Ever tried to lock or pop? How about breaking? Doing isolations or freestyle? If this language seems foreign to you, it was definitely new terminology for me. Sure I watched dance shows and had some idea of the moves associated with Hip Hop, but I was still a novice. I spent countless hours watching videos to learn the moves and understand the jargon. If you happened by my house anytime in 2017 or early 2018, you would have spotted me trying to bust a few moves! More like, bust an arm or two! But I enjoyed the research associated with writing ROOM 555 and it even helped to limber me up a little.
The second phase of research for ROOM 555 happened more organically. And that is the unfortunate part! I was recovering from a bad car accident where I was t-boned in an intersection. While it was 100% the other person’s fault, my body did not lay blame, it only hurt. At the same time a friend of mine was also hospitalized for a bad fall. Being a senior she had a tougher time with healing and ended up in extended care at a private facility after her hospital stay. The two places in which she recovered, gave us great insight into the system and its many flaws. Visiting her regularly also gave me fodder for writing and we began to talk about a book where a young person’s grandparent was in a similar situation. And the premise for ROOM 555 was set!
Research for LOCKED UP came in different waves. I had a conversation with a friend several years back where we talked about the lack of books available around incarcerated parents and how youth needed books written on this theme. I had toyed with the idea and even began writing a few scenes. I remember chatting with my young second cousin about my ideas, and at sixteen, she thought the story would be powerful and an important one to tell. So, I set off!
Then when my publisher Formac/Lorimer suggested doing a book on youth in the system the main premise changed but I was still interested in writing such a story. I met with a friend who knows someone in the system and it turned out the young person was more than willing to talk and give me insight into life on the inside of a Juvenile Detention Center and life inside a prison setting. This person was in a place of wanting to give back to the community.
Originally, we aimed for a story of a youth in adult custody. However, after finding myself about 10,000 words in, the request came from the publisher to change the story to reflect our Juvenile System instead of adult prison. That meant a full re-write but I was glad to have had the conversation with a person living in the system who knew both worlds. That gave my character and story great authenticity.
I also had conversations with a few others touched by the system. Then I pored over government documents on youth custody to be clear on the legality of terms and sentencing. I also found a great documentary on life inside the very Juvenile Detention center about which I was writing. That gave me a view of the layout of the building, and in listening to the youth, real insight into their lives. Friends of mine also visited a prison in the lower mainland of BC for several years before the government cut the program, where they brought their writing talents to share with inmates who were crafting stories and poetry. I was able to borrow a few of the journals that were produced during that time and read several of the works by both those on the inside and those who were living on the outside. They also gave me clarity about the world of prison and the place where hope resides.
In both of my accessible, hi-lo novels for middle-grade and YA readers, I incorporated research into the story. The work on ‘getting it right’ took as much time or more, than the writing of the fictional story itself. But I loved the learning curve I was on and I loved being able to work that information into the story. Research took up a great deal of time but it often led to new ideas and ways for my characters to interact with their unique worlds. I hope I ‘got it right’ and where I may have made mistakes – those are my own and not from the shared knowledge of others! I hope you find an opportunity to meet ROONIE from ROOM 555 and STRIDER from LOCKED UP – they both have important stories to tell!