It was in the late 90s when the internet was in its infancy. EBooks were unheard of. Traditional publishing was king.
Being a researcher, I wrote a letter to an expert (one of those pen and paper numbers--to one of my favourite authors) asking for advice. Amazingly, she wrote back (on beautiful thick paper)
Her advice was as follows...(paraphrasing)
1) Just do it! Write everyday. (check)
2) Keep a copy of Strunk and White next to the computer (check)
3) Do your research thoroughly (I'm going to write more about this later)
4) Join your local RWA chapter (I joined KOD which was online and as close as I could get)
5) When you've completed your manuscript go to the local/regional/national RWA conference (check check check)
Ok, there were a couple more points, but...
Fast forward sixteen years to the annual Harlequin Party held at RWA Nationals and I'm in the restroom--THE RESTROOM!!--and in walks the woman who wrote to me all those years ago. Catherine Coulter. I had a total fangirl moment and started gushing about how she'd sent me such a beautiful letter all those years ago (I'm sure she sent hundreds), but she was so gracious and sweet and probably just wanted to use the restroom in peace. What a lovely woman, to take the time and make the effort to pass on that good advice. That's what I love about romance writers. They care. They try to help other writers. See--it makes a difference. I was attending this particular conference as a RITA finalist (did I mention that?? Ha :)) so it felt like the whole process had come full circle. Anyway, I'm sure she doesn't remember me, but I will never forget the influence Catherine Coulter has had on my career and life.
Back to that research thing. When I started on that first story (HER SANCTUARY) there was zero information available on the FBI and even less on art fraud--trust me, I looked. I read as many books as I could find, but I was too broke (by then we were on one income, first house, living in Scotland, with a baby on the way), too unsure of myself, and too British to imagine I could make a trip to Quantico. I'd be laughed at, arrested and deported. So I invented a fictional division for my FBI people. I say this because the resources we have available to us now for research are absolutely incredible. Books, memoirs, websites, and DVDs contain so much information my head spins, and on top of that, the FBI have public affairs people who regularly consult with writers. I still think it's OK to create fictional divisions and to tweak locations and procedures because we're writing fiction, but nowadays it's a choice. Don't judge me :)