Pay No Attention to My Browsing History
I'm a mystery writer, not a murderer. Though, anyone looking through a record of my Web searches during the past year could be forgiven for assuming that I'm a human trafficker, drug dealer or worse. Here are a smattering of my searches for The Widower's Wife:
"How many people can squeeze onto a go-fast boat?"
"What quantity of drugs have been seized from cigarette boats?"
"What is the distance between the Bahamas and Miami?" (follow up)
"How does immigration check passports on day cruises?"
"How to sneak into the Miami without documents?"
"Average life insurance premiums for a thirty-one year old woman?"
I am always surprised by the answers I find to these questions. Thanks to Google's endless archiving of news articles, there always seems to be a story exploring the very topic in which I am interested, regardless of how lurid.
For example, in response to one of these searches, I found a 1994 New York Times Special Report on undocumented immigration that detailed how would-be Americans would sneak aboard day cruise ships and walk into the U.S. without ever showing anyone a passport, Visa or any other kind of documentation. Having spent most of my adult life in a Post-9/11 America where border security has been a chief public safety concern, I could never have imagined that it had once been so easy to come into the country undetected.
For my book, The Widower's Wife, I took some liberties with the timeline and used many of the methods outlined in the 1994 story. I assume that the "Loophole at the Pier" closed during the past two decades. Though, the cruise industry does have a considerable stake in fighting more stringent border controls given that long lines could sink the business for Caribbean day trips. So, it's possible that a character could slip through the cracks and enter the country this way. At least, plausible enough for me to add it to my narrative.
The premiums for life insurance policies were also readily available online. MetLife has charts of the average premiums paid by healthy people in various age groups.
As a journalist for more than a decade, I believe in research and writing what I learn rather than just what I already know. The research component is a big part of my process. And, thanks to the endless reams of data online, immersing myself in a subject--even one that might put me on an FBI watch list--has never been easier.