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Guest Blogger Teresa Inge – Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing

August 18, 2014 11 comments
Author Teresa Inge

Author Teresa Inge

Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing by Teresa Inge

I grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Combining my love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel.

I also love it when I research a new story I am writing. Most of the time this means a road trip with my family to the story’s location and most of the time I discover new ideas.

When researching my current story “Wine Country Murder,” my husband and I toured the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia. We elected to do the Reserve Wine Tasting tour, which meant visiting the basement where wines are produced and stored. I took pictures of oak barrels, machinery, and anything else I found pertinent to my research. Soon, the wine was flowing and so were my thoughts. But when a bat flew above our heads, it corked a new story plot. Later, the guide mentioned that bats often fly into their basement. I just never know what I will discover during research.

My family also joined me on a weekend trip to the Cavalier on the Hill hotel in Virginia Beach to research “Guide to Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries. As soon as we arrived I combed the grounds where the murder would take place. I took pictures, explored areas not meant for guests, and did lots of snooping!  Since this was a historic hotel, I stumbled across vintage items such as an old sauna that had a large lock strapped across the front. The enormous sauna was tucked in a dark corner on the bottom floor. I could only imagine guests of the 1920′s and 30′s going into the sauna for good health.

We next ventured to the Outerbanks in North Carolina to research a “Milepost Murder.” While driving through Nags Head during a summer storm, I noticed a wobbly street sign. I thought what if I kill a character with a milepost sign. Milepost signs are located throughout the Outerbanks to guide tourists to restaurants, hotels, and businesses. I then based the story on my favorite beach shop in Nags Head, and added a twist by placing a bar next door. My daughter made up the title to complete the story.

Since mystery readers are savvy and intelligent, authors have to conduct Internet research, interviews, and sometimes visit the story’s location to ensure facts are correct. Even though mystery authors write fiction, facts must be real.

Another trip included driving across the Rudy Inlet Bridge in Virginia Beach. I wondered what would happen if a vehicle went over the side. Would it sink? Float? Could a barge fit in the inlet? These questions led to researching “Fishing for Murder,” in the FishNets anthology.

Since I needed answers, I made my way under the bridge and discovered a small barge in the inlet. As I began taking pictures, a homeless woman scurried up the bridge wall and out of sight. I had disturbed her hiding place. Just as I turned, a man on a bicycle with a basket of beer approached me. He asked why I was taking pictures. The situation was daunting but it brought new light to my writing when I discovered an underground of homeless people.

While researching “Shopping for Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries, I based the setting on the Great Bridge Shopping Center in Chesapeake. Like most shoppers, I had always pulled into a front parking space and walked into the store. Since a scene in my story required a speeding vehicle behind the center, I drove my car to the back to do my research. Dangerous. Perhaps. But I had to know if a vehicle could fit in the small space.

Since mystery writing can be isolating, I enjoy conducting research since it adds an extra element to my writing process.

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Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today she doesn’t carry a rod, like her idol, but she hotrods. She assists two busy
executives and is president of Sisters in Crime, Virginia Beach chapter.

Love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel. Teresa’s published stories include Fishing for Murder in the Fish Nets anthology and Guide to Murder and Shopping for Murder in Virginia is for Mysteries.  Her website is http://www.teresainge.com.

 

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Guest Blogger S.L. Smith: Researching Everything Under the Sun!

February 23, 2014 7 comments
Author S.L. Smith

Author S.L. Smith

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 became01_RunningScaredfront_FINAL 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:

http://www.slsmithbooks.com
slsmithbooks@gmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627700301

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger Judy Alter – Researching the Lowly Hot Dog

Judy Alter

Judy Alter

Researching the Lowly Hot Dog by Judy Alter

We all do a lot of research on setting and other things to make our novels accurate. For the Kelly O’Connell series I studied Craftsman design and the Craftsman movement, because Kelly is a real estate agent who specializes in restoring the priceless Craftsman houses in her beloved Fairmount district in Fort Worth, Texas.

