If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

July Interviews

7/1 Lena Gregory, Scone Cold Killer
7/8 Jessica Baker, Murder on the Flying Scotsman
7/15 TG Wolff, Driving Reign
7/22 Leslie Budewitz, The Solace of Bay Leaves
7/29 Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets

Saturday Guest Bloggers

7/11 Mark Dressler
7/18 James McCrone

WWK Bloggers:

7/4 Valerie Burns
7/25 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Monday, July 10, 2017

What You Need to Research and What You Don't

by Linda Rodriguez

Even if you're setting your novel in the town in which you're living at the very time you're living, there will still be elements you will need to research—unless every character in the book is you doing nothing more than you do all the time, which makes for a very boring book, usually. Your various characters will be from different walks of life and different professions from your own, and each of those will need research, if the character plays a continuing role in your book or even if s/he's a minor character who will play a continuing role in the series. Any specialized profession or cultural background will need extra research.

Specific, accurate, telling details are what make a novel come alive in the reader's mind. Research provides these details. Research doesn't make you less creative. It provides the materials you need to be even more creative. It ensures that you will keep your reader involved in the fictive dream world you have created. Often the slightest, most trivial error can rip your reader right out of that continuous dream in which you're working so hard to keep readers engrossed. Research not only allows you to avoid that, but provides you with information from which you can select the perfect detail to make that fictive dream seem absolutely real to the reader.

Any scientific or psychological facts that you need to use in your book, even if below the surface (as in motivations for your characters), must be accurate. You never want to get known facts, historical details, or current events wrong because readers will be yanked out of your fictive dream and may well toss your book. If they can't believe you about known facts, how can they believe you about these folks and their story that you made up?

One element that people seldom discuss is the serendipity that research can provide for the receptive writer. As you research one aspect of history or a profession or a place, an unrelated facet may show up that triggers a motivation for a character or a new plot complication. A chance remark from a source or a passing reference in a book you're reading for research can spark powerful new features in your book.

Behavioral mannerisms are a fruitful area of research for any fiction writer. They are numerous and provide a needed variety to make your characters seem truly alive without repeating innumerable head-shakings, shruggings, and noddings. Books on body language are invaluable for the writer, keeping in mind that most of them are written with a white middle-class cultural overlay. For characters from other cultures or classes, you will want to look to sources from that background for the physical tells in that culture or class for the emotions or impulses listed in your book. Some body language crosses cultural and class divides, but much does not.

Place or location for the settings of your individual scenes, as well as your novel's background, almost always require research of some kind, no matter how familiar you are with the place. Streets change direction and names. Businesses change ownership and names. Public buildings often change names in this day of selling rights to name an arena, auditorium, or museum to the highest bidder—and then, often, re-selling it a few years later—and most frequently, the reader will be able to tell how long a character has been in the location by the name s/he calls such a public institution. Iconic monuments and houses are demolished and turned into bland housing developments. Farmland becomes suburban malls and office parks overnight. Location always takes some research, if only to make sure things you know haven't changed.

The best way to research any place—but especially one with a different culture from your own—is to visit it in person. This will allow you to take note of sensory details—sights, smells, sounds, tastes. Note down which interesting parts of this place would make good sub-settings for parts of this novel. If you're writing any kind of crime fiction, be on the lookout for unusual settings where your character(s) could find a body or be stalked by a dangerous antagonist. Watch for neighborhoods or spots with a kind of innate drama, which will be naturals for suspense scenes or love scenes or dramatic argument scenes.

You can take a short trip (or a true vacation) to the place you want to write about, and it may even be tax-deductible if you're a professional writer in the United States. You will need to prepare before you visit, however. If you truly want to capture another culture and not just pick out a few exotic and colorful places and fascinating ceremonies to make strange and beautiful set-pieces of spectacle, you will need to prepare in advance and find someone at home or in the place you will visit who can be a guide to understanding that culture for you. Study on your own through library or internet research to figure out what exactly you need to learn about for your book. These resources can also help you determine if there are particular people you might want to meet or certain places that are must-sees. But even with preparation, you will encounter the unanticipated surprises that may open up new story or character avenues for you, so be flexible.

Chronology and timelines also require almost certain research, even if set in the contemporary world. You will want to make certain your weather is correct, and if your character is to be 25 in 2015, she must have been an eleven-year-old child on September 11, 2001, and will have the memories of a child of that landmark American tragedy.

