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Today I have the pleasure of having April Henry author of The Body in the Woods stop by to talk about the most bizarre thing she ever did in the name of research! Don't forget to read down to the end to have a chance to win a copy of The Body in the Woods as well as a whistle!
What’s the most bizarre thing I ever did for research? That’s an easy one. Last year I heard about a class through my kung fu school about how to fight back in close quarters. I signed up. I’ll admit I did not think about who the class was meant to appeal to, ie, not 54-year-old females who are not cops.
The class was held at a martial arts studio where they practice the Russian marital art called Systema. I walked into a huge space, almost like a hangar. Twelve men were already there.
Twelve men in their 30s. Who all turned out to be cops. Cops on SWAT teams at various agencies. (I’m only exaggerating a little. One guy was a retired cop. And there was one young guy who was the son of a cop.) I felt decidedly out of place. In fact, as soon as I opened the door, I wanted to leave.
Then when I saluted onto the training floor the way we do at my kung fu school, I was informed, “This is America! You don’t have to do that!” Then the same guy barked at us that we should begin by doing knuckle push ups.
I have never done knuckle pushups in my life.
I soldiered on.
But things got better after that. The guys were intrigued that I was taking the class for research. They were taking it to save themselves from injury or possibly to save their lives, but they respected that I wanted to get it right.
Since I’m the only woman at my kung fu school who regularly spars, I’ve come to enjoy being the fly on the wall around guys, hearing how they talk among themselves. During the breaks in this class, the guys talked shop, like why you never want to try to shoot through a BMW headrest, as one of them had learned the hard way (the core is made of stainless steel).
I like cops. They remind me of emergency room physicians (I used to work in health care). The emotional distance, the macabre jokes, the high energy, the lack of hesitation. In both types of jobs, you would do nobody any good if you freaked out, shrieking, “Oh my God, what just happened here, somebody just stabbed that lady and there’s blood all over!” No. You need to be able to do what needs to be done, whether it’s subdue the suspect or stop the bleeding.
At the very end of class, you sat in your own car and someone sat behind you. On the seat beside them were a training gun, a training knife, a length of rope, and a plastic bag. They attacked you with these one by one and you had to fight back using what we had just learned. For example, you might be able to hammer their hand against the steering wheel, or slam the seat back into them. If a plastic bag is ever placed over your head, what you do is suck it in, bite it with your front teeth, and stick your tongue out the hole. You still have a plastic bag over your head, but you can breath.
The first time, I panicked when I felt the plastic clinging to my face. I sucked it into my mouth, but then I tried to gnaw it with my molars. Not only did I not succeed, but I started to get pretty low on oxygen, which raised my panic level even further. The second time, though, I remembered my training.
Will I ever write about a character who has a plastic bag put over his or her head? Hell, yes! Plus the principles of Systema are applicable in everyday life (Keep moving, breathe, relax, and maintain your posture.)
Right now I’m considering taking a three-day “Urban Escape and Evasion” course. As part of the course, you are kidnapped, hooded, cuffed and taken somewhere dark and uncomfortable to start your day. You are expected to escape, find your own transportation using “social engineering,” and make your way to a location.. Meanwhile, expert trackers hunt you down, and if they catch you, you have to start again from further away.
The same folks also offer a class called “Surviving Deadly Contact. When I read the description, it talked about how you would learn where the most dangerous spot in the room is and how to handle multiple attackers. I was nodding along, thinking it all sounded interesting, until I came to this: “Open to civilians. You will need an AR type rifle, handgun, and ammo. Camping free.”
I'm pretty game for anything, but I have to admit I am not THAT game.
For every sale made in person or online at Powells.com the first week The Body in the Woods is on sale, I will donate $1.69 to MCSO SAR.
More about The Body in the Woods:
In this new series told from multiple perspectives, teen members of a search and rescue team discover a dead body in the woods.
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.
This first book in April Henry’s Point Last Seen YA mystery series is full of riveting suspense, putting readers in the middle of harrowing rescues and crime scene investigations.
Pre-order the book: Barnes and Noble, IndieBound
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