The Historical Research of Heroic Measures–Guest Jo-Ann Power

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I’m very pleased to have my guest, Jo-Ann Power, at the Kill Zone today. Her new novel involved historical research of WWII that I thought you might find interesting. I’ve bought the book for my mom who always talks about her teens years as “Rosie the riveter” during the war effort. This historical period has been fascinating to me. Enjoy and take it away, Jo-Ann.

Grateful to be a guest here at TKZ, I know the importance of solid research for any kind of fiction. Having written a few mysteries and many historicals, I know the value of fact as the bedrock of any entertainment for readers.

 
For HEROIC MEASURES, my novel about American nurses serving on the front lines in France during the Great War, I did research that led me to many of the same resources that many writers use. First, I read general histories for an overview of the conflict. Then I haunted the stacks of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the National Archives for weeks on end. Newspapers from those years plus nurses’  letters, diaries and photos gave me tiny facts that provided not only color but an accuracy obscured by general histories.
 
Next I went to Army facilities like Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania where the Army keeps its repositories of memorabilia of soldiers and nurses who served in that first global conflict. I traveled to Cantigny in Wheaton Illinois where curators there pulled primary and secondary documents from their collection of recruits who served in the First Division of the American Expeditionary Forces.
 
My longest  (and most delightful) excursion was to France. For three weeks, I walked the front lines of our American soldiers in northern France. I visited the battle lines, overgrown with moss and grass but many still pock-marked with fox holes and shell holes. I saw the terrain our soldiers fought through. The wide plains of farmland they ran through. The woods where they drew their bayonets and fell into hand-to-hand combat. I saw the territory where peaceful rivers now run and understood by viewing the terrain why keeping control of this river or that mountain was vital to the defense of a town, a section of the land or Paris, itself.
 
I talked with the curators of those museums, the people who live there and tell tales of their ancestors who lived there at the time. I discussed the valor of nurses and YMCA workers, Salvation Army volunteers and ambulance drivers. I walked the pristine rows of American cemeteries where the remains of more than 40,000 of our American men and women lie in testament to their devotion.
 
What did I learn in those trips? I learned about the weather in the spring time in France. Wet and cold. Just as it was so very often during the four years of war. I learned about the fertility of the Champagne and Lorraine regions. The area then was rich: today France grows 20% of the produce for European Union. I saw the importance of the City of Verdun. Nestled in the mountains, this city is the main route for two rivers. Control this city and the victor controls the major water route to Paris. I experienced the diversity of culture in the Alsace where many speak not only French, but English and German. I heard from them how they intermarried, and I could understand how they had to divide their loyalties and how difficult that was one hundred years ago.
 
I also learned from our American directors of our cemeteries that very few Americans come to these hallowed grounds to pay their respects. Most travel to Normandy, remembering the valor of those who took the beach in 1944. But in the coming five years, I hope you will remember the valor of the first group of Americans who went to serve and suffer and fight in Europe. I hope you will rent a car at the Paris airport and head into the Champagne, not merely to drink the best bubbly you will ever enjoy, but to visit these cemeteries, talk to the staff and ask them about the valor of these first American adventurers. They have stories to tell.
 
Mine is fictitious. But based in fact.
 
Here is one woman’s story of her journey from her small hometown to the greater world. I hope you enjoy HEROIC MEASURES.
For more on American nurses, read Jo-Ann’s HEROIC MEASURES blog: http://theyalsofought.blogspot.com


For the purposes of discussion at TKZ, how far have you gone for research and authenticity in your writing? Are any of you writing a period piece involving historical research? If you are, tell us about the challenges.

Synopsis

How heroic are you? Would you volunteer to travel thousands of miles from home with others you don’t know to live in tents, wash your hair in your helmet and work 12-24 hours each day?

In the Great War, thousands of women did. HEROIC MEASURES is the novel that shows you how American nurses went to war, how they lived and served­—and how they loved.
For nurse Gwen Spencer, fighting battles is nothing new. An orphan sent to live with a vengeful aunt, Gwen picked coal and scrubbed floors to earn a living. But when she decides to become a nurse, she steps outside the boundaries of her aunt’s demands…and into a world of her own making.
 
