Sunday, August 4, 2019

Research, research, research!

First thanks to Annette for having me here at Writers Who Kill! So glad to be back.

As a literature major, I did a lot of research in college, most of it pretty boring (use of foil symbology in Shakespearean plays anyone?). When I graduated, I thought I’d left all of that behind me.

Then I started writing novels.

There’s a lot of research that goes into “making it up.” After all, unless you are writing speculative fiction or pure sci-fi/fantasy, you want things to be like real life, right? I mean, if you say your state cop got into a Lamborghini, someone somewhere is going to call you on it. Trust me. Been there, done that.

Unless you’ve created a fictional town and your cops just happen to drive Lambos, but I digress.

It’s pretty logical that historical fiction requires a lot of research. What were the dress styles in the late 1800s? When did Henry Ford create the assembly line? When were telephones commonly available in homes? What was the hourly rate for a line worker at Bethlehem Steel in the 1940s (I had to research that one)? How much was bus fare in Buffalo, NY in 1942 (had to do that one, too)?

By the way, it might be challenging to find it all, but trust me. The internet knows just about everything.

But even though I write contemporary fiction (meaning it takes place in current times), there’s still a lot of research. Take maps. I don’t write a fictional location, so maps are my best friend. What’s the cross street by the Fayette County courthouse? Google Maps to the rescue. I’ve spent more time there than I care to admit.
I spend a lot of time looking at this map
when Jim Duncan is at home

There’s also talking to people. After all, I’m not a public defense lawyer nor am I a cop…but I do write them, so I’d better get it right. I have two reliable sources for each on speed dial. The conversations usually go something like this:

Me: I’ve written blah-blah-blah. Would that happen?
Them: Not so much.
Me: Well, I need blah-blah-blah to happen. How would that work?
Them: Well, you could do it like this <insert long explanation>

It sounds kind of boring, but both these guys have great stories, so it’s not.

I make site visits to the Laurel Highlands frequently. This keeps me up to date on places and how the area feels/smells/looks in each season.
The interior of the very-real Lucky Dog Café,
Jim and Sally’s favorite Confluence eatery

And sometimes, well, the research gets just plain fun. Back in 2014, I attended Writers Police Academy, which is filled with law enforcement demonstrations, all of which are run by real cops. I mean come on. Watching SWAT blow off a door in an explosive breach demonstration? Who doesn’t like a good boom first thing in the morning?

All of it in the name of writing a better book.

So if you’re thinking of writing a novel and you won’t have to do any research because you get to “make it up,” think again. To quote Aislyn McAllister, “If I’d known about the research involved in this job, I might have chosen a different line of work.”


About Heaven Has No Rage

State Trooper Jim Duncan's quiet overnight shift turns deadly when fire destroys a ski lodge at a local resort and the first responders find a man's body inside.
What starts as a suspicious accident quickly becomes sinister when the autopsy proves the victim is not the man who rented the cabin. Jim’s left with three questions. Who is John Doe? Why was he at the ski lodge? And who hated him enough to kill him?

Assistant Public Defender Sally Castle, still reeling after the events of several months ago, tries to bury her feelings of guilt and fear in her work. When an anonymous note from a secret admirer arrives at the courthouse, she brushes it off as an empty threat. As the missives, each one darker than the last, continue to arrive at her office as well as her home, Sally’s forced to review all the possibilities. Is the letter-writer a person from her legal past? Or is the threat closer to home?

As the questions multiply, Jim and Sally are thrown into a race to find a murderer as well as a stalker...before Sally ends up facing more than an unwanted pen pal.


Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series about a Pennsylvania State Trooper and a Fayette County assistant public defender in the scenic Laurel Highlands. The first in the series, Root of All Evil, was released in August 2018. Liz’s short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, including Murder Most Historical and the Anthony-award-winning Blood on the Bayou. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as a member of Pennwriters and International Thriller Writers. She lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband, two teens, and a retired-racer greyhound.


Annette said...

Thanks for being here today, Liz! Research is so much fun!

Congratulations on the new release!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congratulations on your new release! I love researching mundane information: how much was a pay phone call in 1943? Was "he ate his gun" common usage in 1959?

Liz Milliron said...

Thanks for giving up your day for me, Annette. And research is twice as fun when it's done with friends, right?

Liz Milliron said...

Margaret - yep! I have a site bookmarked where I can look up words/phrases to see when they were first used. I'm always amazed when things go back further than I think, or the flip - not as far as I think they would.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Thanks for stopping by today.... and let me say, your books show your love or should I say devotion for getting it right. I don't think readers know how much effort goes into researching things that writers get an idea for (but don't know much about), but I'm wondering sometimes if it is a chicken and egg got to see the big "boom" and now need to find a place to put it into your story or you get the idea and then have to call one of the folks you keep on speed dial to make sure it can happen that way.

Joyce Tremel said...

I love research! Some of my recent topics have involved brewing cider, how much an egg salad sandwich cost in 1942, and women's baseball in 1943. Sometimes the research is more fun than the actual writing.

Kait said...

Hi Liz, Great to see you here! I confess to being a research junky. Goes with the territory of my day job and my writing job, but it's true to say that you better get it right in fiction because notes are taken by readers and you will hear about it. Keeps us writers honest, and on our toes.

I'm in a track stance waiting for Heaven Has No Rage to hit my Kindle.

Warren Bull said...

Research is so much fun, I have to keep reminding myself what I am looking for.

KM Rockwood said...

Research helps us avoid the "Wait. How could that be?" reaction from our readers.

Unfortunately, we also have to make a judgment--even if it's true, will it be believable? Sometimes the answer is "no," and we have to decide between authenticity and the flow of the writing.

Liz Milliron said...

Debra, for me it's more, "I have this idea. Can it happen that way?" But I can see it going the other way, too.

Joyce, the historical stuff is always fun. I'm always amazed at the tidbits I learn.

Kait, yes, those readers will pick up on the smallest things. If you believe, "Oh, they don't pay attention," well, you'd be wrong. I hope you enjoy HEAVEN!

Warren, yes, it can be terribly easy to fall down the rabbit hole, can't it?

KM, yes! That's why I love Lee Lofland's philosophy. "You're making believable make-believe." Quite often it is absolutely true that something would happen, but readers would never believe it!