Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Do-It-Yourself Research is Safer

Today's tip is a source I found while cleaning out all those emails last week, and it reminded me of a funny story, with me playing the role of the "naive and somewhat idiotic writer."

So, I was writing a personal essay. Now, you wouldn't think a writer would need research for a personal essay, and generally speaking, when I write about events that happen to me personally, I pretty much know the ins and outs involved. BUT, this was a case where a large, retail chain store was involved (K-Mart, if you must know) and it occurred to me in the midst of this splendiferous essay that perhaps this store is regional rather than national.

Honestly, the store wasn't really integral to the story, except for the teensy little fact that the store was the setting of the event and the store name was in the title of said essay. So I said to myself, "Self, you'd best look up K-Mart and make sure they're all over the place so people reading this essay in Montana or Michigan or wherever will know what you're talking about."

First, I went to the website. Because even though this was back in the dark ages of my writing career, we still had the Great and Powerful Internet. And just for the record, K-Mart has a lovely website. But they do not have a big, giant map of the US of A with little dots where the stores are located. They have a "write in your state and we'll show you the K-Marts near you" thingie. I ask you, people: who has time to look up every state?

So I called the information number on the website (it was a 1-800 number). Then I asked the nice gentleman, "Are there K-Marts all over the country?" And he said, "What state are you looking for a K-Mart in?" (Which is terribly poor grammar, but I did not feel as if I should correct him, as the call was long-distance.)

So I said, "I just need to know if there are K-Marts all over the United States."

A long pause followed. Then the not-so-nice gentleman asked, "Why do you need that information, m'am?"

"I'm writing a story,"I said (which was technically not true, but I thought it sounded better than personal essay) "and I just need to know if there are K-Marts in all 50 states and possibly in Canada."

Another pause, followed by, "Perhaps you could talk to a supervisor, m'am. I'm not allowed to divulge that sort of information."

Wherein it suddenly occurred to me that this gentleman thought I was up to something of a nefarious nature. What is the world coming to, when a person can't ask an innocent question about the location of stores throughout the US of A (and possibly Canada)?

"Never mind!" I squeaked, and hung up the phone tout de suite!

The point being, if you want information about subjects that might cause folks to ask for their supervisor, you'd best look it up yourself.

Which reminds me of today's tip! Here is a wonderful link for would-be mystery writers called "Blood at the Source."