By Linda Lovely
I recently was invited to talk with students in Creative Writing and English classes at a local high school. Part of my advice to those students interested in writing fiction was to go beyond the Internet to do research. A writer’s best resources are people who have actual hands-on experience, and, almost always, they’re more than willing to talk about their work and themselves.
My intent wasn’t to downplay the Internet’s value. I can and do Google topics to find a wealth of materials and information, though I also try to vet these sources to make sure they’re reliable. I also tap into YouTube to open visual/audio windows into experiences. For instance, I watched clips of Billy goats in rut and how-to drone-flying demos to help craft scenes in PICKED OFF, my second Brie Hooker Mystery.
Yet, there’s no substitute for speaking directly with experts. I realize some aspiring authors are shy and feel they may be imposing if they ask strangers to spend time answering their questions. Yet most people are flattered rather than annoyed and enjoy the opportunity to share information. I can’t ever recall being rebuffed by an information “source.” Of course, it’s important to make clear why you want the information and how you plan to use it. Now that I’m writing fiction, that simply means I’ll use their experiences and insights to help build more interesting, well-rounded characters and more credible plots.
For BONES TO PICK, my first Brie Hooker Mystery, I made in-person visits to goat farms and breweries (what a hardship) and quizzed the owners about the care and feeding of dairy goats and what’s involved in brewing moonshine. I also tasted goat fudge, and, of course, sampled moonshine. Visiting locations helped me visualize potential scenes and also triggered ideas about situations and activities for my characters. Joining a goat yoga class was a true adventure, and provided the idea for the opening scene in my third Brie book, BAD PICK, due out April, 2019!
So how do you find experts if you’re writing a crime novel? Even authors of mysteries featuring amateur sleuths should try to be as accurate as possible in describing law enforcement and legal procedures, forensics, investigative techniques, etc.
I’ve discovered my best resources through my local Sisters in Crime chapter and the phenomenal annual Writers’ Police Academy (WPA). This August I’ll be attending my seventh WPA event, a special MurderCon edition that will focus on using forensic tools to solve homicides. Over the years, these two sources—Sisters in Crime and the WPA—have been treasure troves of information and contacts. Through these organizations I’ve met everyone from FBI, ATF and Treasury agents to paramedics, coroners, detectives and defense attorneys. What’s more, since I’ve met them, I’m not a stranger calling them out of the blue. We have a prior connection and they know my request is legitimate.
So if you don’t know an answer, ask! Not only may you be surprised by the answer, you may find answers to questions you didn’t even know you should ask. Conversations can be a wonderful adventure. And what a fun way to start a New Year!