Acknowledging Expertise

I had the most interesting conversation with a plumber yesterday. “I need to back up a toilet,” I said. “Then I need to fix it.” It wasn’t a typical dilemma, and fortunately for me, he wasn’t a typical plumber.

“Well, once I got a call from a homeowner whose toilet was plugging up. They’d already tried snaking and plunging it, but couldn’t fix the blockage. She thought maybe the bowl was defective, and she called me, since I’d installed it. I pulled the bowl and turned it over. Out of the end, a G.I. Joe action figure was sticking out. His leg was twisted and his head was caught in the trap. Must’ve been a hell of a ride,” he said.

If it’s not one G.I. problem, it’s another.

Then he listened thoughtfully as I explained the scene I was working on, and why I needed a toilet problem, how long it would need to go unfixed, how my protagonist would ultimately find out what had gone wrong, etc. He seemed to enjoy this unexpected brainstorming session, and he gamely offered suggestions and talked me through the dependencies of each scenario. In the end, we came up with what I think will be an ideal plumbing predicament.

One of my favorite aspects of novel-writing is talking to experts in various fields to learn whatever it is that my characters know or do, or get to know a particular setting or trade to bring depth and authenticity to my books. Over the course of four novels, I’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing coal miners and cotton farmers, organists and research librarians, nuns and canonical lawyers, trumpet players and priests, and, of course, plumbers.

Whenever I identify a source I’d like to speak with, I’m always delighted and a little bit surprised that they are willing to spend minutes or even hours brainstorming with a complete stranger. Even when I was doing full-time freelancing, I was amazed that I could pick up the phone and interview just about anyone without having to beg or plead or pay. Of course, people do enjoy talking about their lives and interests. And who doesn’t like to feel useful? Who doesn’t enjoy being an expert on something? Or maybe it’s simply a change of pace from a business-as-usual day. As a charming and generous Carmelite nun told me once, during a chat about how a mother superior might reject a candidate seeking admission to the Novitiate, “I don’t get to do something like this very often!”

Though their names will appear on the acknowledgements pages of my novels, I’d like to give a general shout-out to all those who have shared their experience and expertise with me thus far, and thank in advance those upon whom I will call in the future. And if anybody in the Seattle area needs a really great plumber, call this one:

Terry Love
Love Plumbing & Remodel
(206) 949-5683