NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

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Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Friday, May 29, 2015

Research and Other Killers

by Janis Patterson
I don’t care how hard you research your facts, how meticulously you look things up, you’re going to miss something. And once the book is out someone will call you on it. Sometimes someone will call you on it even if you’re right.

Sigh.

Research is necessary to make your book as true to life as possible – and that is important. Writers who ignore facts show their readers an insulting disrespect.

However, sometimes no amount of research turn up the facts that you need. Until lately I have been working on a mystery set in 1916 New Orleans called A KILLING ON BASIN STREET. Now most of the things I need to know are fairly easy to find – New Orleans history and WWI are well-documented. Some things, though, are not. One of them is whether the 1916 Jordan Sport Marine automobile started with a self-starter (a dashboard button not too different from what we have today) or with a crank. I need it to start with a self-starter, but no one – and I mean NO ONE – seems to know which. I’ve talked to car enthusiasts and classic car clubs and professional organizations both in the US and abroad. No one knows. 1916-17-18 were the years of transition from cranks to self-starters, but I cannot pin down a date for the Jordan Sport Marine.

I’ve been asked why I just don’t change the automobile to something which I can verify, but I don’t want to. The Jordan Sport Marine was a wonderful, ground-breaking car which wouldn’t look bad on today’s highways, and which is the perfect car for my heroine to have, both cost and image-wise. Sigh. Anyway, I have solved the problem and, like many of my betters, will take refuge in obfuscation. I have put in that the car my heroine drives is ‘an advanced experimental model.’ Remember, weasel-words are our friends!

I will admit that I sometimes take research perhaps a mite too far. I said I had been working on A KILLING ON BASIN STREET until recently. It immediately got pushed to the back seat when an opportunity came to visit and actually stay at the dig house on an Egyptian archaeological excavation. Civilians NEVER get invited to stay at a dig house. First of all, the director (my dear friend Dr. Dirk Huyge) had to get permissions for us from two branches of the Egyptian government – the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo and the Aswan Governate.

Dirk and I had been chatting sporadically about doing a mystery set at the dig house, and I had a plot in mind. So, when he asked, The Husband and I went. (Duh!)  Being there made all the difference. I had seen pictures of the house, and read about it, but the reality was totally different than my imaginings. Now when I write on A KILLING AT EL KAB (and I’m over 20,000 words in) in my mind I can actually walk the halls again, sit on the terraces and watch the timeless Nile flow by, and see all the archaeologists hard at work. It’s not as good as actually being there, but it’s still wonderful. And real.


And I don’t have any illusions that there won’t be someone who tells me I am wrong about something. It’s inevitable.

12 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

Sounds like you're having a great time pursuing the facts and atmosphere of your books. It can't get any better than that. Nice post. Clever to make the car an experimental model. I think most readers are willing to give a little leeway.

Claire Fullerton said...

I always love reading your blogs because your way of writing tells me that you fun and accessible! I always like "listening" to you, no mater what you say, and this business about the car makes me want to go find the answer for you!

Jana Richards said...

How exciting that you got the chance to spend time at this dig house in Egypt. What a great opportunity for a writer!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

I love doing the research as well, but you are so right, we are always going to miss something and readers will pick up any mistake. I've had it happen as well. However, we are writing fiction, so a little leeway is allowable.

Marcelle Dubé said...

What fun! I'm glad you had the chance to stay at the dig house, and I'm also a little (okay, a lot) envious.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

and even if you quote, there will be someone quoting something else. I've ran into conflicting descriptions of historical characters, so yeah, weasel words work great. he appeared to some to be a tall man when....lol

Allan J. Emerson said...

I like books set in the past, and it's always nice to learn something I didn't know about the time, so I appreciate it when the writer clearly knows the period.

As a writer, I want what I put out to be as close to perfect as possible (okay, I admit it--I want it perfect). However, as a reader, I don't think most readers get bent out of shape if they notice small errors, as long as they aren't the pivot on which the story turns. A few will pounce on minor things, true, but maybe the way to look at this is that they got even more satisfaction from the book than other readers :)

Cathy Perkins said...

Wonderful post - so glad you got the chance to stay at the dig house!

I agree about the research though. I recently read a traditionally published book that had so many errors (rifles don't shoot .45 caliber and on and on) that I wondered if anyone did any fact checking. And yeah, totally pulled me out of the story and I kept wondering what else was wrong.

Heidi Schussman said...

I enjoy the research and have to force myself to move on, back to writing. But, as you say Janis, someone inevitably catches some minor error and makes sure I know.

Right now I'm reading "Tracking Humans" to gain insight into the art of finding missing persons (hostile or non-hostile). I even go to the shooting range and handle the guns myself to ensure I describe the feel and weight properly, sigh.

Dee said...

Research is a challenge but once you start it, as Heidi says, you have to force yourself to stop and get on!

Helen Henderson said...

Good points. Research is fun ... and a challenge. But there comes a time when you have to put it to use. I always console myself that the initial research has to be it all. I can always look up a fact or two later on if I find something missing when writing the story. Good post.

Judith Ingram said...

You remind us, Janis, that putting together a novel worth reading is a multi-layered task. Yet, like all art, it may appear effortless to the one who enjoys our stories. Thanks for this amusing and encouraging article!

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