One of my favorite things about being a writer is the ability to ask questions that open doors. A successful mystery writer I know had once been a newspaper reporter. Asking questions came second nature to her. So when her protagonist got herself locked in a fur vault, what did she do? She gained admission to Rich’s fur vault. For those who may not know, Rich’s was a prestigious department store located in Atlanta.
She explained to the Rich’s authorities that in order to make her description of the vault believable, she needed to view an actual fur depository. Voila! Not only did she gain entrance, but she was allowed to take dimensions, photograph non-security areas, and interview personnel. I learned a valuable lesson from my writer friend: Being a writer opens doors. All kinds.
When attending a World Science Fiction Convention in Boston, I decided to try out my newly acquired knowledge. I applied for press credentials citing my travel column in the local newspaper as my media outlet. Without a blink, the registrar bestowed credentials on me to cover the convention. My husband was also given credentials as my photographer. This ushered us into a much celebrated exhibition on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and landed me an interview with a renowned writer. The “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” theory was working.
Another mystery writer I knew was granted permission to ride along in a police cruiser as part of her research in which police procedures had to be spot on. When asked how she accomplished that feat, she said “I just asked.”
For the most part, I’ve discovered that people are fascinated to meet a “real” writer. I suppose they mean by that a writer who has been published – a rare and supposedly dying breed. It doesn’t occur to the general population that there is a writer who composes the obituaries, the crossword, writes up the research for all the television, radio, and movie stories, as well as the speech writers and anonymous brochure writers. We are surrounded by a world of words created by us – writers.
My biggest coup in research thus far is getting the cruise director who took us on tour to divulge the truth about death at sea. No one talks about it or really wants to think about it, but cruise ships – all of them – have morgues. Generally, they would accommodate accommodate about three corpses. Not a large number when you consider that staff and passengers comprise more people than most small towns. The last one we sailed on had more than three thousand passengers and crew.
The officer in charge of the ship’s tour explained that if a person dies at sea, the body will be placed in the morgue, which is usually on the same floor as the medical facility. When the ship reaches a major port, the body will be offloaded and repatriated. The cruise personnel will assist the family in making arrangements. However, countries differ in regulations regarding bodies, cause of death, and repatriating the remains. There’s a lot of paperwork involved so if you write about someone dying on a cruise ship, be prepared for red tape and a lot of expense for your protagonist. But as a writer, that’s part of the fun.
Prose, whether fiction or nonfiction, opens portals. Epistles of truth provide egress into amazing worlds. Even graffiti opens word gates and gives a peek into cultures different from our own. Yes, I will say it again. Writing opens doors, but the first one it opens is your own.