Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Welcome Author Susan Vaughan

Please join me in welcoming terrific author (and very nice lady!) Susan Vaughan to the convertible today. Susan has written for Silhouette Romantic Suspense and has a full length romantic suspense novel published with The Wild Rose Press. Her newest release PRIMAL OBSESSION won the More than Magic Award and has been getting rave reviews!


Most research for my books is virtual, that is, on the Internet. But often it means taking risks, emotional risks to interview people face to face and other, unanticipated risks. For example, my current release, PRIMAL OBSESSION, required me to venture on a six-day canoe-and-camping trip in northern Maine. Risky for this nature wimp, exhausting and beautiful but not dangerous.
After that I never thought my research in Washington, D.C. would also be risky. Ahem. Having the Romance Writers of America conference there afforded me the perfect opportunity to do research for the current project, which is set there. I rode the Metrorail, the subway, to determine how my hero will lose his bad-guy tail on the way to Crystal City, Virginia. At that Crystal City stop, I checked out what he'd see and smell and hear when he exited.

Then I went to the National Museum of Natural History to continue my research, the most important part because that's where the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Mineral houses, well, gems and minerals, including the Hope Diamond and various other famous pieces of jewelry. In my current project, there's a robbery, not of the Hope but of the crown jewels of a fictional country on loan for exhibit. I'd made an appointment with the security manager to run my scenario by him to see if it could work the way I have the robbery set up. When I arrived, he was still at lunch, so I hustled up to take pictures of the scene of the crime. I snapped shots of the Hope Diamond...

...and pictures of the room's cameras and other exhibit cases.

There's my risk, you say. The guards should descend on anyone taking pictures of the cameras. Nope. No burly guards grabbed me because of that.

Finally the security manager was ready for me, not in uniform but in a gray suit with a polyester tie in a color of green that reminded me of what my dog spits up when she eats grass. Sorry. Not an image you want if you've just eaten. I should've left then after that omen. But no, I persevered. I explained--again--what I was there for. I laid out my scenario for him. As I talked, I could see the security chief backing off, widening his stance and his shoulders. Suspicion lowered his eyebrows. He refused to answer any of my questions, wouldn't tell me anything about security for the gem section or anywhere else for that matter. Wouldn't tell me if guards are hired by the entire Smithsonian (they are). Wouldn't tell me how many were employed or might be there overnight. He was insulted and incensed that I wanted to write that two of the guards were paid as accomplices in my robbery. His guards would never cross that line. And finally he wanted my fictional robbery to take place in a fictional museum, not this real one that he felt would be made vulnerable. I tried to change the subject to him, to find out what made him go into security work and what he liked about it. Dead end there, too. I felt like Katie Couric trying to interview Dick Cheney while he's still in his no-interview bunker.

Enough, I gave the man the bookmark for PRIMAL OBSESSION and thanked him. For nothing, but I didn't say that. By then, he was ready to have Homeland Security check me out. Yup, he should've done that two weeks ago when I first phoned him. He'd have saved us both a lot of time. As I stood to leave, his secretary leaned across her desk and asked, "Can I have a bookmark, too?"

Remember that burly guard who didn't show up when I photographed the security camera and the Hope Diamond? He appeared now and the manager had him escort me to the exit. As I walked out, I looked back to see him glaring at me with suspicion and with his hand on his gun.

I was steamed walking out into a D.C. steamy summer day and not a little embarrassed. But now I get to make up my fictional robbery the way I want. Maybe I'll give away museum secrets and maybe I won't. I'll take that risk.

What's the riskiest thing you've done in the name of research or in your daily life? Susan is giving away a copy of PRIMAL OBSESSION to one lucky commenter today. (Print for US, digital for foreign.)


Kylie said...

Welcome, Susan! I don't think anything I've done has been too terribly risky in terms of research. But for WAKING THE DEAD I did hike the Willamette Forest in Oregon and go crawling through ice caves. I made it through four caves before it occurred to me that bats lived in caves, LOL. Then I was content to just look!

Playground Monitor said...

I tried on jewelry at Tiffany in Atlanta because that's where my hero bought the heroine's engagement ring. No risk, however, not even to my bank account cause ain't nuthin' cheap at Tiffany.