Leaving her hometown for France, she helps doctors mend thousands of brutally injured Doughboys under primitive conditions. Amid the chaos, she volunteers to go ever forward to the front lines. Braving bombings and the madness of men crazed by the hell of war, she is stunned to discover one man she can love. A man she can share her life with.
 
But in the insanity and bloodshed she learns the measures of her own desires. Dare she attempt to become a woman of accomplishment? Or has looking into the face of war and death given her the courage to live her life to the fullest?

HEROIC MEASURES BUY links: Amazon digital, Amazon printBarnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes,  Allromanceebooks.com, Wild Rose Press 

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First-Hand Research: Arizona

Nancy J. Cohen

Do you believe in ghosts? I would like to think they exist, especially after numerous orbs came out in the photos I took on our Arizona trip. However, sites online explain the phenomenon as artifacts like cameras reflecting dust motes or water vapor droplets. Nonetheless, we visited many haunted sites on our recent trip west. The most exciting one was the Grand Hotel in Jerome. Formerly a hospital, this structure was built on a mountainside to serve the local miners. We took the nightly ghost tour and were given our own instruments to investigate.

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How does this work into the book I’m planning to write? I needed first-hand research, and it’s a good thing I went on location. When I’d put a forest in my story synopsis, I imagined the northern kind with tall trees and thick undergrowth. Man, was I off mark! Arizona forests, as least where I went, consisted of low scrub brush, scattered trees, reddish-brown dirt, and cacti. Uh-oh. Nix the victim in my story dying when a heavy branch falls on him. Instead, he’ll tumble off a mountain ledge. As mountain vistas are all around, this should be more plausible.

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Copper mines play an important role in my story, too. Little did I realize you had to be at higher elevations for this factor. My protagonists explore a mine in the story. Now I know what they should wear, what they will see, how they will face the scariness of pitch darkness below ground. As for the orbs, it’s either very dusty down there or the shafts are haunted.

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And the dude ranch where we stayed one night is the background setting for the entire story. I couldn’t possibly have written a word without being there in person, smelling the horses, having a drink in the lounge called the Dog House, and sampling the food in the dining hall. Plus interviewing the staff changed another story element. A character’s horse won’t be spooked by a snake let loose in its path anymore. Instead, someone strings a trip wire across the trail.

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We had many more adventures, from gazing at the awesome red cliffs of Sedona to an off-trail jeep ride to a recreation of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We stayed at the dude ranch, rode down into the copper mine, and went on our own ghost hunt. I also got to tour the Desert Botanical Gardens to note the varieties of plants, trees, and cacti. All of these experiences were essential for my novel. Sometimes you can’t get what you need online or in the library. You have to go to the place to sniff around for yourself.

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You can see more of my pix here: http://fw.to/SB2DmEH

So what trip have you made that was essential to your research?

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How Important is Research and Authenticity in Fiction?


