You might not think there’d be much to research for a book about three women stuck in an elevator–after all, we all ride in elevators, right? And the women’s lives are pure fiction, which could easily be invented.
Well . . . no. As a writer who got her start in nonfiction, that’s the base from which I work. I couldn’t create a mythological building, I drove into Tampa and picked a building, then used it as the setting for the story. (I used the Park Tower–in the book, it’s the Lark Tower.)
As to the women, I had to research their lives, particularly Isabel’s. She was from Mexico, so I not only had to find a native Spanish speaker to check my language, I had to figure out her backstory and root it in something credible. There’s a moment when Isabel looks out and sees a billboard–that’s based on a series of real buildboards in Mexico; I read about them in the paper.
I had to learn about head hunters for Michelle; and I pretty much imagined Gina’s life, since hers is closest to my own.
And the hurricane–it’s almost a character in itself. Fortunately, the Tampa region is my home, and we’ve done all kinds of studies about what would happen here if we were hit by a major hurricane. I was able to find charts that detailed, hour by hour, what would be happening to our roads, our bridges, and our power supply if a major hurricane were headed our way. Lovely materials!
So–lots of research was necessary, lots of street name-checking. When I set a book in a real town, as opposed to a fictional one, I try my best to get it right.
As to the elevator–in the beginning, I happened to run into a pair of elevator repairmen at a hotel where I was staying. They let me peek into the shaft and told me a little about elevator operation. I thought that would be all I needed . . . until I started writing. But more on that later.
My research notebook was bulging with information, but I do most of the research as I go . . . because I never know exactly what I’m going to need until I get there.
Tomorrow: The writing
P.S. Yea! I finished my first draft of THE FACE yesterday. Now it’s time for triage, to see where it’s bleeding . . .