Reminder: My NOOK contest will end June 10th. Don’t skip a chance to win a NOOK Simple Touch. And, I’ll have gift certificates for second and third place winners. You can’t win if you don’t enter. Rules are here.
Write what you know, everyone says. If I did that, I’d have written one (maybe) very boring book. Write what you can learn is a much better piece of advice. Since I’ve never been a cop or a covert ops specialist, I have to rely on research to make my books ring true.
The Internet makes doing research much easier than it was in days of having to go to the library, but it’s not your only resource. It’s a great place to start, but sometimes you need more.
I’ve been working on a sequel to DEADLY SECRETS. As readers of this blog know, I’m not much of a plotter, so I don’t do a lot of research until I come to a place I need the details. After all, if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I can’t very well be looking it up, can I?
DEADLY SECRETS is set in a small town. Not wanting to get into the Jessica Fletcher/Cabot Cove Syndrome, I didn’t want another graphic homicide to be the backbone of the new book. After all, the murder in DEADLY SECRETS was the first homicide in decades in my made-up town of Mapleton, Colorado. Thus, I decided to use a cold case as the basis for the new book.
Nook Contest Question #7 (Remember to use the Contact Form to answer the question, and put “Nook Contest” in your response.)
What television show do I credit with my start in writing?
And now, back to today’s post:
First decision was to figure out how the cold case comes to the attention of my cop hero. I decided to have it based on a dog discovering a bone. I wrote about 5 chapters before I consulted one of my expert friends to find out whether my cops had done an acceptable thing in digging up the area where the bone was found and bringing everything back to sift through the dirt in more favorable conditions.
What he told me was that if there was any possibility the bone was human, that the cops would have to call in the Coroner’s Office immediately and leave the bone where it was. Yikes! Who knew?
Now, I could have had the person who found the bone (an Animal Control officer) not know this and bring the bone to the police station, but my expert told me that everyone would have been trained in procedure, and the last thing I wanted was to have my cops be stupid.
Rewrite. Note to self: check facts before writing 5 chapters based on an assumption, no matter how logical it seems. I ended up having a very informative chat with someone at the Coroner’s Office. After I apologized for taking up his time, he said he was more than happy to help someone get things right, since there’s so much wrong information out there, especially on television.
Next plot point to research: one of my eccentric characters was blowing up tree stumps on his property. Is this legal in the county on which I’m basing my book? If it’s not legal,ll my cop will behave differently than if it is. An Internet search of the Sheriff’s Office’s website yielded a contact information officer. I emailed her and she was happy to provide me the answer I needed, plus a little bonus information—I’d given my character 30 acres, but the PIO informed me that if he had 35 acres, he’d avoid a lot of zoning regulations. Find/Replace. My character now lives on a 35 acre property.
1. Cultivate sources. These can be your friends, people you meet at conferences, on line, on an airplane, in line at the movies. You can ask a doctor, your nail tech—anyone who knows more about the field in question than you do. I belong to a number of Yahoo groups that are filled with experts willing to help writers get their facts straight. These focus on crime fiction, but there should be groups you can tap in any field.
2. Use the Internet to find the local agency/organization/expert. Most will have contact information. If you’re shy, email is a great way to start. But, if you explain that you’re writing a book, I’ve found most people are happy to help. For ROOTED IN DANGER, I searched Facebook looking for a pilot who would answer a couple of questions, and he not only responded, but took an active interest in helping me get things right throughout the book..
3. Use the phone. Usually, the person who answers the phone isn’t going to be the person you need, but they’ll know where to transfer your call. And, with only 1 exception, I’ve always been called back.
Next week, I’ll be back talking about what to do with all these facts you’re going to get.