Now if I want a character to give the Boy Scout salute and I don't remember what it looks like, it's right at my fingertips. Then again, so is a bunch of other distracting stuff.
Often, the reader of a mystery or a thriller gets to learn something - something the writer either knows or had the pleasure of researching. (Of course, sometimes what you learn, especially if it’s on TV or in the movies, is wrong. Like female CSIs don’t wear four-inch heels and low-cut tops. And a lot of the flashy technology you see exists only in some screenwriter’s imagination.)
To research Girl, Stolen, I started by reading autobiographies of people who had gone blind. The more I read, the more I realized how having a guide dog can change your life if you're blind. Not only can you walk much faster, but if you have a cane people are worried they might get in your way or you might hit them, so they tend to stay away. But if you have a guide dog, people are much more likely to talk to you.
I had sort of thought guide dogs were like a GPS with fur, but it turns out you have to know where to go and direct your dog. I spent a day at the Guide Dog School for the Blind and learned a lot about guide dogs.
I also interviewed people who had gone blind and later asked them to read the book.
I even talked to an ophthalmologist about what happens when you go blind as the result of an accident.
I bought a cane and learned something about how to use it. Once I brought it on a school visit with me in Detroit. My phone fell behind the motel bed, which was fixed in place. Thanks to my cane, I was able to get it out.
Once I took the cane with me to a signing about 45 mintues away. The cane unfurled itself as I walked. When I walked in, the woman at the register looked at me and her mouth fell open. "How did you manage to drive here?" she asked. I was tempted to tell her I stuck it out the window and pointed it straight ahead.
Right now, I'm working on a sequel to Girl, Stolen, and researching new technologies that might allow my character to regain at least some of her sight.