Researching Everything under the Sun! by S.L. Smith
Few things turn me off faster than books with factual errors. I tend to put them down—permanently. For that reason, it’s important I get it right. If I don’t know it, I research it. I’m talking about the smallest details. Some of the research is almost as fun as the writing. Some of it is a headache.
Let’s start with the enjoyable stuff. I ventured into writing mysteries only because a friend spent thirty-five years as a cop, and agreed to perform a reality check on the law enforcement aspects. One battle won.
It didn’t take long to discover I also needed a contact in the medical examiner’s office. I had to muster the courage to make that call. Thankfully, I connected with a gem. This investigator answered all of my questions for book one, Blinded by the Sight. When the book came out, I met him and gave him a copy. That paid off in spades.
He assisted, again, with Running Scared: The Second Pete Culnane Mystery. At that time, he mentioned several items I should verify with my law enforcement expert. I explained this time my law enforcement expert needed, but lacked, an insider’s knowledge of the St. Paul Police Department.
He lined up two. One is the head of homicide. The other is a retired investigator/detective. He obtained permission for me to call both men, and provided their direct phone numbers. Thanks to him, both St. Paul PD contacts took my calls and answered all of my questions. I was blown away! I learned so much from them.
I spoke with the St. Paul Fire Marshall to determine which vehicles would be sent to the scene, who would be in the vehicles, and what they’d do on site. Needing answers about hospital procedures and descriptions of the injuries, I connected with an emergency medicine physician. Both of those men were wonderful!
High school kids play a significant role in Running Scared. I called local schools to learn the times school starts and lets out. I had to know the procedures parents follow if their kids are ill. I needed the dress code. After all, the story occurs in Minnesota—in January. I had to put clothes on those kids.
Interviews are the fun part. The rest is interesting—but often a challenge.
The kids also needed names. The Internet provided popular names for the relevant decade. I use that same system to help select names for most characters in my novels.
One kid claims he wouldn’t play a part in the crime, because he’s intent on getting into Notre Dame. The Notre Dame website indicates whether the kid has an acceptance letter by the time the story occurs.
In Running Scared, the victim is struck by a car. The driver had to escape post haste, so the car couldn’t have air bags. Online, I determined the year air bags became standard equipment. I selected a car, and still had to determine if it had air bags. Once I had the make and model, I also had to learn the exterior colors available that year.
The two investigators remark on the vehicle stolen to commit the crime, and the fact that across the street sat the car most commonly stolen at the time. Yup, I had to find out what car was most commonly stolen that year.
This book includes a U.S. citizen who works in Canada. I had to learn whether jobs in Canada are available to U.S. citizens, responsibilities for the selected job, common living arrangements for this transplant, travel methods and time required for this person to return to the U.S., as well as conditions that would delay an emergency trip home.
With help from a Facebook friend, I learned the age of homes in the neighborhoods playing a part in the book. I rode through those neighborhoods, getting a feel for the landscape and houses. I even learned the types of trees.
I wanted to know what the victim and attacker saw, so I could paint a realistic picture. For that reason, I repeatedly traveled the path they followed in the book.
Wondering how all that fits into a single novel? Check out Running Scared.
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S.L. Smith, a lifelong resident of Minnesota, was born in St. Cloud and moved to the Twin Cities after graduating from St. Catherine University in St. Paul. She is the author of Blinded By the Sight and Running Scared: The Second Pete Culnane Mystery. When writing mysteries, S. L. draws upon her degree in psychology, a career with vast amounts of law enforcement interaction, and her thrill for the investigative hunt. A voracious reader since childhood and a lover of mysteries, she uses her knowledge of Minnesota and human nature to create stories.
S. L. is a member of Sisters in Crime. Feel free to contact her at:
It’s Not Where You Start (It’s Where You Finish) by Debra H. Goldstein
Recently, I listened to Barbara Cook’s rendition of the Cy Coleman and Dorthy Field’s signature song “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” from 1973’s Broadway show, Seesaw. Forty years after the song debuted, the words remain true.
Whether one is writing a novel, short story, or poem, the process is the same. “It’s not how you go, it’s how you land.” Writing requires coming up with an idea, getting it down on paper, rewriting, possibly tossing out one’s original thoughts, and writing the piece again and again until the words flow. It often is a solitary process, but the sisterhood of writers have the ability to inspire and help each other.
The reality is “If you’re going to last, you can’t make it fast,…Nobody starts a winner, give me a slow beginner.” At Malice Domestic, I had the privilege of riding an elevator with Carolyn Hart. I’m a pretty confident person, but as the elevator went up, I stumbled over my words telling “Ms. Hart” how much I enjoy her books. During the conference, where she was honored with the Amelia Award, I heard how her writing career didn’t take off. Her first few books either were not published or failed to sell well, but she kept writing. When she became an overnight success, it had been a long night. Our paths crossed a number of times during the conference and at the Sisters in Crime breakfast. Ironically, we were in the elevator together again leaving the conference. This time, I congratulated “Carolyn” on her award and we actually laughed about spending the conference in the elevator.
Thinking back on the difference in my behavior during our elevator rides, I realize that the change in my attitude came from being impressed with her writing abilities and with her persistence and willingness to help other writers. Even during the hour interview tied to her award at Malice, she took the time to give a new writer a shout-out. She was the only one to do so. It takes a big person to share one’s limelight with others. Her work ethic and her generosity illustrate the premise that “Your final return will not diminish/And you can be the cream of the crop/It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish/And you’re gonna finish on top.”