Just Like Me, Only Better by Carol Snow
By Carol Snow
When people hear “novel” and “research,” they tend to imagine historical fiction writers poring over dusty documents, scrolling through microfiche, and interviewing rheumy-eyed old women. I write contemporary novels, which means I am off the hook on the dusty documents front (good thing, since I suffer from allergies and asthma). But I still have to put in plenty of hours to get my facts and details straight.
Case in point: My latest book, Just Like Me, Only Better, tells the story of Veronica Czaplicki, a struggling, single mother who bears a striking resemblance to an imploding young starlet named Haley Rush. After Haley’s manager hires her to be a celebrity double, Veronica lives a kind of double life, with one foot in her staid suburb and the other in the Hollywood’s glamorous glare. Writing the suburban part was easy. I put Veronica in my town, Fullerton, which is about forty miles from Los Angeles. Veronica shopped at my grocery store and hung out in my parks. The only “field work” I did involved dragging my family to a local Red Robin restaurant, where I embarrassed my children by transcribing the waitress’s banter and noting the décor.
Portraying Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the celebrity lifestyle took far more effort. Forget microfiche: I strained my eyes instead by staring at countless YouTube videos of people getting hair extensions and spray tans. Did you know that almost all of the natural hair used in extensions starts off black and is then dyed various colors? Me neither! And how ‘bout them spray tans? From my notes:
Guide color – applied with tan, washed off after 8 hrs.
Ingredients: plant extracts, alcohol, moisturizing agents & preservatives, DHA
How it works: DHA (colorless sugar) reacts with skin proteins, including amino acids in outermost layer of skin. Reaction > brown color. Higher DHA = darker tan. Works w/ natural pigments.
Before – exfoliate; wax & shave
There was more, but I’ll spare you. In general, I find that more information is always better, because I can pick and choose the details that will enhance my story. The research is not just to fill in facts and add color; sometimes it sparks ideas. For example, with this crucial spray tan information in hand, I sent my poor protagonist into the booth with rough arms and hairy legs. Sometimes I am very mean to my characters.
Other things I looked at online: clips of film premieres, fuzzy YouTube videos of paparazzi chase scenes, Beverly Hills real estate listings (love those virtual tours). I watched Rachel Zoe and read A LOT of People and Us magazines.
A couple of times, I broke down and drove to L.A., where a friend drove me through Hollywood and Beverly Hills, all the way along Mulholland Drive until I’d chosen a housing development for the young star Haley Rush – as well as a spot for her to park her truck and scramble down a steep hillside during a mini-breakdown. My friend helped me pick lunch and dinner spots for Veronica as well as an apartment for her love interest, C-list actor and A-list hunk Brady Ellis.
There’s an old writing adage: “Write what you know.” To that I’d add: “Don’t be afraid to add to your knowledge.”
And always exfoliate before you tan.
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