We asked Maria V. Snyder to share an experience: A fun story about her book research escapades. From what we can tell…she’s had a few of them.
I’m not sure if this experience qualifies as fun, but it certainly was my most…interesting experience I’ve had while researching a book. The book was SPY GLASS and I had a scene where my main character, Opal goes undercover in a prison. Now, I’ve seen all the prison TV shows and movies, but I guessed this wasn’t how it was done, and since I have a friend who worked at a prison… I asked her for a tour. Now, the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill is a maximum security facility for men that had the infamous riots back in 1989 (anyone remember?), and the public was not allowed inside. My friend managed to get me permission by promising the Administrator (a.k.a. warden) that Brad Pitt would play him in the movie. (When the time comes, I hope Brad accepts the role and shaves his head for the part – otherwise I’m in big trouble ;).
My tour started in the regular cell blocks. I learned where to walk so I wouldn’t get spit on, and I learned that the inmates were not secured in their cells all the time. They lined up for lunch and as 50 or so huge guys walked pass, I wondered what was stopping them from grabbing us. It was me, my friend, Kathy, and three other officers – none of us armed. We were vastly outnumbered. Kathy took one look at my face and said, “Relax, I’ll protect you.” and I thought, “Yeah, that’s nice, but who’s going to protect you!”
Once the inmates were at lunch I talked to a Sergeant who was known as “The Black Sergeant.” Yes, he was a black man and that’s how he introduced himself. I asked him some questions and I said something about guards. Well, I was quickly corrected. He said, “Guards work at the mall. We are correctional officers or COs for short.” He also referred to me as Visitor number One Three Six Five. If you’ve read SPY GLASS you know he made an impression on me and was a “character” in the book. Most of the COs I met thought I was in training. There are over 100 female COs who work in the male facility. Kathy was a Lieutenant and the first and only female CO allow to work in the SMU (Special Management Unit) which is like super max security.
I had an eye-opening experience. I learned people with lots of time on their hands can be quite clever when constructing shanks and zingers (electrical devices that heat water – and it’s water from the toilet since they don’t have sinks in their cells) and other items (a toaster made from a book – no lie!). I learned that the candy coating on M&M’s can be used as make-up and that some inmates have multiple girlfriends on the outside that visit on different visiting days of the week (Monday girl has no idea Tuesday girl, Wednesday girl, etc… even exists).
Not every thing was shocking. There’s a group of inmates who are rehabilitating abused dogs, teaching them to overcome their shyness or aggression or fears and, once they’re better, they’re adopted by a family. These guys are proud of their puppies and show them off like proud parents. They even have pictures of dogs they’ve worked with and and have graduated to a family. I sense the dogs are helping the inmates just as much and it gave me hope that the inmates will also graduate to lead normal lives with loving families.
And the most amazing thing was my friend, Kathy. She’s retired now, but she worked in Camp Hill for the last 25 years and she loved her job. She would say, “Every day is different,” and had such an upbeat, positive attitude even after working day after day with the dredges of society. Just listening to her horror stories would make me want to bomb the facility and save the world (probably why I’m a writer and not a CO!).
A portion of the research I did went into SPY GLASS, but I still had to adjust my Wirral prison to match my story (it’s okay, because it’s fiction ;). However, at a book signing soon after SPY GLASS was released, a man came up to get his book signed. He thanked me for getting the prison scenes right – seems he is a CO at a facility two hours away from the signing and appreciated reading the little details that proved to him that I knew what I was talking about. Yes! (fist pump).
In the name of research, I’ve learned how to ride a horse, pick a lock, and blow glass, but of all my “adventures” nothing comes close to my day in prison – hopefully my first and LAST day ever!
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She’s fought death and won.
But how can she fight her fears? Avry knows hardship and trouble. She fought the plague and survived. She took on King Tohon and defeated him. But now her heart-mate, Kerrick, is missing, and Avry fears he’s gone forever.
But there’s a more immediate threat. The Skeleton King plots to claim the Fifteen Realms for his own. With armies in disarray and the dead not staying down, Avry’s healing powers are needed now more than ever.Torn between love and loyalty, Avry must choose her path carefully. For the future of her world depends on her decision.
Maria V. Snyder changed from being a meteorologist to a novelist in 1995, when she began writing to keep her sanity while raising two children. Since then, she has published numerous freelance articles in magazines and newspapers, and teaches fiction-writing classes at the local college and area libraries. The classes give her the wonderful opportunity to encourage fellow writers, and to keep improving her craft.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Maria always had a fascination with big storms. Dreaming of chasing tornados, Maria earned a bachelors of science degree in meteorology at Penn State University. But she discovered, much to her chagrin, that forecasting the weather wasn’t one of her skills. In order to chase tornados you had to predict where they might form. Creating fantasy worlds where she has complete control of the weather was more agreeable to her.
Maria’s research on food-tasting methods with an expert chocolate taster, her husband, turned out to be a delicious bonus while writing Poison Study.
Maria has a brown belt in Isshinryu Karate, and enjoys playing volleyball and the cello. Traveling in general and via cruise ship in particular are her biggest distractions from writing. Maria has traveled to Belize, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal.
Maria lives with her husband, son, daughter and yellow lab, Hazelnut, in Pennsylvania where she is at work on more LUNA novels. She is also pursuing a master’s degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University.
Readers are welcome to contact Maria at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.