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Everyone loves an Irishman, right? Derek Flynn happens to be my favorite, and when I asked what is the craziest thing you've ever done, he stepped into the batter's box for me. And came to America. Or at least Wyoming. For research.
Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Like most writers, he is fueled solely by caffeine and self-doubt.
The Craziest Research Trip I Ever Took
When I was writing my first novel, I decided to some first-hand research. The novel was set in a one-horse town in Wyoming. The story was based on an ancient Greek myth and the fictional town was called Thebes. Before I started to write it, I consulted a US atlas and scoured Wyoming for a small town that might have a Greek-sounding name. To my amazement, I found a town called Thermopolis. Even better, it was a small town with roughly the same population as my fictional town. So, I found out everything I could about Thermopolis and used photos of the area as reference as I wrote. But something wasn’t quite right. I felt I hadn’t quite captured the essence of the place. I decided I would have to experience it for myself. So, on a trip to New York, I went and spent three days in Thermopolis. Not quite as easy as it sounds though.
I did some checking on the internet and found out that the nearest airport was in the neighbouring town of Worland which has a small, regional airport. And Worland has a bus service that runs to Thermopolis. Perfect! Just one hitch. The airport is miles outside of Worland and there are no buses, no public transportation of any kind – not even a taxi. The only thing you could do was hire a car – but I didn’t drive. At this point, under any other circumstances, I probably would have jacked in the whole idea but I was determined to see Thermopolis for myself. So, I did the next natural thing…I called the Worland Chamber of Commerce. A lovely lady on the phone there told me that, yes, indeed; there were no buses or any other types of transportation from the airport. I asked her if there was some kind of a mini-bus in town that could be hired. She said the only mini-bus in town belonged to the Worland Senior Citizens Centre.
You see where this going now.
So, a few minutes later, I placed a call to the Worland Senior Citizens Centre. Another lovely lady answered the phone. I told her that I was writing a book on Wyoming and that I really needed to get to Thermopolis and that I didn’t drive and was there any way they could pick me up from the airport. The lovely lady on the other end of the line told me that – yes – if I gave a donation to the Worland Senior Citizens Centre, they could certainly pick me up from the airport. And drop me back!
And so it was that – a few weeks later – I found myself being picked up from Worland airport by a pleasant middle-aged woman driving the Worland Senior Citizens Centre mini-bus. We chatted amiably on the short drive into Worland (she seemed completely nonplussed at the notion of picking up this Irish stranger/author). And three days later, I was dropped back to the airport in the same fashion!
I found one of the interesting things about walking around Thermopolis was that it fit perfectly with the main character in my book. My main character is a mysterious stranger who arrives into town on foot. He spends most of the book wandering the town much to the consternation and puzzlement of the locals, who thinks he’s some kind of vagrant. I felt I was doing something similar. I was getting inside the head of my main character in a way that I never would have if I drove around the town as the locals and other tourists did.
The perfect example of this happened on the morning I checked out of my hotel. There was a large hill outside the hotel which I had incorporated into my book. I decided to get a closer look at it. So, bag on my back, I climbed halfway up and had a look around. After I’d come back down, I sat on a bench by the side of the road with my bag beside me. A car pulled out of the driveway of the hotel and stopped. The woman driving rolled down her window and shouted to me, “Are you okay?”
“Sorry?” I shouted back.
“Are you okay? Do you need some food?”
At once touched and baffled, I told her no, thank you, I was fine. Then, after a few minutes of bewilderment, I realised what had just happened. For that split second, I WAS the mysterious stranger wandering around town that the locals think may be some kind of vagrant, the one who gets strange looks as well as the occasional kind offer of food.
So, I can’t say for certain, but I think my trip to Thermopolis (and Worland) may have been one of the most unorthodox research trips undertaken by an author!
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The Craziest Thing with Erica Lucke Dean
The Craziest Thing with Jerry Underhill
The Craziest Thing with Amy Beech
The Craziest Thing with Lorca Damon
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