The Chicken, the Skater, and the Research

image by <a href="" target="_blank"> - chrisjo</a>

All I need is a ramp…

My granny and I were in the drive thru at Church’s chicken one weekend, waiting for our 15 piece mix. Obviously, the chickens were doing battle with the cooks because we’d been there for at least fifteen minutes and hadn’t moved at all. And there’s something about being in the drive thru for fast food where if you don’t have it in five minutes time slows down to a crawl.

As we waited, I happened to turn and see a young boy jump over the short brick wall that separated Church’s from the retail store parking lot and land back on his skateboard.  My heart caught in my throat and I said a prayer to God to please keep the boy close by.

Why I needed divine intervention:

There is a slim chance you will ever find me and a skateboard in the same place, much less find me riding on one.  I am at an age where a skateboard is a health hazard. Further, my body no longer bounces back when it falls…it simply breaks once it makes contact with cement.

However, in my upcoming new book, Many Strange Women, my male protagonist is a skater who knows all about tricks and techniques on the board and he’s pretty good at doing them too.  And how does he know about them? Because I researched what a skater does to get good at his craft.

First, I watched hour after hour of skating tricks on YouTube, flabbergasted at what these artists do with their bodies and a narrow deck, balanced on wheels. Flip tricks, grinds, variations of Ollies and so much more… and they don’t fall off! I can walk on a flat surface with rails on either side and still manage to stumble.

But for all the hours I spent online, watching and reading about this sport the most information I received was how to do the moves.

Back to the Church’s Chicken drive-thru: when I saw the boy perform an Ollie over the wall, my heart jumped in my mouth. I needed to interview him.  Ten minutes later, the battle was lost and I set a piping hot bag of chicken on my grandmother’s lap and sped off, turned the car on two wheels and drove into the adjacent parking lot.  I saw the boy walking away, his board under his arm,  and I burned rubber to reach him before he completely vanished.  Thankfully, when he turned around he didn’t run away. He looked to be about 14, long dirty blond locks, nasally deep voice, and a small splatter of freckles across the bridge of his nose that added to his appeal in the odd way of boys in the puberty stage to manhood.

I talked to him for a while  and he gave me some pointers (not sure if he thought I would actually use them for myself) about skating as well as why he liked to do what he did. I noticed he wore no protective gear, his board was nicked and worn looking, and how he was dressed. As a writer, I was able to take in all aspects of his person as well as his demeanor. Seeing that was worth more than the numerous hours of video I saw. He showed me tricks and explained the sport to me. My grandmother, kind woman she is, gave the boy a dollar for his help. As she tells me, “A dollar in the ’30’s could buy a ten pound bag of pork neck bones, a get a bus transfer, and half a bushel of apples with change to spare!”

There’s only so much research you can do online. After all, you’re safely in front of the computer. But research has to have a physical aspect to it.  Part of the research includes interviewing people who do or are performing the job, service, or task you want to explore in your writing. Sure, an online Google or Bing search can give you information on it but in order to bring depth to your characters or realism to a plot, a writer should do actual research. With the advancement of virtual experiences through all sorts of medium, I believe we’ve lost our natural curiosity to explore in the real sense when all we have to do is pull up a search engine and have the computer do all the work.

I really liked connecting with the boy, who name is Jay, and other skaters I’ve met in the course of writing the book. And maybe that’s the best part of research you take with you as write…meeting great people with aspects of themselves you can translate into your work.

Possibly the greatest form of flattery and thanks.


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