Tuesday Tip: Do-It-Yourself Research is Safer

Today’s tip is a source I found while cleaning out all those emails last week, and it reminded me of a funny story, with me playing the role of the “naive and somewhat idiotic writer.”

So, I was writing a personal essay. Now, you wouldn’t think a writer would need research for a personal essay, and generally speaking, when I write about events that happen to me personally, I pretty much know the ins and outs involved. BUT, this was a case where a large, retail chain store was involved (K-Mart, if you must know) and it occurred to me in the midst of this splendiferous essay that perhaps this store is regional rather than national.

Honestly, the store wasn’t really integral to the story, except for the teensy little fact that the store was the setting of the event and the store name was in the title of said essay. So I said to myself, “Self, you’d best look up K-Mart and make sure they’re all over the place so people reading this essay in Montana or Michigan or wherever will know what you’re talking about.”

First, I went to the website. Because even though this was back in the dark ages of my writing career, we still had the Great and Powerful Internet. And just for the record, K-Mart has a lovely website. But they do not have a big, giant map of the US of A with little dots where the stores are located. They have a “write in your state and we’ll show you the K-Marts near you” thingie. I ask you, people: who has time to look up every state?

So I called the information number on the website (it was a 1-800 number). Then I asked the nice gentleman, “Are there K-Marts all over the country?” And he said, “What state are you looking for a K-Mart in?” (Which is terribly poor grammar, but I did not feel as if I should correct him, as the call was long-distance.)

So I said, “I just need to know if there are K-Marts all over the United States.”

A long pause followed. Then the not-so-nice gentleman asked, “Why do you need that information, m’am?”

“I’m writing a story,”I said (which was technically not true, but I thought it sounded better than personal essay) “and I just need to know if there are K-Marts in all 50 states and possibly in Canada.”

Another pause, followed by, “Perhaps you could talk to a supervisor, m’am. I’m not allowed to divulge that sort of information.”

Wherein it suddenly occurred to me that this gentleman thought I was up to something of a nefarious nature. What is the world coming to, when a person can’t ask an innocent question about the location of stores throughout the US of A (and possibly Canada)?

“Never mind!” I squeaked, and hung up the phone tout de suite!

The point being, if you want information about subjects that might cause folks to ask for their supervisor, you’d best look it up yourself.

Which reminds me of today’s tip! Here is a wonderful link for would-be mystery writers called “Blood at the Source.”

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16 thoughts on “Tuesday Tip: Do-It-Yourself Research is Safer

  1. Because clearly you were strategically planning a massive al-Qaeda attack with synchronized suicide bombings in the sporting goods section of all the Midwestern stores. Oy.

  2. Hey Cathy,At first I thought you were kidding, then I realized it actually happened. How sad it is you can't get a straight answer. My explanationa are:It was the guy's first day on the job and he was afraid to divulge such confidential informationHe's a writer with a vivid imagination.Note: We have a K-Mart (now called Big K around here, I think) nearby, but honestly there never is much traffic in the parking lot when I visit. Maybe it's because of the Wal-Mart down the road, or maybe someone called to ask for directions and was told that was classified info.Donna V.

  3. Annette, I was afraid to say anything more, even joking…for a week, I worried agents would show up at my door. Knock. Knock. "M'am, we understand you were asking questions about K-mart."Thank you, Vicky. I am woman (writer), hear me roar.Good to know, Eric. For some reason, I thought K-Mart was a Southern thing. Guess that's the other huge retail chain store.Oh, yes, Donna, it was real. Just another weird day in Cathy C. Hall's Writing World.And, Val. He *did* have an accent. 😉

  4. I think they are national, but I suppose you can't go on the "I think" thang. I'm not surprised at the response from the guy (Bob or Peggy as his name may have been) with all the law suite happiness still being popular. maybe you should google the question "is k-mart a national company" but I suppose it would pull up Wikipedia and as you know that is not necessarily a factual answer. Oh well I enjoyed the post 😀

  5. I think at the time, I just decided to assume K-Mart was national, Paige. I eventually sold the essay, and the editor never asked, "What the heck is a K-Mart?" so it worked out okay. 😉

  6. That was a great story!In hindsight I think I'd keep the guy on the phone, pour a nice big cup of coffee, get comfy and start listing states – asking for the address of each store location in each state – and see how long he'd stay one the phone. Torturing Customer Service 101. 🙂

  7. OMG Cathy C!! This is hilarious! And the comments left are so funny, too! You've got a great and talented Comment Crowd! And yep, we used to have K-Marts all around until Walmart started taking over a few years ago…..

  8. Lisa, I was too nervous to think about what he thought I was up to! :-)And Tanya, you have quite the wicked side to you (but I kinda like it :-)Oh, I agree, Becky. I have Commenters Extraordinaire (including you!).

  9. You know, Cathy, you are now on some deep dark secret K Mart watch list. Maybe even one that extends to other retail stores… You troublemaker, you. :)But I do wonder what the supervisor would've said…

  10. Thanks for the laugh, Cathy! It's not hard at all for me to imagine you sitting there trying to get your question answered. 🙂 Glad everything worked out in the end. P.S. Have you heard of Shop-ko?

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