Nine years have passed since I first started asking people for information I could use in my books. At first, requesting information was a harrowing experience for me. How do I go about asking perfect strangers for some of their time and expertise? Should I call? Should I email? Who might know anything about this topic? It was all a bit daunting.
How I Began Researching
Nevertheless, I’ve spent those nine years asking questions of perfect strangers as well as folks I know for eight books—one memoir, six novels, and one novella. I’ve discovered people are quite interested—and often excited—to talk about what they do. It began with the late Bill Underwood, coroner for Warren County, who was both kind and encouraging when I needed facts about death, murder, guns, blood, etc. Talking with Bill began my search for information and made me a little less apprehensive.
I recently visited my children and grandchildren, and they are so pleased that I’ve chosen to write mysteries. What my children were referring to is the research, curiosity, interest, and excitement I have when I’m working on a book. I’m discovering ideas, attitudes, lives, history, motives, and human connections. When I talk with other authors, I discover they include in their writing schedule a great deal of time simply thinking. Me too.
Types of Research I’ve Done Over the Years
I couldn’t describe every research source and subject I’ve used in my Endurance mysteries. A few include coroners, medical examiners, detectives, gun shop owners, fire and arson experts, historical records of old homes, bank vaults and how their security works, poisons, the 1940s, school evaluations, detective procedures, coffee shop operations—these are only a few of the many topics I’ve researched or interviewed with these experts.
My next book, A Death at Tippitt Pond, comes out in June 2019 from Encircle Publications. I had such fun writing this mystery because the murder goes back to the early 1970s. Chantilly perfume, bell bottom pants, CPO jackets, chunky jewelry, sweetheart dances, old houses, murder trials, a ghostly presence, and furniture-making are all part of the plot in this mystery. Of course, I had to add a murder or two. This book really stretched my mind because I had to research furniture-making and the love that goes into working with wood. Fortunately, I had a couple of local experts on that subject.
Work in Progress: A Small-town Art Center
The book I’m currently working on, Death in a Pale Hue, takes place in a small-town art center. Talk about something I know nothing about! Simply finding out how an art center runs is a huge topic; fortunately, we have such a business in our small, Midwestern town, and the curator is a wonderful source of information. Sculpture, oil painting, local exhibits, and national exhibits are all topics I’ve researched with books, the internet, and real people. I’m always a fool for old buildings and history, and the Buchanan Center for the Arts is an 1870 brick building that has undergone extensive renovation. The curator and office manager have been wonderful resource guides to help me understand what they do. I was able to see both the inner workings of the building and the renovation photos. [Note to self: Once again, my editor reins me in with judicious editing, so the mystery will shine, and the history will partly remain in my head.]
Love the idea of lifelong learning, and writing books is a way to keep my mind sharp and feed my curiosity. When I’m writing and editing, I remember words I had forgotten. Once I take a little break from writing, those words seem to disappear again. Writing, bridge, and jigsaw puzzles are great ways to keep the brain operating well. Research and interviewing experts create situations where I need to be focused and clear about my questions.
It’s amazing the kinds of experts a writer can find even in a small town. I’ve been lucky that these experts are available and generous with their time.
I dig the 70s setting and can’t wait to read your newest book! I really enjoy your blog.
Wow! You are fast, Pam. I hardly hit the “send” button. (-: Thanks so much. I enjoyed your posts about your treks through the wilderness this fall. What a trooper you are! Great writing.
I so enjoyed :The Education of a Teacher” that I ordered a second copy for my teacher son-in-law as a birthday gift. I also thoroughly enjoyed “Three May Keep a Secret.” If you are ever in the LA area for a book-signing, I’d love to come meet you. Our mutually friend Jim has come to the Barnes & Noble in Burbank a couple of times and my sister and I went to see him. I look forward to reading your other mysteries.
Thank you so much,Judith. Jim, I know, has family in the LA area. I end up stopping in Arizona because that’s where my children are. Could be you’ll get back to Illinois one of these days! I appreciate your kind comments and happy reading.
My mom wore Chantilly perfume — I still remember the bottle! And I definitely wore bell bottoms. Can’t wait to read it.
I ordered a bottle of Chantilly and still remembered the scent. You wore bell bottoms, huh? Save them? I can remember those days, and I had a navy CPO jacket that I loved. The characters in my book have a special connection to the early 70s, and all these items appear in the book. June 2019. Thanks so much for stopping by!
What an interesting post. It made me remember I need to research more on various topics. Thanks!
Me too! In fact, the book I’m working on is about a subject that I’ve had to research extensively. Now I am going to connect with an oil painter who will give me some information on creativity, art, and painting with oils. This is something I’d never know anything about if it weren’t for writing mysteries. Good luck with your own research!
Susan, your research is in depth, accurate, and extensive. In all of your novels, the story may be fiction, but the technical details are fact. This is very important to me, the reader. Why? I don’t want to be misled, and you never do. Thank you for your hard work in keeping the facts of crime and crime investigation real as you weave them in to your masterful tales.
Thanks, Jim. I’ve even used you as an interviewee, and you gave me great information!
It seems like I’ve been waiting to read your next book for forever and when I read “CPO jackets”, I just had to smile! I’m so looking forward to A Death at Tippet Pond as well as Death in a Pale Hue! I’m sure that Kristyne and Lynn were very helpful!
Boy, you are so right. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever too. I used to love the navy CPO jacket I had. And yes, Kristyne and Lynn were wonderful. I’m editing right now, but have to do some new research that shouldn’t take long. Eventually, eventually, June will come. Right?