Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spy Gadgets (indulging my inner MoneyPenny)

When I set out to write my first mystery, I knew that my character, a teenage private investigator, would need some cool gear to help her document the dirt she digs up.  But where to start?  These days nearly everyone has a cell phone with photo and video capability, but I wanted something more.

I started by thinking about what kind of tools Berry might have for listening in on conversations?  What about for filming video?  How would she scan or copy documents in a hurry and without drawing attention to herself? 

With these questions in mind, I started checking out websites that sold spy gear online.  I figured my character was likely to get her stuff online at first, but eventually, her best friend, an electronics whiz, would reverse engineer them and come up with even better gadgets for her to use in the field. 

One of my favorite gadgets in the book was discovered with a simple online search: ninja claws.  They're apparently useful for scaling walls.  Combined with a grappling hook and some foot spikes, you are ready to go.  You can buy the entire "Ninja Combo" here.  How awesome is that?  And, yeah, you better believe the ninja claws make an appearance in Spies & Prejudice.  Twice.  They are that awesome.

I also gave my character a pair of "Spy-glasses" - eye glasses embedded with a memory chip and video technology.  These are available to purchase too, although my character had a high resolution pair made by her best friend.  The great thing about the Spy-glasses is they made her look a little more goofy than normal, which set up the first scene where her "Darcy-like" love interest insults her appearance.

I interviewed a woman who worked for a company that made actual spy gear for law enforcement and government workers.  She couldn't tell me what kind of products they made, but she was willing to talk to me about my ideas, and let me know if they were plausible.  Turns out the "button cam" (a video camera embedded in a shirt button) is really a thing.  The tennis bracelet that doubles as a small fuse with explosives?  Not so much. (But I still kind of want one).

I also came up with an idea for a "receiver," a handheld machine that looks like an iPod, but magnifies sounds to help eavesdrop on people's conversations.  Turns out this one has a lot of technical issues, because it can't hone in on a specific sound, and will essentially magnify all of the sounds in the area.  So I wrote those "issues" into the scene where the gadget is used.

There are a few other gadgets that make their way into the story, but one of my favorites is an earbud that lets my main character's friends communicate with her while she's in the middle of a mission.  It was fun to place Berry in the middle of a scene and have her friends following what's happening and coaching her from the sidelines.

Writing spy gadgets into my story was one of the most enjoyable parts for the writing process.  I loved discovering tools for Berry, and then figuring out how to integrate them into the plot. 

Talia Vance
Talia Vance has worked as a horse trainer, a freelance writer and an attorney.  She lives in Northern California with her husband, children and a needy Saint Bernard named Huckleberry.  Talia always thought she’d grow up to write “the Great American Novel” but her tastes ran more along the lines of torrid romance and fast-paced thrillers. So did her life.  But that’s another story. Her YA thriller Spies & Prejudice (Egmont) will be published in Spring 2013, and her YA debut Silver (Flux) is coming Fall 2012.

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