I love your DC adventure though. I just have to wonder though how the security guy felt about the Night at the Museum movie. I'm surprised they didn't confiscate your camera or at least make you delete the photos of the security cameras. And see... I never saw those cameras because I was too busy gawking over all those jewels.

Susan Vaughan said...

Kylie, you're braver than I am going into those ice caves. Hope you weren't alone.

Susan Vaughan said...

Playground Monitor,
Thanks for the comment. Cool about Tiffany's. I'd feel nervous about doing that, probably babble about my book and look totally uncool.
I wondered about the Night at the Museum movies, too, except those take place in the NYC one. He never mentioned them. Re the camera, everyone was taking pictures in the museum. I wasn't the only one photographing the jewels, just the only one homing in on the cameras. No G-men have showed up yet. LOL.

Skhye said...

Great post. ;) For the record, there are some things you really shouldn't type into a search engine. Bwah ha haaaa I had a critique partner who wanted me to visit a few websites dealing with how to kill people and survive visiting certain countries. Uh, no thanks! Especially after 9-11.

Judi Judi Judi said...

Great story, Susan. I've always hesitated contacting security people about how to get away with stuff, and now I think I'm right. Especially since one of my kids lives overseas and I'm sure I'm on a list somewhere.

Riskiest thing I've done recently is scare a black bear out of my back yard while he was snacking on bird seed he'd spilled. I know that will end up in a story somewhere.

Susan Vaughan said...

Websites on how to kill people? I don't blame you on avoiding those.

Yes, apparently you're right about security. Hmm, I thought it was Patti the fierce Yorky who chased the bear away. LOL.

Nina Pierce said...

Your story doesn't really surprise me, but what DOES surprise me is that the security manager didn't explain this stuff over the phone. Funny how people get defensive about their employees. Definitely makes a good story to tell around the water cooler, but not a great help with the fictional story. ;)

Helen Brenna said...

Hi, Susan, and welcome to the vert today!

I think the riskiest thing I've ever done is rock climbing and it wasn't research at the time. It was just plain fun! Oddly enough I ended up using my experience for a character in Peak Performance 15+ years after the fact.

I often think as I'm googling things whether or not someone somewhere is monitoring me. I remember reading a true horror story a couple years ago in the RWR about a writer, who remained anonymous, running into all kinds of issues because of her on-line research. Scared the begebees out of me.

lois greiman said...

Thanks for joining us, Susan. I love the excuse to research. I traveled through Costa Rica with my oldest son last year thinking I'd do a romantic suspense in the jungle sometime. I slept under a picnic table, on the beach, hiked for 17 hours straight through the rain, the pitch black, up the highest mountain in the country. It was grrrrreat!!

Research on!

Maureen said...

Hi Susan,
It's too bad your research trip didn't work out for you. When we were in the Philadelphia Museum of Art with our children and our son's friend and walking through the ancient tile exhibition my husband and I heard a loud clatter behind us, realized the kids were back there and were very relieved that our son's friend had just dropped the metal tag that you are supposed to clip on to your shirt to show that you paid.

Mary Ricksen said...

The questions you were asking did not seem like any security risk to me. I think that some people, (not all), want to be the big cheese. Want to be authoritative and throw their weight around to feel good about themselves.
You just had the wrong person to talk to . My brothers are in immigration an have no problem telling you who they work for and what their purpose is.
But you did just great without them. Yeah for you Susan and the best of luck.

ashleyludwig said...

I get so lost in research that sometimes I bog down my writing. I get to clicking through links, and find myself lost, and in the oddest of places. Most recently, I ended up reading (with amazing interest) about the Breviary - or little books of prayers that monks carried around in pouches. My husband thinks I'm nuts. However, I do notice that I can find threads that bring me to a certain revelation!

Thanks for the post & pictures!


Debra Dixon said...


LOL! I did a suspense in Louisiana and had to call one of the parish arson investigators. I introduced myself, told him I'd be asking questions for a book and wanted to be sure the investigation and policies were spot-on for that area of the country. I asked a couple of questions. Then...

He stopped, then casually said he would have to fill out a request report and could he get my contact information before he forgot. I gave it all to him and then asked him if he could call my dad, (a Chief of Police). I gave him the number and he put me on hold and then came back laughing. "It's a really good thing your dad is a Chief."

