Writing About Something I Know Little About

This is something that I often do. I’m working on my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery and it has a lot to do with wild fires. I’m not a firefighter, except for one retired fireman married to my cousin, I have none in my family. (Cousin’s hubby wouldn’t be helpful because he fought city fires.)

Fortunately, I have a friend who is also in my critque group who has been a volunteer fireman for years and often works on the big forest fires around the state. Believe me, I’ve truly picked his brain.

I’m good at this because of course, I’ve never been a resident deputy sheriff either. Living where I do, we’ve had several I’ve become acquainted with over the years. In fact, I wrote an article for the newspaper about the woman who inspired me to write about a female deputy sheriff. As for the real-life deputies who came after her, the first was a layed-back guy who had some traits that I borrowed for Tempe. Even the more gung-ho type we have now was kind enough to let me see inside his truck so I’d know what one looked like.

And for all of us writing about murder–I doubt that many of us have known a murderer personally or what really makes one do what the or she has done. But it hasn’t stopped any of us from writing about murderers and the acts they commit.

What I think that says for all of us is that we’re good at researching what we want to know and have incredibly lively imaginations. And of course, we’re counting on our readers to be transported to the world that we’ve created.

What else can you think of that helps you to write about people and subjects you really don’t know much about?

Marilyn who also writes as F.M. Meredith

 

 

 

Researching a Mystery by Paty Jager

SH Mug Art (2)

I’m not a forensic coroner or a lawyer or even a law enforcer. I’m the wife of a rancher and I write murder mystery.

As I write this next book in my Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series I’ve come across questions that have required answers by professionals. When I start a book I know how the victim will die and where. But I ultimately need to know what their injuries would look like say if they fall off a cliff or are stabbed with a blunt object or shot at close range with a small caliber gun.

These are all things coroners have seen and can tell me. But how do I get a coroner on speed-dial or in my case speed e-mail? I’m part of a yahoo loop that is filled with every kind of occupation a mystery or murder writer might need expertise about. The yahoo loop is crimescenewriter@yahoogroups.com

That’s how I connected with a coroner who not only answered my question I put on the loop but also emailed back and forth with me as I asked more questions and what-if’s. She has lots of knowledge and being a budding writer is willing to help out fellow writers.

Writing the opening and how the victim is killed and what is discovered went well, knowing I had the correct information and knowledge. Then I brought in some secondary characters and a sub-plot. For the sub-plot I needed some legal information. I turned to my niece who is a para-legal and what she couldn’t answer she knew where to send me to find the information. After my niece and I discussed the issue I wanted brought up in my book and how I wanted it dealt with, she suggested I contact a law enforcement officer.  I happen to have one in the family. 😉

I sent off an email explaining what I wanted to do, how would it be handled, and after some back and forth ,that element of the sub-plot was worked out.

Writing mystery books is my favorite writing experience. Not only do I have to puzzle out a mystery that will keep the reader thinking, I have to make sure the forensics and laws will work in the story and enhance the overall realness of the crime and the killer.

Have you read books where you could tell the writer hadn’t researched the laws or forensics? Did it bother you while reading the book or is that something that doesn’t bother you?

~*~

Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.

You can learn more about Paty at:

her blog; Writing into the Sunset

her website; http://www.patyjager.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh My, I Forgot!

In my defense, I was thinking I was supposed to post on the last Monday, when actually it’s the 4th Monday, which is today and almost over.

I’d decided to write about “good” authors and “bad” authors, but not good and bad in the way you might think. I’m not referring to how someone writes, but rather, how someone acts.

Over the years, I’ve been around many popular or big name authors–and some who are only big name authors in the own minds.

In my experience, most of the most popular and well-known authors are friendly and nice, even to authors who aren’t as popular or well-known. Here are a few who come to mind: Mary Higgins Clark is probably at the top of my list because I’ve met her twice, once at a small mystery conference years and years ago, and the many years later at the Editors and Agents cocktail party in New York before the Edgars. She greeted me like we were old friends– and introduced me to her then new husband. She chatted with me for several minutes. A truly classy lady.

William Kent Krueger, who has won many awards for his writing, I’ve met many times over the years at various conferences and conventions. He always acts like he’s happy to see me and asks after my husband.

I can name others, but you get the idea.

Then there are those who are on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m not going to name names, but here are a few examples. There’s a quite popular author whom I ran into many times–but no matter how friendly I greet her, she acts like she has never seen me before or that perhaps I’ve turned invisible. I’ve seen her do that with others too, so know it’s not just me.

