Tag: research

research

Did someone say research?

 Did someone say research? This isn’t grad school….. which is what I have to keep telling myself as I delve into books and articles about a subject I’m considering for a new book.  Preparing for graduate degrees in history I read a lot. Let me repeat that: a lot. It quickly became clear that I needed to absorb the essence of the argument, and not necessarily every supporting detail. When in a real hurry I would read the first and last sentence of every paragraph, stopping for a more complete read only occasionally. Why did this work? Because I needed to understand the history of history. What were the arguments supporting or deflating theories of the Why about our past. How had opinion about cause and effect changed over time with changing attitudes and newly discovered primary resources? This was what I needed to understand. Researching to write fiction is entirely different, at least in a few important ways. Reading quickly is still an asset. However, now I’m searching for interesting tidbits, facts, stories, details, descriptions. It is a needle in a haystack. There are a few go-to places for descriptions of, for example, clothing. There are collections of photographs (and paintings) […]

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Researching a story… to death.

 Writers research. Even fiction writers. After all, readers want details and they expect them to ring true. Location, weather, clothing, food, transportation. These are the basics. Don’t have someone take a bus in my hometown of Madisonville, Kentucky. There aren’t any.  Detail should slip into the story like water through a crack. No blaring signs that say: look, I got the music and the moon boots right, it’s 1983! Instead, the subtleties of detail should ring true silently. With them, the reader feels a place without signposts. Mention endless fields of cotton, small bottles of Coke for a nickel in a chilled machine, blazing heat followed by shattering lightening and I think the Mississippi Delta in the 1970s. A few details and I’m there. Get a detail significantly wrong and I’m pulled away. After all, that’s where I spent my summers in those years. At my grandparents, frying eggs on the bricks of their patio, it was so hot. Impressed – and a little frightened- by the enormous circles of burned cotton where lightening struck the fields overnight. And not quite understanding why we had to play inside some days (later I’d learn it meant there was a prison escaped from Parchman penitentiary, […]

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Starting your story. Is it magic?

TRACEE: As writers we have stories floating around in our heads all the time. Sometimes I feel like everything I see during the day spurs a little “and then what if?” moment where I spin the action, dialogue, character into something darker. I’m sure that some of those thoughts do make it into a story as an expression, or phrase or setting. Perhaps even as the seed for a character. However, it is a far cry from fleeting interest to formation of a plot that will become a project that occupies my mind for at least a year.  Those of us who write a series are looking for plot – we know the broader sense of our story (continuing characters, setting and some on-going themes). If you aren’t writing a series – or if you are, and think to break away – then all ideas are on the table. Action, mystery, romance, historical, literary, comic books. You name it, and it is possible.  How do you know that ‘this is it!’ This is the storyline that you will commit to. SUSAN: There are few better feelings than that shiver of excitement you feel when you know you’ve hit on something good. (Then I […]

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To Google Maps, with Love

I recently wrote a short story for an upcoming anthology inspired by the music of Lou Reed. My story, Pale Blue Eyes, based on his song, could not take place in New Jersey or New York, the states with which I am most familiar, having lived in both for years. Something about the rumble of Lou Reed’s gravelly tenor refused to let me throw the characters inspired by his songs in the fast-talking, faster moving Manhattan area and its environs.  So, I set it in Las Vegas. Part of it takes place on the infamous strip, which I’ve been to. But the far more significant part of the story takes place at Las Vegas’ Red Rock Canyon State Park, which I have never visited.  Thanks to Google, though, I could virtually visit. The Internet Giant’s map site let me walk through the Calico Tanks trail, showing me all the scenery I might see on a given day, every step of the way.  I could see the dusty trail, the striated red rock formations and the prickly scrub brush lining the narrow foot path.  I could view user uploaded images at different points in the day of the giant red rocks.  Thanks to associated links, I could even visit […]

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It's only for research purposes

 My second novel, Death in D Minor, officially premieres tomorrow, July 11. I’ve been busy revising the third book in the series, A Killing in C Sharp, so I haven’t had time to freak out about release day for my sophomore effort. I resisted the urge to repeat my debut novel swag buying frenzy. With Murder in G Major, I put my book cover on everything—hats, t-shirts, posters, calendars, tote bags, mugs, pens, stickers—you get the idea. For Death in D Minor, I limited myself to pens, postcards, bottle opener key rings, and combination flashlight/laser pointers. I’ve scheduled a book signing on July 13, my first official book signing not associated with a conference panel. Stop by if you’re anywhere near Lake Forest, IL. I’ve also been doing research for future novels. When you write about ghosts, research consists of streaming episodes of Ghost Adventures on Sling TV, listening to paranormal podcasts on Stitcher, and—my favorite—listening to M. R. James’s ghost stories on Audible. Montague Rhodes James, a respected medievalist scholar, college provost (King’s College, Cambridge and Eton), and museum director, wrote the most disturbing ghost story I’ve ever read—”Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” The. Most. Disturbing. […]

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The Danger Of Too Much Truth In Fiction

Thriller writers must be careful about being too honest about the extent of human depravity lest we be accused of unbelievability. In truth, human beings are capable of far more horrific behaviors than most of us thriller authors could ever write about. Today, for example, I read a story in the Washington Post about people who brutally murdered a former friend for allegedly attempting to steal their marijuana smoking device. The brothers presumed responsible made the victim consume kitty litter before posting photos of the brutal attack on snapchat, an online messaging platform. If I had a villain who I had not established was a psychopath or drug syndicate enforcer perpetrate a similar crime, I’d certainly be accused of taking too much license. How could readers believe that individuals, not under the influence of some psychosis-inducing PCP-type drug, would be so horrible to another human being, especially a person they had liked enough to invite into their home?  In my last book, The Widower’s Wife, a few readers took issue with a character sneaking back into America via a cruise ship. They said that coming into the U.S. without papers couldn’t possibly be that easy and that human smugglers wouldn’t have acted in the way that I portrayed. I had gotten much of my information for that part of […]

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