This was before the days of the internet. Now days I guess they can just get on and Google a person.

Susan Vaughan said...

You're exactly right. He should've refused when I contacted him or checked me out after our phone call.

I remember that writer saying the FBI showed up at her door. I'm expecting a visit.

I imagine all sorts of disasters went through your mind.

Mary, I think you're right. He just wanted to appear important.

Oh, so true. How easy it is to keep clicking to this place and that. Sometimes they lead to a new story direction though.
Thanks everyone for commenting.

Joyce said...


I love this story. I can totally picture you, so cute and petite and non-threatening, staring down this burly guard with his hand on his gun. What an image.


Carly Carson said...

Hi Susan,

For me, the favorite part of the story was when the secretary asked for the bookmark. Another fan! Somehow, she didn't feel too threatened.

I don't have the guts to do what you do. Guess I should not write suspense.


Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi, Susan!

I guess I'm not surprised about the security at the Smithsonian. I did some research at the ND Historical Society, and they took me in the storage room and let me go through the drawers. I was looking at Indian artifacts, mainly beaded dresses. They balked at letting my daughter put one on for a picture, but they let her hold it up as though she were going to, and they actually provided the photographer.

Also toured the ND State Penitentiary. Clyde went with me. They were very helpful. Gave me a (used) copy of the inmates' handbook. We met a famous (in ND) murderer who was dressed in civies and working in the intake section. He was in for life. Unfairly convicted, of course. Said yes, he murdered his wife and her lover, but it was a crime of passion, not 1st degree. (He was in the State legislature when he did it. Guess some of these politicians we've got now are comparatively sensible.) The guy running the tour (a social worker who was married to one of my former students) said they couldn't run Intake without whatever-his-name-was. And they would never have to.

But not so scary. Except when they close those door behind you. Tell you what, I couldn't have written THIS TIME FOREVER without that tour.

Corrina Cowan said...

I haven't done any risky or scary research, but just wanted to say wow! What did he think you were going to ask him about when you first talked to him on the phone a couple of weeks before? Unreal.

Betina Krahn said...

Susan, welcome! And what a story! Most of my research has been in fairly provincial and ordinary places. . . nothing that raised any. . .

Oh, wait, there was a visiting professor of Swedish at the U of Minn who declared adamantly that Swedes never curse or use bad language and refused to consult for me on translations. He practically threw me out of his office! Never felt quite the same about Sweden after that. lol.

But in terms of risk-- swimming with dolphins is about it. Pretty tame. Seven-year-olds do that now.

But who knows. . . maybe my more adventuresome days are yet to come!

MarthaE said...

Hi Susan - thanks for sharing your interesting research adventure! Makes me want to read the book even more! I parachuted once when I was in college! I think that was the riskiest thing I've ever done! Martha

Barbara Phinney said...

Susan, I'm in hte middle of Primal Obsession and am loving it!!
Love your post and that great pics of Washington at your website. That date you took to the ball is esp. lovely looking.
As for research? I can't say I've been kicked out of a federal building, but I did manage to convince my friend to climb the wooden fence that borders Canada and the US (in a sense sneak into Canada and back to the States) for a photo op.
Naturally we got caught by the US border patrol. Canadian border guards were probably sitting in front of their CC TV monitor laughing their heads off at our silly antics.
But the guard was nice and polite, as they always are, and let us go.
Ahh, life in the fast lane!
Barbara Phinney

Susan Vaughan said...

Very funny about the cop calling your dad. Yes, Google makes it easier today. If only my security chief had googled me ahead of time. Ah well.

Susan Vaughan said...

I know. They seemed to think I was a ringer, sent in by the jewel thief to case the joint and get the security info. Moi?

Susan Vaughan said...

That's my fave part of the story too. Glad it appealed to someone else's quirky sense of humor.

Yes, that was a duh moment for me. What was he thinking when I called him?

Susan Vaughan said...

Thanks for writing. You got a lot further with your research than I did. And your location was a lot scarier. Unless you count that skeleton of the dinosaur hanging overhead at the museum.

Susan Vaughan said...

Your story is pretty funny. Maybe not at the time but you do know how I felt.

Martha E,
Wow, parachuting is beyond me. But you'll have to wait to read the book I was researching. It's only partly written.

I can totally picture you climbing over the border fence. LOL.