the few who would recognize them, and that it won't jar them from the story too much.

We've all probably found errors in a book we've read or movie we've seen, but what I hate are the blatant errors where the writer or director just said “screw reality”. Like in Transformers 2 where Shia and company go into the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Dulles, Virginia to find the ancient Decepticon, Jetfire (the SR-71). They run through the hangar doors right out into the airplane boneyard in Tucson, Arizona. WTF?

SR-71 at Udvar-Hazy Museum

Jetfire at the Boneyard

That wasn't an accident, that was blatant in my mind. Even if you were only familiar with one of those locations–I happen to be the perfect storm of a movie viewer who has lived in both areas–I think you'd know something was up. If they'd explained it, by saying he teleported them there, I'd have been fine with it. Maybe that part was left on the cutting room floor…

As a writer, it's all in the details. If we pull the reader out of the story with those types of mistakes too many times, they'll quit coming back for more. In this competitive market, we can't afford to skip the research.

Can you think of any book or movie mistakes that really irked you?

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Digging deep

Did you know that Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have built sophisticated tunnels running under the border between Mexico and the US? The tunnels are reinforced or bored into rock, and often have electricity, phone service, and fresh air ventilation systems!

An article about a tunnel discovered in 2006 sparked the idea for the opening scene in my current WIP. DEA agent Steve Reyes and his team are ambushed during a raid on a warehouse where one such tunnel entrance exists. Here's a video of Anderson Cooper touring a tunnel found earlier this month in Tijuana. Amazing!

For my past books, I've done minimal research, usually which could be accomplished on the Internet. Which street connects downtown San Diego to Ocean Beach? Does UCLA have a swim team and a sports medicine degree? Are the cliffs of Malibu rocky like the central coast?

You get the idea. But for my current story, I need more. I just ordered several books about undercover DEA agents and money laundering inside the DTOs. If I want this to be a series, I figure I need to have a better understanding of what it's like for these guys to be undercover, and how the DTOs operate. I want my stories to ring true, and I hope what I read will spark a few scene ideas.

So, I have some heavy, but interesting Christmas reading ahead of me. What about you? How much research do you do for your stories?

Daily Squirrel: officer

The smile on Taryn's face refused to be tamed, even as she stood at attention. The slim gold bars in the Colonel's hand sparkled like glitter in the brilliant sunlight. Thirteen weeks of screaming instructors, room inspections, leadership exercises, push ups, and overdosing on caffeine were over. She'd made it!

In two more minutes she'd be an Air Force 2nd Lieutenant. The first woman in her family to join a longstanding family tradition. Every day, every event of her life, had led to this moment, and she intended to savor every second of it.