Not much...but probably more than the average person. You see, I grew up in a tiny town in eastern Kentucky, population 1800. We had one red light, one high school, and one person who doubled as coroner and local funeral home director. (Occasionally, the coroner also operated a tow truck service since he was on the scene of most accidents anyway.) During high school I dated a guy who worked for the local funeral home as an all-around go-fer ? he helped with all the non-medical related activities, including body retrieval. And some of the stories he told me made my hair stand on end ? bodies sitting up in the hearse, for instance, from latent muscle spasms and/or rigor mortis, and scaring him so badly that he ran off the road! And a few tricks of the trade for getting bodies to look so nice for viewing ? funeral directors are part artist/part magician.
Fast forward about twenty years and I was plotting the Body Movers series ? a woman who works for Neiman Marcus in an upscale Atlanta mall by day gets pulled into helping her brother move bodies from crime scenes by night! I guess those gory details my teenage boyfriend had told me planted a seed of morbid curiosity because it seemed like the perfect setup to give my main character access to crime scenes, but with no authority whatsoever to be solving them, and a great lead-in for the darkly comedic tone I was going for. I did need more to go on, however, than rusty memories of what, in hindsight, might have been embellishments of incidents to impress/scare a young girl. So I began researching body hauling/body retrieval/body carrying on the Internet... only to find that there was very little information available.
You'll be somewhat comforted to know that the field of mortuary is a tightly guarded occupation ? you must belong to professional organizations to have access to certain publications and information. I was able to score a few used periodicals on eBay, but I knew I had to have something more concrete to go on in order to lend as much authority as possible to the Body Movers series. As luck would have it, a fellow I went to high school with (not the guy I dated, not sure what happened to him), had gone on to become a mortician, and coroner to boot. So I called him and arranged to go back to my home town and interview him. He was an excellent source for what is supposed to happen on a body retrieval. A good fiction writer, of course, starts with what's supposed to happen, and then twists it for their own purposes! I am loving writing this series and can't wait to see what trouble the characters get into next.
Oh, and I've had people ask me for tips on moving bodies "just in case" they ever need it, so here's a tip: When lifting a body, use your legs, not your back.
Tomorrow: Some crazy things I've done to research scenes.