In my everyday work life, I own a distribution company. My husband and I started it in our three-car garage and we taught ourselves how to run a business along the way. There were stumbles and downright crash and burns. But there have also been plenty of celebrations. Hard won battles. Downright victories. And that 2 person business is now 35.
In twenty years of that process, I’ve learned many things about how to approach people, and about team and group dynamics. But the most profound thing I’ve learned, and one of the secrets to our success, can be whittled down to one important aspect—we’ve always surrounded ourselves with very smart people who know more than we do on various subjects.
As an author, I’ve taken this lesson to heart.
Writing in general is a craft that we hone and fine tune. Classes are a great way to network and find people who have mastered their craft, but that can also be found in experienced critique partners, editors and book coaches. And networking and finding other writers in your genre is so important. You can learn so much from other people’s journeys. The beauty of that is you can also provide your expertise to them, creating a circle of writers who pull each other up.
In writing mystery, expertise of subjects and certain fields can make or break a book. Whether you write a cozy or hard core noir, your characters will at some point cross paths with police officers, coroners, lawyers, doctors…well you get the picture.
There are reference books a plenty on various legal/medical subjects that we can use in our everyday writing. But things are constantly changing in the way evidence is collected, laws on the books, medical procedures, etc. Subscribing to blogs is one way to stay ahead of the game, and I do plenty of that as well. But one of the best ways I have found is to surround myself with smart people in the career path where I need help.
Having an expert to bounce scenarios off can be a real asset to your writing, adding that realism that is so needed in the mystery genre. Because let’s face it, mystery readers are very astute and they know when you’re winging it.
Here’s a few ways to go about building that circle of smart people around you:
1. Simply asking people you know might be enough. Quite often someone is either married to, has a child that is, or has a family friend somehow connected with the field in which you’re researching. Don’t be afraid to ask that inner group first!
2. Get to your local MWA or SinC events. They often have experts in to give presentations. I met one of my connections at a SinC meeting and he’s helped on three of my novels at this point. Every time I tell him thank you and sorry for my 20 questions, I always get a “I love to help!”
3. Join Facebook groups that tout levels of expertise. My favorites are: https://www.facebook.com/groups/traumafiction/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/WRITERSDETECTIVE/. But there are many more to explore.
4. Subscribe to blogs. I love Jennifer Dornbush’s blog at https://www.jenniferdornbush.com/. I met Jennifer when she was teaching a master class on forensics at Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland a couple of years ago. She was lovely and so knowledgeable and her blogs have a lot of great information. She also writes her own fiction novels and the books are great!
5. Reach out to your local law enforcement for a ride along, citizen’s academy, etc. I have found my connection with the local police to be incredibly helpful. And here’s a secret—they LOVE being involved in your stories. I have a homicide detective, a deputy street cop, and a cold case detective that are my go to. They are always so happy to answer my questions. Another aspect to that is our law enforcement doesn’t always feel the love of the community, and giving them a spotlight to shine makes everyone feel good. And of course, brings your story alive.
6. Ask, ask, ask and –psstt-don’t be afraid to ASK! When I hear someone has no one to talk with, all I can think is, they must be afraid to get on a phone and post some questions. Because if you’re gracious, non-demanding, and let them know you are looking for the expertise only they can provide, well then I have no doubt you’ll have a circle of your own smart people that will help you improve your realism immediately.
Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery Series.
At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids. When she's not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.