Our own Clare Langley-Hawthorne recently posted about getting professional (especially military) details right. She wrote a seemingly self-evident bit of wisdom:
In mysteries and thrillers we often have protagonists with a military or law enforcement background and, given that many of our readers will have similar backgrounds, we need to get the details right. As writers we have an obligation to do our research and try and paint as accurate a picture as possible.
And yet . . .
One of my favorite shows of all time is Law & Order, especially when Michael Moriarty was on it. As pure storytelling, it was an amazing achievement week after week. Using the same structural template, it managed to create compelling characterizations and unique plot details so that each episode seemed fresh.
But there is one thing about the show that drives me nuts. Well, two.
The first is when the detectives slap cuffs on a suspect. It may be on the street or in the workplace, but immediately they begin with their Miranda warnings: “You have the right to remain silent . . .anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law . . .you have the right to an attorney . . .” etc.
The only problem is that no detective (at least, no detective who knows what he’s doing) Mirandizes a suspect at the point of arrest. That’s because he wants the suspect to talk, to babble, to make statements, which they often do. And yes, those statements are admissible evidence, so long as they have not come as a result of accusatoryquestioning.   
Yet it is now a virtual cliché on cop shows and in fiction that at the moment of arrest the cops give the rights admonition. And because of that, the public largely believes that’s the way it should be done every time.
So you have the ironic situation that a reader could write to tell you your cop forgot to Mirandize a suspect, and why don’t you do simple research, fella?
Another item from Law & Order. They usually sit the suspect down in an interview room, separated by a table. Now thatis when you’d Mirandize, and have the suspect sign a written waiver.
Anyway, the questioning begins and it isn’t long before one of the cops (usually Chris Noth) loses his temper and starts screaming at or threatening the suspect.
But as my friend, interrogation expert and fellow author Paul Bishop, says, being aggressive like that only gets a suspect to clam up. Paul, a 35-year LAPD vet (30 of them in sex crimes) now teaches interrogation nationwide to law enforcement agencies. He says he raised his voice during an interrogation maybe five times in his career.
Another thing: Paul doesn’t want a table separating him and the suspect. The table cuts off his view of half the body language. Recently Paul gave a talk to some local SoCal writers on interrogation. He showed the way he did it, by putting his chair directly in front of the suspect, sitting so close their knees touched. He speaks calmly, asking strategic questions in order to get the suspect’s body to betray signs of anxiety.
I tell you, I was sitting in the audience as Paul demonstrated with the moderator, and I was ready to jump out of my seat and confess to something. It was awesome.
But is this ever shown in cop shows or fiction? More dramatic to have a cop throw a chair.
Which is why many writers, even longtime and bestselling veterans, choose the more dramatic alternative, even when it flouts real life. It is also well known that certain A-list writers don’t care much at all about research and flatly make up as much of it as they can.
Is anyone going to arrest them for it? Read them their rights?
So there may be a continuum here. For example, if you’re going to write about weapons, it’s my experience you better get that right, because there are too many gun aficionados out there who will rake you over the coals if you get a detail wrong.
But on the other side of the range, perhaps it’s not as crucial. I recall Lee Child talking about one of his books where Reacher is going through Georgia, a place Child has never  himself been. He received a detailed rejoinder about the impossibility of Reacher’s itinerary from someone who knew the particular roads in that part of the state. But as this error did not seem to impact sales, Child was more sanguine than disturbed by it.
Harlan Coben has also said he is of the “make it up” school of research. Doesn’t seem to have slowed down his sales, either.
Personally, I like to get things right. I’ll do on-site research here in LA, take pictures, walk the streets I’m writing about, feel the vibe of the neighborhood. When it comes to procedures and professional details, I also want to be accurate.
But I also recall something Lawrence Block wrote in the first book I ever read on the craft: Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print. Discussing research in general, and his Evan Tanner books (which take place in settings all over the world) in particular, Larry wrote, “Equipped with a decent atlas and a library of travel guides, it’s not all that difficult to do an acceptable job of faking a location. A few details and deft touches in the right places can do more to make your book appear authentic then you might manage via months of expensive and painstaking on-the-spot research.”
That’s really the point in fiction, isn’t it? We are all faking it, so the appearanceof authenticity is what we’re after. If a made-up detail can suffice for effect, why not?
Just don’t have your cops give Miranda warnings to your arrestees on the street, or I’ll send you an email.
So what’s your take on research in fiction? Are you a stickler? How important is it to you that bestselling writers get all the details right? (Note: I’m flying home today from Denver, so won’t be able to comment for a bit. Meanwhile, have at it!)

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On-Site Research

Nancy J. Cohen

On-site research enhances your novel with authenticity. It’s your chance to make the story come alive for readers when you write the scene that inspired your visit. To get started, have an idea of what you want to research before you leave home. Begin with either a quick pass-through tour or research on the Internet. This allows you to sketch the scene ahead of time, even writing it in your manuscript, while filling in the details later.

For example, I have a research trip planned to Arizona. I’ve already written the synopsis for this story, so that tells me I have to trek through a copper mine, stay overnight at a dude ranch, visit a ghost town, stay at a haunted hotel, note the terrain and plants and animal life, and in general, walk through the steps my sleuth will be taking.

