Saturday, July 18, 2009

Consulting the experts

There is nothing like consulting authority to demonstrate the paucity of imagination. My imagination, at any rate.

In Hang Fire, my mystery-in-progress, a VIP goes missing in the vast Wolverine Mountains State Park during the first week of December, the opening of muzzle-loading hunting season. I had built an entire chapter around the search for the VIP, using only my fevered imagination, a little history, and my sketchy knowledge of the real Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in upper Michigan.

No mystery writer worth his salt relies solely on what he can make up out of his head, so yesterday the Lady Friend and I went to see Bill Doan, operations chief of the Porkies park and boss of its search-and-rescue crew. What Doan told me is much, much more interesting than what I had made up in that draft chapter.

I'm not going to telegraph the important details, but I can tell you this:

1. My VIP victim couldn't have driven to the spot on the boundary road where he left his truck to go hunting. In reality that boundary road closes to wheeled traffic December 1 and becomes a snowmobile route. He'd have had to take a snowmobile.

2. Search and rescue would not use ATVs -- wheeled off-road all-terrain vehicles -- as I had envisioned. The trails are too rocky, and so is the shore of Lake Superior. The searchers would go on foot and snowshoe.

3. The sheriff's department of Ontonagon County, the locality on which the Porcupine County of my novels is based, no longer fields a search-and-rescue team because of budgetary woes. Instead, a trained group of civilian volunteers supplements the park rangers after their initial search for a missing person. However, S&R protocol is that the sheriff is nominally in charge, since the park is within his bailiwick. In practice he will defer to the Porkies operations chief as incident commander, although he and his deputies are available to assist.

All this and much more will add the verisimilitude of detail. Yesterday morning was well spent in Bill Doan's presence, and today I'm going to get started on revising that chapter.


  1. You actually make research and revising sound like fun!

  2. I can point you to online training materials we use for Evanston EMA and CERT on Incident Command structure as well as bore you to tears about my little song and dance that I give to our teams when we are called out. The training materials are FEMA / Homeland Security.

  3. Mike, that would be terrific. If you don't think the URL should be public please send it to me in private email.