The public events of the day, whether national, local, or in the pop culture of your character's particular little slice of the world must also be correct, or the reader will be thrown out of the book. Are there disasters somewhere in the world at the time of your action that your characters would naturally discuss with each other? Political events that your characters might ignore can still cause change in daily life that must be reflected in your book. For example, across the nation, we have recently seen a change requiring proof of citizenship to be presented for a driver's license. This may affect one or more of your characters, even if they were born in this country. Will they have the required proof on hand? Will they have to make application and go somewhere else to pick it up before they can go to get their driver's license? These kinds of changes affect everyone's lives sooner or later, and if you have a character of today walk into a driver's license office in most states and pick up a driver's license without having to deal with any of this, your book will feel off to the reader.

Think about the novel you're writing or one you're reading and all the facets of that novel that require research. Some people love research and some don't. Where do you stand when it comes to research?

Linda Rodriguez's book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular workshop. The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited was recently published. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received honors, such as Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.


KM Rockwood said...

Most of the time, I write about what I know, and while I may need to ask some relevant questions of other people, it's not an extensive project.

Recently, however, I wrote an historic story set in an iron furnace and nearby town shortly after the Civil War. I visited several museums, including a reconstructed iron furnace, the ruins at the site of the furnace I was writing about, and delved into the archives of the local historical society, including old newspapers.

I found repeated references to interracial groups of iron furnace workers descending upon the town when the furnace was not in blast, and efforts of the townsmen to expel them. It was fascinating, and just showed me how little I actually knew about the era and the interactions of the people of different races and backgrounds.

I was reasonably happy with the way the story turned out, and it's going to appear in the next Bouchercon anthology. But it certainly gave me a new appreciation for those who write historic novels and can produce believable characters of a different culture than their own.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

It's the ordinary things: parallel or curb-angled parking places, soda or pop or Coke, grits or home fries. I only write about the places where I have spent time. With my photos as a backup, I can describe walking down a sidewalk littered with crepe myrtle blossoms after a thunderstorm, or the desolation of a winter landscape. I absorb many sensory details without thinking about it. Speech mannerisms: five minutes on the phone with a Georgia friend gets me back into a drawl. I read the local news: bodies in the river, jumpers on the interstate overpasses, street crime and organized crime. For certain locations, I use "markers" to strengthen the setting, like big Georgia raindrops. And landscaping details: I'm very precise about what's in bloom and when.

Julie Tollefson said...

Just this morning, I researched what materials tent poles are commonly made of. I've slept in tents dozens of times, but never cared whether the poles were fiberglass or aluminum. I like research, but I have to take care not to let myself get sidetracked.

Kait said...

Oh so true! I recently read a novel set in my part of Maine - the St. John Valley. The novelist may have known Maine, but in the SJV, we're French Canadian, not Jessica Fletcher. Ployes and poutine not lobster rolls and fries. I didn't get past the first Yah. Now, had he traveled down to Caribou, or Presque Isle, where the English live, he would have been fine. The devil, it seems, truly is in the details.

Living and writing about South Florida I often have Spanish characters in my books. I never finalize a scene without having a fact check by my chica posse. Despite having close Cuban and Puerto Rican friends I am neither and can easily miss nuances or worse, confuse the cultures. Beware the slang!

Warren Bull said...

Research is great fun for me. The thing I have to look out for is following random bits of information and forgetting the reason I started to research.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, even those questions you ask in novels you know about are research--and waht a good novelist does. In your historical story research, you found out why those who say I can write other cultures and times from my imagination because we're all humans, so very often get it dead wrong. Because the things we think we know about other cultures and times are often not accurate, at all.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Margaret, all this research is why your stories are so strong. Accurate, telling details. That's so important for verisimilitude in fiction.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Julie, yes, that's a pitfall. Writers of fiction seem to fall into two camps (like the rest of humanity about anything? :-) )--those who like to research (or understand its importance) and those who don't. I have a friend who refuses to do any research. She's a fine writer, but it limits what she can write about and weakens it when she ventures from familiar shores. For those of us who like it or recognize its importance, doing too much, using it as a procrastination technique, or over-researching and trying to pack every detail you learned into your story are major problems.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait, i wish I could convince more writers to do both things you do--check with actual members of the culture when they write about other cultures and actually make friends with people from other cultures, not just to exploit for their work but as actual friends. If you're interested enough in another culture to want to put it in your work, aren't you interested enough in its people to actually seek them out and make friends with them?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, yes, for us research lovers, the research rabbit holes can swallow us whole.