For HIGHLIGHTS TO HEAVEN, book five in my Bad Hair Day mystery series, I included a scene in Mount Dora, Florida. We had driven through there one afternoon, spending a couple of hours shopping and eating lunch. That brief survey was enough for me to write the scene in the book where my hairdresser sleuth, Marla Shore, tracks down a suspect’s sister to interview her.

After writing the first draft of the Mount Dora scene, I knew I had to make a return trip to fill in details to my satisfaction. Equipped with a notebook, I headed back for an overnight stay. This brings to mind the two most important tools to bring with you: notepad and camera. You cannot possibly remember all the details you will explore. It’s best to document them so you can refer to your materials when you’re back home. If I hadn’t gone to this town to note these particulars, I might have missed the chirping bird sound at traffic intersections when the light turned red.

I did the same for Cassadaga, a spiritualist camp in Central Florida where Marla goes for a reading from a psychic. This was the first time I’d had a reading, and it was an eerie experience. Here I used a tape recorder as an additional tool so when I got home, I could transcribe the entire interview into my computer. This became the basis for Marla’s reading in DIED BLONDE after I changed my rendition to suit the story.

SHEAR MURDER, my latest title in this series, has a wedding scene in fictional Orchid Isle that’s based on Harry P. Leu Gardens in Winter Park. Again, I went there with camera and notebook to walk the trails as my heroine and scribble down the details.

You need to see things with your writer’s eye instead of the usual tourist experience, and our view is much more detail oriented.

POINTS TO CONSIDER
1. Do preliminary research to sketch your scene.
2. Plan your trip to focus on the details you’ll need to acquire.
3. Bring a notebook and camera, possibly a digital recorder.
4. If you plan to interview people, bring one of your books, a supply of flyers, and business cards to present yourself as a professional writer. Compose a list of questions ahead of time. Direct the interview to the topics you need addressed. Write down quotes from your subject. Ask if you can run the scene by them for an accuracy check after it’s written. For informal interviews, chat up residents and get their take on things in their home town. Try to capture unique elements like favorite expressions, mannerisms, and speech patterns.
5. Once on site, walk the path of your protagonist.

Observe with your Five Senses. Take detailed notes and don’t mind the curious stares of pedestrians as you stop abruptly to scribble in your notepad. Just make sure you’re not in the middle of the street.

 A. Sight
Sight means looking at the world with a writer’s eye. Say you’re on a ship. What do you see when you stroll on deck: An outdoor clock? A crew member hosing down the deck? A coil of rope? What makes the scene unique? On a city street, what do the windows on a building bring to mind? Do they yawn like open mouths? Are they blank like vacant eyes? Note small details like overhead electric wires, stray dogs, chickens in a yard, tilted signs.

Imbue your observations with your character’s attitude. Always remember to stay in viewpoint. Then look for interesting ways to describe things, i.e. a reflective nature like water, glistening like a cobweb in sunlight, glossy like a polished piano. You’re not only writing about what you see, but also about its special characteristics or emotional associations.

B. Smell
What does your protagonist sniff: A lady’s floral perfume? Oak-aged burgundy? Beer and pretzels? Pine trees and wood smoke? Vanilla and nutmeg? Diesel fuel or rain-tinged ozone? What memories does this scent evoke?

C. Sounds
Close your eyes. What do you hear? Birds warbling, ducks quacking, construction hammering, engines whining, water dripping? See how many different sounds you can distinguish.

D. Touch
Outside, is your skin pounded by the hot sun? Blasted by a ceaseless wind? Caressed by a warm breeze? When you walk, do you trip over the uneven pavement? Is the surface spongy like wet sand? How does your character react to the sensation?

E. Taste
The sense of taste is often related to your nose. If you smell sea air, you may taste salt on your tongue. If you smell ripe grapes, you may taste wine. Try to detect a taste where there may be none obvious. Is it a pleasing flavor or unpleasant to your protagonist?

