Thursday, October 22, 2015

Research Assistance

“So, I'm writing a book about a woman who becomes a mechanic. Would you mind describing what it looks like down there?” 

 I was getting my oil changed, and knew that this was a place to start in turning Astrid into a mechanic.

“Would you like to see the pit for yourself?” Mike at Valvoline offered.

“Really? I would love to.” I grabbed my phone to take photos and opened the car door. 

“Hold onto the rail the entire way down. I don't want you to fall.” 

I may have audibly gasped. What I saw below my car was nothing like I imagined. It was a complete basement work space. I met Will, the technician who was going to do the oil change. I looked around, took photos, and asked questions. 

That visit to Valvoline inspired and informed a scene I wrote between Astrid and Derrick. I gave Astrid my entire experience as her own. My questions became her questions. My reactions became hers. It made writing the unknown so much easier.

I love getting my oil changed now because I make new friends and enlist new research assistants each time I go. Just last week, I went in for an oil change in advance of a road trip. I learned that Will, the one whose experience was closest to what I envision for Derrick, had moved away. I was disappointed. He was the one of all of them that remembered me each visit and had offered his help. But then I met Brittany—the only woman in the shop. We talked and she agreed to talk to me about what it's like to be a woman in that environment.

“Are there any cranky or hard-to-deal-with people here?” I whispered.

She nodded. “I've cried here.”

“I definitely need to talk with you.”

She smiled and agreed to me calling her.

I met Angela, the new assistant manager at Autozone, one evening when I was picking up the second strut for the rear hatch of my Pathfinder. I had noticed her the evening before when I'd picked up my first strut. (I hadn't known to specify that I needed two, so in the process I ordered only one. Novice mistake. Gosh, I have a lot to learn!) Just as I suspected, Angela had a story. She'd grown up working on cars with her grandpa, but hadn't been allowed to pursue her interest in car repair because she was a girl.

Angela grew up, had children, and started working on cars in adulthood. She was thrilled to work at Autozone. She showed me her hands. “They're always stained. I just love working under the hood.” I told her about my book and Astrid's transformation into a mechanic. 

“Could I pick your brain when I get to that point in the writing?”

“Sure. I'd be happy to help.”

Angela mentioned that she insisted that her children demonstrate their ability to do four things to their cars before they can get their driver's license. I didn't have paper with me, so I've forgotten what she told me, but I've put a placemarker in my story. Derrick tells Astrid she needs to know how to do these four things to maintain her car. In the second draft, I'll visit Angela and with pen and paper in hand, I'll ask what those four things are again and take notes.

This cast of characters I've assembled in my real life to help translate car maintenance and repair is making the task of making Astrid a mechanic seem less daunting. In this season of facing fears and doing what I think I cannot do, it seems appropriate that I would choose something that I know nothing about as a central plot in a story I told myself I didn't have or couldn't write. 

During the Haven retreat, Laura made the suggestion that I write the entire book set in the auto shop. I love the idea, but it means that the second draft will be vastly different because virtually none of what I've written in the first draft is in the auto shop. (There are a lot of scenes in the shop's office because I could envision that the first go round. I've been scared to have Astrid walk into the shop itself.  I have to get over that in round two!) She suggested I watch Barbershop starring Ice Cube to get a sense of how place informs the story. Watching the movie helped me visualize how I could incorporate the auto shop without being an auto expert. The barbers stand at their stations and cut hair. But really what happens in each scene is dialogue that has nothing to do with hair cutting. 

I see now after watching the movie that my characters can be under the hood of cars and in the pit under a car, but they don't have to be talking shop the entire time. This is a relief!  I really cannot wait to get started after the #write31days challenge is complete.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I think that you interviewing the people at your autozone is a brilliant idea. I'm rattling around an alternate history so I may not have as many people I could interview but I love the idea of utlizing people as story resources too!

    Sounds like your book is coming together. Good luck and keep going! :)