Research update

    The Sonoran desert near the U.S./Mexico border

    It’s 114 degrees, the sun beating down relentlessly. There’s no bathroom. Whatever shade you can find is going to have attracted other creatures hoping to get away from the heat and bright daylight — scorpions, coyotes, other human beings. You have only as much water as you could carry and only one change of clothes. Shoes that seemed sturdy are now torn from desert thorns. Sand is everywhere — between your toes, stuck to the sweat on your skin, in your drinking water.

    You can’t travel by day. It’s just too hot. So you take your chances with the scorpions and hide in the shade of bushes, so tired that you don’t think twice about resting your head on the bare, hoping that nothing eight-legged will come along. And you sleep. A little.

    Hunger and thirst wake you. You rummage through your pack, feeling slow and stupid from hunger and dehydration. You know that if you can’t reach your destination before your water runs out, you’ll die. There’s no one here to help you. And if you do see other people, you’re better off remaining hidden.

    This land is where drug smugglers and human traffickers rule. Armed with AK-47s and other weapons, they won’t think twice before shooting you and leaving you for the vultures. And they might even do worse...

    So you sip your water and wait for sunset when you’ll stumble blindly northward again, unable to see the thorns that tear at your shoes or the snakes that curl up not far from the path seeking warm sand or the human predators who have an advantage over you with their night vision goggles.

    Okay, okay, I’ll stop. But I thought I’d share with you my research lately. You may find hints in it of things that will happen in Natalie’s story.

    I’ve been researching topics around my next I-Team book since shortly after Christmas, focusing heavily on the U.S./Mexico border. Natalie is in Mexico when the story opens, touring Cuidad Juárez with a group of U.S. and Mexican journalists.

    One thing I’ve focused on quite a bit is the experience of the illegal border crossing. I wanted to get into the skin of someone whose done it, so I’ve been watching episodes of Border Patrol and reading books about it from a variety of points of view. And all I know is that I don’t even want to find myself having to sneak into the U.S. via the desert. The arachnids are enough to keep me away. Yes, an arachnid patrol would be more than enough to dissuade me. Who worries about men with guns when there are spiders and scorpions around? [Shudder]

    I’m learning what I can about desert flora and fauna, as well as terrain and popular places for crossing the border. It’s absolutely fascinating.

    The latest topic I’ve picked up is Navy SEAL training. I wanted to know the lingo, the basics about BUD/s and Hell Week and, in particularly SEER training. How do we train our most specialized troops to resist torture? My sister-in-law’s brother recently left the SEALs, so I’m hoping he’ll be able to answer some questions for me.

    Navy SEALs fastroping

    I also spent quite a bit of time researching the work deputy U.S. marshals do along the border and had lunch with a couple of marshals. They were fun to hang with and had lots of helpful information and stories to share.

    I usually do research before I write a book, but I also keep it flowing while I’m writing so that new impressions and words and situations are presented to me. That helps me be more authentic in my writing, and I think it helps keep me inspired, too.

    With Kat’s story, I didn’t have to do that much research, but with Natalie’s I do. Of all the I-Team books, this one is based the least on my own experience, meaning that I really can’t take anything for granted.

    Shackling bill update: The bill will be read by the Senate President tomorrow and the first committee hearing is at 1:30 PM on Wednesday. At this point, I plan to testify. I’m also trying to track down women who gave birth while in custody to see whether they have experiences about giving birth in shackles that they can share with us. There are a number of organizations that have signed on to support the bill, but it faces some challenges, too. How the Department of Corrections (which runs the state prisons) will respond remains to be seen... But the county sheriffs (who operate county jails) are in favor of it and will be testifying for it. YIKES! I’m nervous about Wednesday and already worrying about what to wear so that I look like a sane, sensible citizen and not a print journalist slob from Boulder.

    I will probably be overwhelmed with work between now and Thursday evening, so I might not be back till then. I hope you all have a great week!

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