Be Sure to Observe:
PEOPLE: Physical appearance, mode of dress, speech patterns, gestures
FOOD: Meals, restaurants, foods unique to the area
NATURE: Birds, trees, animals, bugs, flowers
ARCHITECTURE: residential housing, government buildings, commercial districts
EXPERIENCES: Adventurous, Funny, Scary


Be Sure to Bring Home: Maps, tourist brochures, books on locale, menus, postcards, photos

Now your notebook is filled with details describing what you’ve seen, smelled, tasted, touched, and heard during your research trip. Your job is to go home and transcribe this into your book so your reader feels she is there with your heroine, seeing from her eyes and living the story with her. This is your greatest gift to the reader, that you remove her from her own world and transport her to a new place for a few hours of escape. “I felt like I was there,” are sweet words from a fan to an author.

Make it happen.

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Keeping a Dirt File

By Nancy J. Cohen

For mystery writers, having a dirt file is akin to keeping a gold mine in your house. What is it? I’m referring to a folder full of clippings you’ve taken from the newspaper or magazines that may be relevant to your work someday. I get out a pair of scissors whenever I read a paper copy of the Sunday newspaper. A recent issue’s headline caught my eye: Bomb Case Awash in Mystery.
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As soon as I saw mention of a pipe bomb found under an SUV in a suburban neighborhood, I knew I’d hit gold. Suspect A noticed something strange under his car. It turned out to be a homemade bomb. He accused his wife’s lover of planting the device. This man, suspect B, said that he was framed by Suspect A and the wife. But it didn’t help his claim of innocence when the wife was found to have a $500,000 life insurance policy on her husband. Then the lover’s DNA was found on the bomb. But was it rigged to go off, or was it set as a false trail? To complicate the issue, police discovered videos of Suspect B and his stepdaughter having sex. Oh, man. I couldn’t have made this up! You know how truth is stranger than fiction? Here’s a perfect example.

When might I use this information? When I’m determining the suspects in my next mystery. I’m always looking for motives and secrets people may hide. Or an article like this might kick off a new plot. Think about the puzzles here. It seems an open-and-shut case about the wife and her lover trying to do away with the husband. But what if it’s really the husband and wife trying to frame the lover? Why would they do that? What if…? And here we go. Our imagination is off and running.

Stockpiling clippings doesn’t only apply to the mystery genre. For my science fiction romances, I obtain articles on futuristic technology, whether it’s on flying cars or electromagnetic weapons. Even the power of invisibility has a basis in reality. I have articles to show for these topics. I also cut out stories of true adventure travel. You never know when my hero might have to explore a volcanic crater or traipse through a jungle. Even off the beat pieces that tickle my fancy go into a general research file. You might need inspiration and one of these printouts could fire your imagination.
  
So are you a crazy clipper like me? I make sure my husband reads the newspaper first before I put holes in it. What kind of dirt do you look for?

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How Much Are You Willing to Share About Your Stories? Author Confessions Time

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid in elementary school, but as I grew older, I wondered how authors concocted their stories and how much of their own experiences became a part of their fictional stories. Vivid scenes can put you into that moment with the characters. Exotic sights and smells can put you there, even if you’ve never been.
 
Now with each book that I write, I know the answer—at least for me. I feel like I’m treading on dangerous ground to reveal too much. I run the risk of pulling a reader out of my books because they may know where elements come from. But maybe telling some of my secrets might enrich a reader’s experience, like saying my stories are inspired by real headlines or true stories.
 
My first HarperCollins Sweet Justice series book, Evil Without A Face, had been inspired by a horrific near miss abduction by a young girl who had been virtually seduced online by a charming human trafficker. The girl had her computer only 6 months, a gift from her parents. The clever trafficker set up an elaborate scheme, involving innocent adults who he lied to, to trick this girl into leaving the US even when she didn’t have a passport. The FBI thwarted the abduction in Greece, minutes before the girl was to meet her kidnapper in a public market. The Echo of Violence (Sweet Justice #3) came from a real life terrorist plot to hold missionaries for ransom.
 
But those inspirations aren’t what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the small creative morsels that you pepper into your stories that are your secrets, no one else’s. So it’s confession time and I’ll start.
 
There’s a line in No One Heard Her Scream, my debut novel:
 
If she wanted to engage the only brain he had, all she had to do was unzip it and free willy.
 
I channeled that line through my character and didn’t even remember writing it, until one of my sisters asked about it. It came from one of my vacations when I visited Vancouver and took a day trip to see where they filmed “Free Willy.”
 
