On Moonshine and Goats, Assault Rifles and Ferris Wheels
By Linda Lovely
I love research.
Like most fiction authors, I find research is an essential tool in my efforts to make my plots and characters believable. Say I’m writing an historical. I’d better know what my heroine would (or wouldn’t) wear as well as how she would (or wouldn’t) swear.
If I’m writing a suspense or thriller, research also is the best way (and here my husband strongly agrees) to determine what type and quantity of poison I’d need to kill a healthy male.
For me, however, research is much more than a way to answer specific questions. It’s a no-fail creative engine. It sparks ideas for new characters and broadens horizons. Sometimes it even inspires whole plots.
If you’re an author suffering from writer’s block or simply feel your characters or scenes lack a certain spark, take a few hours, a day, or even a week off from pounding the keyboard to research. Go to a library. Make Google your best friend. Visit museums. Watch old newsreels. Look at the ads in 1930s newspapers.
But don’t stop with such passive research options. Sign up for a class or event that offers you hands-on experience with guns or quilts, candy-making or martial arts. Hike the woods where your villain lurks. Ask folks who share your hero’s or heroine’s professions if you can spend a day with them in their world. Call experts and request interviews. Most people love to talk about what they do, and they’re more than happy to share their expertise and insights.
Real-world experiences not only add sensory depth to your novels, they enrich your life.
Here’s a sampling of the literally hundreds of questions I’ve researched for my novels (current and upcoming) along with descriptions of how I tackled the research and what I gained from the experience:
- What might I encounter on a descent into one of the deepest caves in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country? HOW: During a visit with family members living in Jamaica, my brother-in-law suggested a cave would make an ideal place to hide a body. Back in the States, I found a website for the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO). I emailed the founder, who not only provided descriptions and video clips of actual cave descents but generously reviewed my manuscript descriptions of the Cockpit Country and caving. GAIN: I made one of my secondary characters a JCO member, learned about ecological concerns (that became a subplot), and gained a much better appreciation for the beauty of caves and the dangers entailed in exploring them. (DEAD LINE, 1st book in the Smart Women, Bad Luck series, revised eBook (formerly FINAL ACCOUNTING) & new audiobook coming in May.)
- What piece of golf course equipment might I use to kill a villain? HOW: I asked the head of maintenance at a local golf course what piece of machinery he’d choose to defend himself and kill a bad guy. His answer prompted me to visit a rental company where I took the beast for a test drive. GAIN: I was able to accurately describe how my heroine would feel at the controls as she zoomed in reverse up a hill. (DEAR KILLER, 1st book in the Marley Clark Mystery Series.)
- What amusements would be featured at a 1938 Street Fair in Keokuk, Iowa? HOW: I started in the Keokuk Public Library looking at local newspaper articles about the week-long fair. I made notes about the high-wire and animal acts, the rides, the political speeches, the marching bands, etc. I followed up with Internet searches for historical photos and interviews with circus performers. But some of my best research came from finding and talking to seniors who remembered living through the Depression and attending Street Fairs in the late 1930s when they were children. GAIN: Research inspired an idea for how a villain might attempt to murder my heroine by tampering with a Ferris wheel. Plus the bright lights, smells, sights and tastes associated with the Street Fair helped me paint a more rounded, colorful portrait of this economically bleak period. Love, laughter and hope survive even in the worst of times. (Upcoming novel: LIES, a romantic suspense set in 1938)
- How do you make moonshine? What do guardian and herding dogs do on a goat-cheese farm? HOW: I invited an author friend (Cindy Blackburn) to join me on a field trip, and we made arrangements to visit South Carolina’s first legal purveyor of moonshine and tag along with a group of college veterinary assistant students on a tour of a local goat farm. GAIN: We learned how an old-timey still works. Plus I discovered peach moonshine is quite tasty and makes a great grilling sauce. We also wound up chatting with a lady who actually suffered through a bout of total amnesia. She woke in a hospital not knowing her name, her husband, or her children.) She’s destined to inspire a character in a future book. On the goat farm, we watched guardian Great Pyrenees dogs (guardians) and Border Collies (herders) at work, petted newborn kids, toured the milking barn, tasted exceptional apricot goat cheese, and met a Billy goat and a pot-bellied pig with perfect personalities to join the cast of animal characters in my new series. (Upcoming humorous cozy mystery (with romance) series, not yet titled.)
- How does it feel to carry an assault rifle and conduct a building search for armed and dangerous suspects? HOW: I attended The Writers’ Police Academy in 2012 and 2013, and this fall, I’m a member of the volunteer staff for the WPA. If your books involve any type of crime, do yourself a favor and sign up for the WPA in 2015. (The 2014 edition is already sold out.) The WPA takes place at a real law enforcement academy. The instructors are undercover cops, FBI and DEA agents, sheriffs, SWAT team leaders, forensic scientists, criminal psychologists, etc. And the learning isn’t limited to classrooms. I joined a SWAT team on a building search exercise, tramped through forest in search of a shallow grave, fired a laser-equipped Glock in a firearms training exercise, watched a dive team on an underwater evidence recovery mission, and searched a jail cell for contraband. GAIN: If you don’t leave the WPA with a notebook full of ideas for plots and characters, you literally missed the bus that takes participants to the academy each morning.
Have I convinced you that research is fun?
What’s the most fun you’ve had researching a question for one of your manuscripts?
AND DON’T MISS OUT on Linda’s give-away today ! She’s offering two…yes TWO copies each of her audio books. BUT, to be eligible to win, you must leave a comment. And then tell all your friends on Facebook and Twitter so they can also have a chance to win !!!
About The Author:
Linda Lovely writes romantic suspense and romantic thriller/mysteries and has recently begun work on a humorous cozy mystery series. DEAR KILLER and NO WAKE ZONE, the first two novels in her Marley Clark romantic mystery series, are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks. DEAD LINE the first novel in her Smart Women, Bad Luck romantic suspense series, is in production as an ebook and audiobook. Lovely is a member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and the South Carolina Writers Workshop.
A former Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier finalist, Lovely combines romance, suspense, adventure, and humor in her manuscripts. A journalism major, she enjoys interviewing people to gain publishing insights and background material for her novels. She also teaches writing courses and enjoys speaking to groups and participating in panel discussions at conferences.
You can Follow Linda or Purchase her books at:
Audible link for DEAR KILLER: http://tinyurl.com/