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Inappropriate Googlage

This is not a real burning building.

One time, I needed to burn down a museum.

There was a fireman at our church named Russell, and one Sunday, I pulled Russell aside and asked for his help. “I am going to commit some arson, and I need a real conflagration for this museum,” I said. “At the end, I don’t want anything but a heap of ash, really, but right now all I have is some gas cans. If I dumped gas all around the outside and lit it, would that do it? Or do I need to smash out a window and chuck in some Molotov cocktails to really get it going?”

I was blathering on very enthusiastically, staring off into the middle distance at my burning museum, waving my arms vigorously about to show that when I said “conflagration,” I actually meant, “CON! FLAG! FREAKIN! RATION!

I happened to glance at Russell, and his eyes were very wide. So wide, in fact, that I could see whites all the way around his iris.

“Russell!” I said, “It is a FICTIONAL museum! I am burning it up in this BOOK I am writing.”

“Oh. Right,” Russell said, and his eyes returned to normal and he helped me come up with a good plan to burn that sucker RIGHT to the ground.

This is not a real nurse.

I’m also lucky in that the first real friend I made when we moved here is an emergency room nurse. She has always been quite generous, helping me figure out the best ways to poison or drug people, and explaining what happens when you shoot people and other suchlike medical mis-heavals that tend to happen when you are foolish enough to be a character in one of my books.

Now? I am trying to commit some light armed robbery.

I have looked around my church, but I have not found anyone who will admit to being a professional armed robber in the same proud Been There, Done That, Have The T Shirt way Russell owned up to being a professional fireman. Go figure. And yet I wish for my robbery to be nice and authentic.

So far I have been writing the robbery in terms of character development—-thinking very much about the ROBBED people: their internals, and their goals, and their relationships with each other. But I am to the point in the draft where the robber and the police need to be acting like a robber and some police, instead of like props that allow the people I need to be robbed to be robbed. So. Research time, yes?

Sadly, these ARE real Pepsi cans. And no can here got out alive.

I’ve never been a musty tome girl. I like interviews and ride alongs and hands on stuff.

In Backseat Saints, for example, I came to understand Rose Mae’s affinity for guns by going out and shooting REALLY a lot of Pepsi cans and plastic bottles RIGHT to death. But I can’t really go HANDS ON learn how to do a proper hold-up. Not without committing, you know, some felonies.

This is one case where I will have to learn by NOT doing.

And yet—when I come to Google, my fingers hesitate over the keyboard. Am I supposed to put in, “How do I commit armed robbery?”

THAT seems more like an EXCELLENT way to get on a CIA watch list than a valid research protocol.

I was lamenting my research woes to my friend and fellow scribbler Gray James, and she started laughing at me, not at all sympathetic.

Because right now, she is trying to figure out how to ask Google to tell her how to blow up an entire (yes, fictional) school building in Vermont without getting Patriot Acted directly off to Gitmo.

These are trying times to be a writer….

25 comments to Inappropriate Googlage

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    Everything I know about armed robbery I have learned from the movies. The movie “The Town” comes to mind because it is based on real people who live in a certain area of Boston and make their living robbing banks. And it was critically acclaimed, so I am thinking that they had some pretty good “experts” on set (or talking to them from prison).

  • The next best thing to committing robbery yourself might be to ask someone who catches robbers. Know any cops?

  • DebR

    Sandi beat me to it by moments. I would think that in the same way a fireman could help you figure out how to burn down a museum, that a cop could help you figure out how an armed robber robs stuff. You don’t need Google, you need a cop!

  • DebR

    PS….I think Gray needs a cop too.

  • Gray needs a demolition expert!

  • I bet they have some nice felons at some prison near you. Maybe, they could tell you what they did, and if your criminals aren’t supposed to be caught then you could NOT do what the interviewed, nice felons did. <.<

  • Elizabeth

    Shaking my head…

  • I was gonna say ask a cop, too – surely a nice Atlanta police officer can tell you many things about armed robbery! And Gray…does she know any nice military men who maybe know something about explosives? Or maybe construction guys?

  • Aimee

    No, no! Come join me on the CIA watch list! About six years ago my husband and I were writing a screenplay wherein a guy was going to rob an armored truck. We did a ton of research on how to do it, BOLDLY googling our intentions across the internets. We did SO much research, in fact, that to this day I still get a frisson of residual guilt whenever I see an armored car. I say, go for it!