In my debut YA with Harlequin Teen, In the Arms of Stone Angels, I wrote about my 16-yr old Brenna Nash getting extra credit for dissecting a frog and earning extra credit for extracting the frog’s brain intact. Well, Brenna may have gotten the extra credit in the book, but I never did. I jabbed at that frog until it’s head was shredded. The brain popped out whole, so I asked for the credit. After my teacher saw the wreck I made, she only gave me a grimace and a heavy sigh. (There are quite a few more kid stories of mine in this book, but I’m stopping here.)
 
Sometimes I use real people that I know in my books as “fictional” characters. They know I’m doing it but they roll when they read what I wrote. I crack up too. The priest and Mrs Torres at the end of The Echo of Violence, for example. Yep, people I know. One of my favorite book reviewers for my YA novels entered a contest of mine and won being named a character in my upcoming release – Indigo Awakening. O’Dell shared some of his quirks in an email and after seeing that list, I thought he would make an odd villain. He can’t wait to read the book.
 
So now that I’ve given you a peek behind the curtain of Oz, is there anything you care to share about your own writing? If you’re a reader, have you ever heard or read stories about what elements have been connected to the real life of an author?

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Scene Scouting: On Location or Wikipedia?

From the ITW Debut Author class of 2012-2013, TKZ welcomes Brian Andrews as our guest blogger, here to discuss one of my favorite topics, researching location. Enjoy.

By Brian Andrews

brian andrews square headshotEveryone has heard the old real estate adage, "What are the three most important factors to consider when buying property? LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.  As a thriller writer, I spend a great deal of time mulling over location… scene location to be precise. Why? Because selecting a scene location is like deciding whether to bake brownies using oil, or substituting applesauce instead. Sure, the applesauce brownies are low fat, but they lose that authenticity that makes a brownie taste like a brownie. Wikipedia is applesauce. The queasy, weak in the knees sensation I felt leaning against the metal railing on the Key Bridge, as I imagined what it would be like to jump into the grey-green water of the Potomac River flowing eighty feet below… that’s baking brownies with oil. 

catacombs melange

When I travel for my "day job", I’m always scoping out locations for future scenes in future novels. My motto has become: Don’t force a location into the story, take the story to the location. Recently, I had a business meeting in Paris, which afforded me one free morning to play tourist. When my Parisian host asked me what I would like to do, I replied, "Take me to the creepiest place imaginable." And so he did. The Catacombs beneath Paris hold the remains of over six million Parisians. The walkways are lined with bones. Femurs and skulls are stacked 2 meters high and used to decorate this dank and disturbing underground labyrinth. It was described to me as "romantic macabre." No arguments there. When I finally stepped out of the Catacombs and back into the warm Parisian sun, I knew with certainty that characters of mine will someday find themselves in this location.

What is your favorite scene location in a novel, or in real life?

small coverMidwest born and raised, Brian is a US Navy Veteran who served as an officer aboard a 688 class nuclear submarine in the Pacific. Brian lives in Tornado Alley with is wife and daughter. His debut thriller, THE CALYPSO DIRECTIVE, was recently released. Brian is a member of the ITW debut author class of 2012/2013 and lifelong fan of the thriller genre. 

Say hello to Brian on Facebook at: www.brianandrewsauthor.com/facebook

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A gift this Holiday Season

It’s that time of year when family and friends gather to celebrate the joys of Christmas and the hope of a New Year. Gifts are imageexchanged and toasts are proposed. And somewhere in between the excitement of family reunions, caroling and a general sharing of good cheer, us writers must still find time to research and write. I can’t do much to help you write, but I do have a Holiday gift for everyone when it comes to research. It contains many tips to help you formulate your plots, build your characters and visualize your settings. Here’s a sample:

Creating Names
How do you come up with names for your characters, especially the minor and walk-on characters? Pop in a DVD of any movie and skip to the credit roll. There’s hundreds of mix and match names to choose from. And if you need foreign names, just pick a movie that was shot in a particular country. Even the major Hollywood studies use local crews when they’re on location and list their names in the credits.

Don’t want to watch a movie? There are even fake name generators online, some for specific genres like SF and fantasy.

