Researching Your Book

magnifying_glass_1Somebody once asked me, “What in the world would you research? Your novel is fiction. It’s all made up!”

I had to bust out laughing.

First of all, I’ve never been a serial killer nor do I ever plan to be.  So researching serial killers took some time. I admit to watching a ton of Criminal Minds with my friend Aubrey (who I will never forgive for saying “Boo!” at a particularly perfect moment and making me jump out of my skin) and spending the afternoon soaking up video anthologies about serial killers (popcorn included) with my friend Linda, a psych nurse who gave me insight on some very weird behaviors.

Furthermore, although I know a lot about Latino culture and I’ve visited Miami, I have no idea where the ritzy houses are located–so I had to find out.  Likewise, I had to learn where hookers hang out.

I took a class in Forensics for Writers, I had coffee many times with a friend who is a police officer (not to mention the zillion emails I sent).   I walked through department stores scrutinizing layouts, and I even had a few beers at a local Irish Pub to study the ambiance.  As an aside, I’ve learned I fancy stouts and porters.  Who knew?

I researched poker hands, checked out the various types of violations health inspectors hand out, I learned what kinds of cars are used in undercover work and recalled my time and the cross-dressed ladies I met in New Orleans on Bourbon Street.

I’ve spent a whole lot of time around rabbits and I drew on that knowledge when writing about Norman–Apple’s bunny.

So just know that when people ask  what in the world you research for a novel, they’re not trying to be offensive, they just really don’t know how much work goes into writing a book.  How many hours of sweat, love, imagination, work and research go into making a story believable.  Because if the research is lacking, the first criticism is about how the book lacks realism.

One of the best compliments we can receive as writers is when readers ask if we did any research because if we did our jobs right, our facts are woven seamlessly into the story.

Write on!


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Say Yes


Sometimes in life you have to leap and let the net appear. The same is true with writing.

For instance, recently the Toyota trial about cars speeding up without warning was going on in the metro are where I live. I heard that Bloomberg News needed a correspondent to cover the verdict. I was all over it! This great opportunity to write for a major news outlet seemed to be perking along until I was asked the question, “How many trials have you covered?”

There’s no use in being dishonest in life, so I said, “Zero.”  Sadly, Bloomberg wanted someone who had covered trials before.  I understand that.  Even though I knew I could handle whatever they threw at me, to them, I am an unknown quantity.  They passed.

I felt the Big Break pass before my eyes.

What did I do?  I seized an opportunity.

It just so happens that very same day The Norman Transcript, for whom I am a regular freelance contributor, approached me about covering a different, high-profile trial.

I said yes.

And guess what? I made page A1 above the fold.  I shared the coveted space with the editor who covered the other half of the day’s events.  So, the next time Bloomberg or someone else calls and asks if I have trial experience, I can say, “You bet!”

As for me, when opportunity knocks, it’s about saying yes and more. It’s about saying, “Welcome!”

I’ve worked hard to get my name out there.  The break will come again and I’ll be ready.

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Starting to Write


Stephen King is on to something.

Sometimes just staring at the blank screen is daunting.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Let your characters float around your head and talk to each other–and you–for a while. They’ll help you figure out what you’re going say before you sit to write. That’s the good part.  The <em>best</em> part is that they won’t likely tell you everything and they’ll take you on a journey as you write.

This method works for me as a feature writer, too.  I go and do my interviews.  I take notes and pictures. Then I drive home to write. During the drive, I mull over what I’ve learned. What I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, felt. I go into my mental fitting room and try on different leads. Some don’t fit. Others do, but they look better on the hanger than they do in real life.  So I ditch them.

Sometimes, before I even reach my computer, I end up with a terrific idea for a lead! And when inspiration doesn’t hit me while I’m on the road, at least I’ve eliminated various ideas that won’t work. I accept progress in whatever form it takes.

So, as I embark on my second novel, I’m letting my characters talk to me. They ping around my brain and when they hit the wall, they bounce off and another idea forms. Through this process, I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me.

So the scary part of writing will be in the plot, not staring at the screen.

Write on!

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