  • Lulu

    ladies, ladies, you don’t need to worry about the CIA — they do international spying. It’s the FBI and ATF forces that’ll be scoping you and your Googles out!
    I’m sure you’re much relieved to hear that.
    (and yes, I am a pedant in real life, too…)

  • Oh, these trying modern times when a completely innocent author cannot research their deviant character troubles without raising the ire of The Man. Or The WoMan (as the case may be). Glad that Russell’s blood pressure was brought back to normal very quickly. . .although it IS a little funny that he could even BEGIN to imagine (at the outset) that you were SERIOUS. Does that mean that you were THAT excited or that he could actually imagine you doing such? 😉

  • Kathy

    I would have to say a cop too. Preferably one who’s been on the job for awhile and is Detective grade or so. Or talk with your local District Attorney’s office.

  • Gail

    I think googling “how to commit suicide” is worse. When you need to know for a character how long you actually survive after you swallow an entire economy-sized bottle of Tylenol, googling is pretty dangerous. Most sites will just tell you to seek professional help and that you don’t need to hurt yourself and then you just feel judged.

  • Lulu — Perhaps they only SAY they do international stuffs, the better to assemble lists of folks googling violence!!!!! CONSPIRACY! …

    Okay, maybe not.

    Roxanne? I purely love you. You just made me choke on my lunch.

  • Too funny. Too bad I don’t have an authorial excuse for any weird googling I may feel the need to do 😉

  • Kacie

    See if you can get in touch with those 2 guys who used to do that show on TLC called “To Catch a Thief”. Or maybe see if you can dig up an episode or 2 somewhere on the interwebs. You can actually watch them breaking into peoples houses, and perhaps figure out the thought process.

  • edj

    I love this post. I read it out loud to my husband. And perhaps at some point you can have a character on the CIA/FBI/ATF/KGB/ETC watch list because she was just writing a book but now she is suspected of arson because the crime matched her research. Like Dorothy Sayers’ “Strong Poison.” Also, I bet SOMEONE at your church has committed SOMETHING. Maybe you could put in on the prayer chain or website? “Your info will be kept confidential AND I’ll pray for you…” or something like that. No?

  • jeanette

    Sounds like it’s time for you to make a few jailhouse pen-pals.

  • I’ve been on an FBI watch list. It’s not as cool — or as annoying — as you might imagine, although my time was pre 9/11, so things may have changed a lot since then.

    That being said, Sandi’s right. Cops and detectives and law-enforcement types are really not that far removed from their non-legal counterparts. It’s been observed that at parties, cops and criminals tend to glom together (unless, of course, one is searching for the other), so they think in many of the same ways.

  • Brigitte

    Also, the legal side does have the bomb squad guys (who you know learned how to BE bomb squad guys just because they lurve blowing things up, but didn’t want to go to prison). 😉

  • I have an MG writing friend whose site regularly gets visited by The Authorities. She wrote about a fire at Camp David and is a research wonk. Between the online stuff and library books she checked out, I’m guessing she had her own special agent assigned to her.

    Also, it could be worse. Imagine if you had to research a character’s sexual fetish. As long as your Google-fu requires the standard fire/poison/stabbing shtick, I vote for “proceed and don’t worry.” 😉

  • And then there was that time I was trying to figure out how to google being roofied, without making it look like I wished to do that to someone. (It was an evil character, I swear!)

  • Ok, so I know I’m a LITTLE behind the curve here, but I saw your picture in the fancy, fancy magazine the other day. Someone had left a copy of it at the place where I practice, and as I was flipping through, nomming peanut butter out of the jar, there you were. You looked very pretty.
    Oh, and I feel you on the inappropriate googling. Once as part of putting together a burlesque act, I had to google “household items used to get high” and also “how much robitussin do you have to drink to hallucinate”. Le sigh.

  • I agree about asking a cop how to commit a robbery. Except. in. my. town. Lately, a bomb threat was called in to the post office. All the police in the entire freakin’ region showed up, while the robbers robbed a bank three blocks away. Apparently thinking-like-a-bad-guy doesn’t work around here, ’cause my town is a little short-sheeted in the thinking department.

  • Dude, REDDIT. GO to IAMA and search robbed or robbery or somesuch. Or make an account and go to askreddit and ask for people’s robbery stories.