Character Bios
How about background info on your characters? Easy. Just check the obituaries in a local or national paper. You’re sure to find biographies you can modify for your needs. There’s even a national obituary website where you can find thousands of bios to review. And don’t forget searching the faculty bios at hundreds of colleges and universities for background info.

Location, location, location
What about creating a sense of place? This one is really fun. Let’s say you need to describe a house where your character lives in a particular town. Start with one of the many real estate websites. A quick search will show you what the houses look like in a particular neighborhood or area, many with virtual tours. Google maps gives you the names of the surrounding streets, highways and landmarks. And Google Earth shows you the surrounding territory in detail including the names of hotels, restaurants and other landmarks that can make your story more realistic. And the hotels and restaurants almost always have a website so you can choose what your character had for dinner or what the view is from his hotel room.

I’ve also found that there are many detailed accounts of personal vacations, walking tours and excursions, many with photos, that give great descriptions of cities, towns, parks, monuments, and other unique locations that can add a touch of realism.

Loads of Links
Your hero is in Mexico City reading the morning news. What’s the name of the leading Mexican newspaper? There are websites that list and monitor thousands of newspapers from around the world.

You need statistics? Visit the CIA World Factbook or the Bureau of Justice Statistics websites. Need info on the global terrorists attacks that happed this morning? How about military terms and technology? Or how stuff works? What about access to over 39,000 public record databases? Or finding out what time it is right now in Nigeria or Singapore? There are websites for these and so many more for writer’s research resources.

And the most intriguing treasure of all: The Hidden Web. It’s over 500 times larger than the Internet and hardly anyone knows about it or how to access it. Now you will when you visit my research page.

As promised, here’s the location of my Holiday gift to all who visit TKZ. You don’t even have to tear off the wrapping paper. It contains all the tips from above and a whole lot more. New links are added from time to time, so check back often. Enjoy!

http://www.joe-moore.com/research

Since TKZ will be on vacation from December 18 through January 2, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you next year.

One more Christmas treat to get everyone into the Holiday spirit: The great Mariah Carey singing All I Want For Christmas Is You.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8, 2011.
"What do you get when you cross Indiana Jones with THE DA VINCI CODE? THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, a rollicking thrill ride." – Tess Gerritsen

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Reason to kill?


By P.D. Martin

Today TKZ is thrilled to have a tremendous writer from the land down under join us, author PD Martin. In her latest release, Fan Mail, Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson is working a case where fiction has become fatal. A popular crime writer is murdered and posed just like the crime scene in the dead author’s last book.

Could crime fiction incite someone to kill? This is a question I’m often asked, and it’s one of the themes I explore in my third book, Fan Mail.

Having done lots of research on murder and criminal psychology, my belief is that if someone is going to take another human being’s life, reading fictional accounts of murder is not going to push them over the edge. Having said that, we do live in a world where we’re increasingly exposed to violence and graphic crime-scene depictions.

Take the many successful (and entertaining) shows on TV: CSI, Bones, Law & Order: SVU…and then, of course, there’s Dexter. But have we really been desensitized?

A few years ago, after lots of meticulous research into horrific and violent crimes, I honestly believed I was desensitized, almost in a similar way to a cop. I’d imagined some horrible situations and written about them in detail. I was tough!

Or so I thought, until I met Victoria Police’s profiler, who gave me a list of law-enforcement text books to help with my research. I ordered them online and was so excited when they arrived; and the timing couldn’t have been better because I was packing for a week-long writing retreat. I threw the books in my luggage and headed down to the beach.

The first thing I did when I arrived was to unpack the books and start flipping through one…and then I saw it. The first page the book opened to was a photo from a crime-scene in which a woman had been raped then murdered. The killer had tied her down and posed her in a disturbingly revealing way. Next photo: a dead woman with both of her breasts cut off. Next photo: a decomposing body. Next photo…I think you get the picture. In that instant I realised my so-called desensitization wasn’t real. They say a picture tells a thousand words and in the case of crime-scene photographs, it’s certainly true. The new set of books disturbed me, but they also made me understand my character, Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson, so much more intensely – to be faced with these photos every day and go on….it’s definitely one of the hardest jobs in the world.