But one of the most fun pieces of research I did was for the fourth and most recent Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Danger Comes Home. I decided one of the characters as going to open an upscale hot dog café. Then I began to research the kinds of hot dogs available and the number of restaurants devoted solely or primarily to hot dogs. To my amazement, they are all over the country. The majority are clustered throughout the Midwest, from Wisconsin and Michigan clear down to the South and Texas, with just a smattering on the West Coast and more on the East Coast. You can see an overall map and search by state at http://www.hot-dog.org/ht/d/sp/i/51784/pid/51784. Click on any pin and you can read all about that restaurant, from location to menu.  So, reassured that the idea wasn’t bizarre, I proceeded.Danger-MD_(2)

Next came the toppings. I remember a walk-up stand in Santa Fe called, I think, The Chicago Dog. So I began there. A Chicago dog is all beef on a poppy seed bun and topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onion, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, and pickled pepper. A colorful mouthful of flavors. The traditional Coney Island dog is again all beef, topped with chili without beans, chopped white onions, and mustard. A plain old chili dog may have chili and cheddar (my preference). Don’t confuse the two and don’t associate the Coney dog with Coney Island—it began in Michigan.

But then there are hot dogs called frank and beans, the dog nestled in a bun with a slice of bacon and topped with warm baked beans (no, you Texans, not pintos but “northern beans”) , diced onion, and mustard (in hot dog lingo mustard is always yellow salad mustard, not the fancy stuff like whole grain or Dijon). And then there’s the Reuben dog—you guessed it! Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a Thousand Island-type dressing (I make my own Thousand Island and it’s so good—also easy). Somewhere I read about a Banh mi dog, with a topping of brown sugar dissolved in white vinegar with shredded carrots that have marinated in the mixture. Top the dog with mayo, thinly sliced cucumber and jalapeno, the carrots, and cilantro.

Want to give your hot dog a Mexican flair? Char some corn in a skillet, add vegetable oil and thinly sliced scallions (white part only), season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile mix mayonnaise with lime juice. Top the dog with the corn mixture, the lime mayonnaise, crumbled feta, and the sliced scallion greens Sprinkle with chili power. A Hawaiian dog has grilled pineapple wedges and red onion rounds, chopped and seasoned with sugar, salt and cayenne. What to call my café? I ran a contest, and some wonderful names were suggested: Hot Diggety Dog, Dogs of Distinction, Frankly Wienerful, Decadent Dog, Haute Dogs, The Finer Frank, and Hot Dog Heaven, among others. The winner, chosen by my daughter, is Bun Appetit!

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Judy Alter’s newest Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Danger Comes Home, launched July 22 in e-book form with print to follow. Others in the series are Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. Her second mystery series, Blue Plate Café Mysteries, launched in February with Murder at the Blue Plate Café.

In Danger Comes Home, Kelly O’Connell can’t sit idly by while her world is shattering. Daughter Maggie is hiding a runaway classmate; protégé Joe Mendez seems to be hanging out again with his former gang friends and ignoring his lovely wife, Theresa; drug dealers have moved into her beloved Fairmount neighborhood. And amidst all this, reclusive former diva Lorna McDavid expects Kelly to do her grocery shopping. In spite of Mike’s warnings, Kelly is determined to save the runaway girl and her abused mother and find out what’s troubling Joe, even when those things lead back to the drug dealers. Before all the tangles in the neighborhood are untangled, Kelly finds herself wondering who to trust, facing drug dealers, and seeing more of death than she wants. But she also tests upscale hot dog recipes and finds a soft side to the imperious recluse, Lorna McDavid. It’s a wild ride, but she manages, always, to protect her daughters and keep Mike from worrying about her—at least not too much.

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An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of four books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Troubleconvertible2 in a Big Box, and Danger Comes Home. She is also the author Murder at the Blue Plate Café, first in a new series.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog live in Fort Worth, Texas.