Novel Research Faux Pas

Posted Jan 31 2017, 1:31 pm in , , ,

I haven’t made a cold call to research my novel in some time and, judging from my actions last Friday, I maybe should have rehearsed first. At the very least, I should have written down what I was going to say. But, alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Let me back up just a moment. I have a plot issue. One I need to wrap up properly. And in order to do that, I need information on the Louisiana prison system. So I head over to the one place I know will grant me answers: Google.  

Fifteen minutes later, I’m on the Louisiana Department of Corrections website. Three minutes later,  I discover the term “offender locator.” One minute later, I have the name of a man in Baton Rouge who handles such things. Thirty seconds later, I punch his number into my cell phone, and the call goes to voicemail and….that’s when things get tricky. I freeze. I realize this is a cold call, this guy doesn’t know me, and I’m going to sound crazy. The latter thought may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The message beeps, and I proceed to prattle off a string of incoherent babbling only a drunk monkey could rival. The Napoleon Dynamite voice in my head screams “Idiot!” I sort of black out in my panic-induced, message rant, but I know I mentioned being a writer and having a character who wanted to keep tabs on an inmate and left my name and cell number, basically begging him to call me then saying, “…but if you don’t have time or don’t want to, don’t worry about it. But I mean, really it’s only a couple of questions. But I know you’re busy so whatever.” I fear I said, “OK, love you” as I hung up.

Holy hell.

Out of what I can only believe was extreme boredom or morbid curiousity, the man calls me back. I’m driving at the time and actually rehearsing how professional I’ll sound if he dares to call. And then he calls.

And the drunk monkey answers.

My level of excitement and, therefore, decibel level of my voice compare to the sound you hear when the lights go out just before a Taylor Swift concert.

I start talking way too fast, way too loud, thanking him profusely as if he were the Pope and had just granted me an audience. I tell him I’m a writer (another post later about me being able to say that to a stranger!) and I have a character who needs to keep tabs on an inmate in Angola prison. I say twice she wasn’t the victim of the crime, just a…and this is where I lose my train of thought and say, “a layperson. A general public kind of person.” What? The phrase “concerned citizen” leaves my vocabulary altogether. “She’s just, you know…regular. She needs to know he’s in prison. Well, let me back up…”

The man stops me at this point and says, “Shoot me straight here, this is you right? You don’t have a character. You’re not writing a book. You want to know about an inmate at Angola?”

Wait. What?

I become so flustered I sound guilty. “No, no, no. Noooo. I really am writing a novel. I live in Shreveport (why I threw that hat into the ring, I have no idea), and I have a prosecutor friend, but he didn’t know the answers (again, what the hell), so I got online and…”

“All right. Hang on a minute.”

He places me on hold to deafening silence, and I realize how loud I’ve been speaking. I picture him in his office with his other Department of Corrections coworkers, shaking his head and winding his finger next to his temple.

At this point, I’m not surprised he thinks I’m lying about being a writer. After all, in our relationship so far, I’d given him very little evidence I could string sentences together in a normal or coherent way, much less write a complete novel.

Thankfully, when he comes back on the line, he recommends I type up a list of questions and email them to him. He says he’d be happy to help.

To which I respond, “Thank you. I’ll head out…that over to you as soon as I get home.” 

I think I heard a tiny giggle just before the call ended.

And the writing journey continues….

Please tell me you have drunk monkey stories! No, really. Tell me!



12 responses to “Novel Research Faux Pas”

  1. Rachel says:

    You know the monkey always follows us around! This is absolutely hysterical!!! I can’t lie and say I did not just choke on my green tea as I read this at my desk!
    Keep up the hard work! After all, you’re from Shreveport…..Your book has to be a best seller!!
    Love you!

  2. Margo says:

    I laughed so hard about the “I love you”!!
    This is going to be the best novel!

  3. Laura Triana says:

    You are the most talented, most articulate and most loved monkey on earth! Go get’em!!

  4. Marlene Bell says:

    A great read, Jennifer! Still smiling here. You have more guts and gumption than most writers. Nothing like going right to the source. I hope you find a way to incorporate your experience in your story.

  5. Liz Talley says:

    Lol! This was a great read, and suave talker I am, I have no awkward research stories. Lol. Okay, you know I do.

  6. Linda Thompson says:

    So well written! Your words came to life in a visual way for me! So entirely FUNNY!

    Love you!!

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