I hate that saying. If I wrote what I knew, my books would be so dull they would put a sloth to sleep. I don't have that exciting of a life, I know a limited number of people and I haven't traveled widely. THIS is why I write about what I don't know. Then I am forced to do research and then what I find out is FASCINATING!
For instance, I don't know much about the US Marshals and yet they strike me as a super cool bunch. They like to maintain a low profile and keep mean people off the streets. After writing a book solely based on a team of Marshals, my editor wanted me to go back and do more extensive research to MAKE SURE I had represented them accurately.
After a half day wallowing in mortification, I got off my tookus and made an appointment with my local branch for a tour. They were very polite, VERY professional, and were very willing to show me around. While that part was nice, I had to admit I was nervous. Everyone we met at the federal courthouse was armed and just looked plain dangerous (not in a bad way, but I wouldn't want to find myself on the wrong side of the law with them chasing after me. Just sayin'). While I can't go into too much detail of what I learned that day (Can't even explain why, sorry) here are a few things I got out of it to add a little color to my characters:
1- US Marshals don't crave the spotlight. Flying under the radar is their greatest ally in chasing down bad guys
2- A sense of humor comes second to upholding the law. Not kidding. Trust me, if you crack a joke about the law, they won't think it's funny. I should know. I tried.
3- Don't mess with them. Not that I was looking (ahem *blushes*) but those guys are ripped. They work out every day and they stay fit for one purpose, which is to stay alive when the bad guy decides to start whaling on them. One thing they kept on repeating to me throughout the tour was, "If you want a fight, will give it to you and then you learn to respect us."
4- They NEVER give up. Towards the end of the tour, I was beginning to think that this characteristic was a bit of a genetic defect or chemical anomaly. There isn't anywhere you can run, a country you flee to or place you can hide where they won't find you. So really, instead of evolving from apes, these guys were evolved from a rare branch of bloodhound.
And finally and what I think is most important, aside from the fact that they are armed to the teeth, could do their job with just their physical prowess and are a really cool branch of law enforcement, they had a deep sense of humanity. Even as we stood there looking at the prisoners in the holding cell, talking about what they had done to get themselves in that predicament, the Marshal turned to me and said: You'd be surprised how many of these guys are really decent, but made one really bad decision.
Then they cuffed me.