There have been a couple of times I’ve been on panels with authors who acted like I didn’t have the right to be seated by them–and certainly didn’t want to waste any time listening to what I had to say.

One more example, a writer who declared that far too many authors with small publishers attended a particular conference.

Guess what? I’ve never purchased another book by the above authors. No, of course it’s not going to hurt them any, but I know I wouldn’t enjoy reading something written by them once I knew their true feelings.

I’m not a “popular” or “well-known” author, but I if I were, I know that I’d be the kind of author that I am now–approachable and friendly.

Have any of you had experiences with the “good” and the “bad”?

Marilyn Meredith who is also know as F. M. Meredith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mystery That Almost Wasn’t

 

DSC_0194-final

     Now that the holidays are over and I’ve broken all my New Year’s resolutions—why do I bother to make them?—I’m about to publish my next novel. It’s a stand-alone mystery set in Southern California and San Francisco. It’s a book I wrote between the first and second books of my Florida series featuring Detectives Andi Battaglia and Greg Lamont. The book, which I called PSYCHIC DAMAGE, was hard for me to write, and when I finished it, I didn’t like it much.
I didn’t like the protagonist, a whiney, nail-biting woman named Eva Stuart who can’t make decisions on her own, is addicted to going to psychics to get advice on how to live her life, and leaves a really desirable man because she thinks he doesn’t love her as much as she loves him. The story begins with the murder of her favorite psychic.
When I finished writing PSYCHIC DAMAGE, I wondered why I had thought this would make a good story. I wasn’t happy with it, but I did what I had to do. I sent it out to agents, took it to a couple of conferences where I pitched it to agents and publishers, etc., etc., but I got no serious bites. I decided no one else liked my protagonist either.
So I buried the book and went on to write the second book in the Florida mystery series, SO MANY REASONS TO DIE. I liked that one. It didn’t give me any trouble, and I liked Andi Battaglia and Greg Lamont, my characters.
Several people who had read the whole or portions of PSYCHIC DAMAGE asked me what had become of it. I said I didn’t like it, so when I finished it, I put it aside. One person in particular, my writing teacher, kept reminding me of this novel that I had written. She kept telling me it was good. “Go back and read it,” she said. “See what you think now, after a couple of years.”
For a long time I didn’t do what she suggested, didn’t go back and read it. Finally, exasperated and having trouble with the third novel in the Florida series (must I always have trouble with my books? Will nothing ever come easily?) I reread PSYCHIC DAMAGE. And what do you know? It’s not a bad book at all. It’s a good book. I like it. I still don’t like Eva, my protagonist, but she does have a significant character arc in the book. She becomes a better, more self-assured person, no longer relying on psychics and able to stand on her own. She even stops biting her nails!
I hope when PSYCHIC DAMAGE is published, you’ll read it and let me know if you learn to like Eva Stuart while you read the book. I did!

There’s Always More to Learn

thumb_IMG_1225_1024

I love learning. Always have. There was a time in my life when I thought I’d have the privilege of being a perpetual student (which is to say, a professor…). That didn’t turn out to be my career, but it hasn’t stopped me from pursuing my dream. I read. I travel. I listen. And wherever I am, I learn something.

I’m taking a course now on body language — how to read it, how to write it, how to use it to communicate more effectively. I’m definitely learning a lot. Experts on body language will read postures, gestures and facial expressions to understand what people are really saying, their hidden words. It can be fun to test out in the real world!

IMG_2324

One of the things that struck me in this course on body language is how differently people learn. Some of us learn best by reading, others by listening, and others simply by doing — the old trial and error technique. I’m not surprised to hear that, but I’d never thought about how to apply that knowledge when I was teaching. I am now thinking very much about how to apply that knowledge when I am writing.

IMG_2011
Learning in a group setting by listening to an expert

Writing is a skill, and while there is an art to it that perhaps cannot be learned, there is certainly a craft that can be. With each book I write, I strive to improve. Throughout the year, through the benefit of courses, conferences and workshops, I learn more about technique, style, character development. I practice, beyond what appears on the pages of my book. I write short stories, enter competitions, seek feedback from experts. Membership in organizations like the Sisters in Crime is invaluable.

IMG_2097
I practice writing whenever I can — and whenever the cats will let me!

I’ve always thought I was the type of person who learned best through reading. But as I write more, and work on my craft more, I realize that I also learn through doing. Practice and more practice, as they say. Of course, it doesn’t feel like practice when it’s something you love to do, does it?

I hope the work pays off, and that as my readers work their way through the books of my series, they find that each book is better than the one before.

More information about my books and links to online retailers can be found at janegorman.com.