Writing the Dream books has entailed a fair amount of research.  I’ve never attended medical school, or worked as a resident in a hospital, or been to jail.  But Sara has done all those things and more, so to make them believable, I’ve had to look a lot of things up.  If you looked at my Google history and you didn’t know I was using it for research on my books, I’m not sure what you’d think about the variety of topics I’ve searched for.

Dream Student required the least amount of research.  It’s set (more or less) where and when I went to college, even down to the same dorm.  The only thing I made a point of looking up was an extremely fancy restaurant about an hour outside of Washington, DC (the Inn at Little Washington), to use as a model for the totally made-up Blue Duck Inn that Sara and Brian have their New Year’s Eve date at (interestingly enough, there actually is a Blue Duck Tavern in downtown Washington DC, which I didn’t know about until after I finished the book!).  Other than that, I did look up the history of the MCAT (medical school admission test) to see what the score range was in 1990, when Sara was taking the test.  Everything else in the book came from my memory (or my imagination).

Dream Doctor, on the other hand, required a LOT of research.  As noted, I haven’t been to medical school.  In fact, the only thing I really knew about it was the Gross Anatomy class (dissection of a cadaver over the course of the term with a group of fellow students).  I used four sources to get myself up to speed on what’s taught in medical school, and how.  First was the website of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (appropriate since Sara attends a fictionalized version of that very school).  The main thing I got from there was the daily class schedule.  Second was the movie “Gross Anatomy”, which gave me a general sense of life for medical students, especially in showing how one’s Gross Anatomy group becomes almost a second family during the very stressful first year of medical school.  Third was “A Not Entirely Bening Procedure”, a memoir by Dr. Perri Klaas, a woman who attended Harvard Medical School in the late 1980’s.  I got a very good sense of what it feels like to be in medical school, and how it changes your thinking and the way you view the world around you.  The idea of Sara having a baby while still in medical school also came out of this book, as Dr. Klaas did precisely that during her second year of school (that’s also a subplot in “Gross Anatomy” as well).  Finally, for the actual details of Gross Anatomy, I used Grant’s Dissector (the standard textbook for the class) to help me describe exactly what Sara would be doing each week in class.  There was also some research into poisons, and the exact symptoms of thallium poisoning, which mostly came from the ever-helpful Wikipedia.

Dream Child didn’t require a huge amount of research, but there were some specific topics that I had to look up.  They included: details of the seal pool at the National Zoo; which statues represent the state of Pennsylvania in the Capitol Rotunda (Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat; and John Muhlenberg, Revolutionary War hero); the name and location of the wealthiest suburb of Philadelphia; information on “sick building syndrome”; details about the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and its environs; and growth charts for four-year-old girls; and types of and treatment for pediatric stomach cancer, among other things.

For Dream Family, the main thing I had to research was basic criminal procedure (what exactly happens to you after you’re arrested?  When do you see a judge?  How exactly does the bail process work?  What does a bail-bondsman do?), and what someone experiences when they’re arrested and booked into jail.  Some of the specific details in the book came directly from this research, although what Sara goes through is much worse than what generally happens to people in the Arlington County Detention Center (at least, according to the information I was able to find).  I also did some research into floorplans of doctor’s offices, the developmental milestones of 2 year old children; and the graduation attire of CWRU medical school graduates.

For Book #5, just in the four chapters I’ve written so far, I’ve had to look up: the Wintergreen Ski Resort; the Army-Navy Country Club; heart attack causes, symptoms and treatments; and the history of Google as a publicly traded company.  I’m sure there’ll be more interesting things to dig up before it’s finished!

To my fellow authors who read this – what’s the most interesting, or strangest, or most-likely-to-make your-friends-and-family-wonder-what-the-heck-you’re thinking thing you’ve had to research in the course of your writing?

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