Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Surviving My Research by Mystery Author Phyllis Smallman


Over the years I’ve put my protagonist, Sherri Travis, in more and more perilous situations, which means my research gets scarier and scarier. In Martini Regrets Sherri is carjacked and left in the Everglades so it seemed like a good idea to find a guide to take me canoeing in the Everglades - at night. It turned out that this wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had.
Down in Everglades City my husband and I found a guide to take us on a four hour night kayak trip. It was still daylight when we loaded our kayaks on the rack and headed for a starting point on the East River, where the guide, who looked about seventeen but was in his twenties, gave us the most useless piece of advice I’ve ever had. He said, “Whatever happens, don’t panic.  Things go wrong when you panic.” No kidding!
               
Kayaking past a gator
So that kayakers can get inland to a lake with a small island rookery, the outfitters have cut tunnels through the mangroves. The problem is that the tunnels have become a freeway for gators to move from lake to lake.  Again the guide gave brilliant advice.  “When you meet a gator, let the alligator decide what’s going to happen.  If there’s enough water, he’ll go under your kayak.” It was February and the height of the dry season. “If they can’t go under your kayak, they’ll push you aside and go by you or…” Well, with a shrug that bit was left for our imagination.  There was something else he didn’t tell us. Besides snakes and alligators, the tunnels are also full of spiders. There was a canopy of webs above our head and every twelve inches there was a gigantic spider. My husband hates spiders. The good side of terror is that it makes you paddle really, really fast.  Our guide said he’d never made it too the lake so quickly, about half the normal time. We watched the sun go down and then we started back in the dark.
               
Kayaking past a Mangrove Tunnel
It was black and it was silent in the mangroves. We had head lamps but were told to only turn them on in an emergency because the other two paddlers would be blinded by the light. Did you know that an alligator’s eyes glow red at night?
                Soaked and exhausted, but glad to be alive, we were back at the pickup point shortly after eight. Only when we were settled in the nearest bar with a calming drink in our hand did we realize that the guide had not once been the first to enter a tunnel. Hmmm…do you suppose he knew something we didn’t? Don’t panic.  From now on all my research is going to be done from a safe distance.

You can reach Phyllis through her website 


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