I’m thankful that I write fiction because I can make stuff up and no matter how graphic and horrific, I know it’s not real. And this is also a large part of why I don’t think crime fiction can, or would, incite someone to kill. It is fiction, and no matter how descriptive or well written we know it’s not real. Law-enforcement text books on the other hand…they could be very scary in the wrong hands.
So I’m curious: what do you think? Could reading crime fiction serve as the catalyst for actual crimes?

PD Martin – Phillipa Deanne Martin – is an Australian author with a background in psychology. She has written four novels featuring Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson, of which the first three are currently available in North America – Body Count, The Murderers’ Club and Fan Mail. See www.pdmartin.com.au for more information.

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How Birds and Bears can Ruin a Book

by Michelle Gagnon

There appears to be a theme developing this week, and I’m nothing if not a sheep (baaa) so allow me to continue the thread. My system of research is roughly akin to loading a shotgun with bird pellets and firing away: I’m all over the place. Although I love doing it, research has never been my strong suit (one of the reasons I shy away from historicals, and have the utmost respect for writers like Clare who are brave enough to tackle them). And yet I do attempt to make my books as accurate as possible, from the description of a corpse that’s spent threeglock weeks in sea water to the nitty gritty of jurisdictional issues in law enforcement (not to mention everyone’s personal favorite, weapons accuracy. Repeat after me: Glocks do not have safeties).

So I spend a few months prior to each book diving into a series of books and websites, some of which relate directly to what I’m writing about, some of which I stumble across along the tangential trail that my creative process invariably takes. Since I don’t work from an outline, instead “flying by the seat of my pants,” the synopsis that I submit to my editor always turns out to be laughably inaccurate by the end. The research always takes the book in new, strange directions.

Like everyone else, I make liberal use of travel books, Google Earth and for my latest thriller, sites as varied as the Southern Poverty Law Center, anarchy/bomb making sites, and neo-Nazi recruiting sites. I’m pretty sure those visits have landed me on a watch list somewhere.

quarry But here’s where I draw the line on accuracy. In Boneyard, I needed a quarry. And not just any quarry: a limestone quarry, right off a main road that exists in Western Massachusetts where the book was set. So you know what? I put one there. Then I moved an abandoned Civil Defense bunker three towns over to suit my purpose. The rest of the book is completely accurate, as far as I know.

When you set a book in a real location, and mess around with geography in this manner, you expect a certain amount of critical emails. So you can imagine my surprise when the only complaints I got were as follows:warbler

I’ve enjoyed reading your book but I am disturbed about one error. It’s on pages 187 and 188.

If you are going to incorporate a bird into your story, please check it and spell the name correctly.

It’s “Kirtland’s Warbler” not “Kirkland’s Warbler.”

Yikes. Now, I went back and checked my notes, and “Kirkland’s Warbler” came directly from a New York birder who swore that would be his dream sighting (so wouldn’t you assume he’d get the name right?) A search produced the name with that exact spelling- and, when I double-checked, an alternate spelling with a “T.” The fact that this apparent error “disturbed” someone enough to limit their enjoyment of the book was, needless to say, somewhat disconcerting. But no mention of that imaginary quarry and relocated bunker.

Well, I told myself, you can’t be right 100% of the time. Then I got another email:

brown bear I am a hiker and just to let you know that there are no brown bears east of the Mississippi River. Black bears are in the north east for sure!

Anyone sensing a wildlife theme here? Went back to double-check and it turns out that my intrepid hiker is correct. I’ll confess, my knowledge of wildlife is somewhat spotty. To me, a bear is a bear, and I’d prefer not to get close enough for a true color test. It hadn’t even occurred to me to investigate this. I knew there were bears in the Berkshires, even saw one once when I lived there (and to this day I’d swear that the overall appearance was brown. Although I was heading fast in the opposite direction, so it’s hard to be sure).

So the moral to the story is you can research until your eyes bleed, but somewhere in those 100,000 words there’s bound to be one or two inaccuracies that neither you, your editor, copy-editor, agent, or 10-12 Beta readers will catch. And someone will find that mistake disturbing.

Fake quarries, though? Use them at will.

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