I’ve been working on crime fiction long enough now to realize how much research I need to make my mysteries have at least a nodding acquaintance with reality. This fall I’ve had a special opportunity to discover the best way to research crime fiction: getting to know the men and women who work in law enforcement.
Once a year, the sheriff’s department in my county offers a citizens academy that’s absolutely free. All a resident of the county has to do is apply with a paragraph about why they would like to learn about law enforcement and give two references.
In the 11-week class, I’ve heard from officers and staff who work in:
The detective division.
The drug task force.
The SWAT team which is composed of over twenty officers from various agencies within the county.
The dispatch supervisor.
The clerks in public records.
A sketch artist.
The hands-on activities are what most crime writers needs. I’ve aimed a lidar gun at traffic, acted as an officer performing a traffic stop or dealing with a tense confrontation, and learned how to sweep a building. These activities also provide me with glimpses into behind-the-scenes details that writers love to work into stories if they can. Facts like many officers suffer from lower back trouble after years of service because when they wear their bullet-proof vest and belt, they carry an extra twenty-five to thirty pounds.
What I find even more interesting are the stories the officers tells, such as the detective who was assigned to a ten-year-old cold case and how he and his partner finally solved it. Or how a K-9 officer found the people who had broken into an abandoned jail. Or what does a rookie cop learn on the job that he can’t learn at the academy.
Most most fascinating of all is hearing how the officers view their work. One detective said he was doing “God’s work.” The sheriff spoke to us on our first night. After four decades in law enforcement, he is now hiring deputies younger than his children. The dispatch supervisor conveyed how protective the dispatchers are of the deputies they are helping in the field.
Whatever crime fiction story you are writing, try to get interviews with people who work in the particular aspect of law enforcement you are writing about. My WIP novel is set in a fictional, rural county in Ohio. Not all that I’ve learned about my home county’s sheriff’s department will apply because it has a much bigger population. So I conducted a phone interview with the chief deputy from a rural county. I was very nervous about calling the office because I’m an author with only two short stories to my credit. But he was very nice and answered all my questions.
That’s an attitude all the officers I’ve met through the academy have had. They want the citizens they protect to understand their jobs. As Clay Stafford, found of the Killer Nashville mystery writers conference, said, law enforcement professionals are flattered when writers bother to try to accurately represent their work.
Writers, what research have you done for a crime story? Readers, what mysteries have you read that seemed particularly well-researched?
I am pleased to welcome back Carole Brown as a guest blogger today. Carole was here back in May when she talked about her novels set during World War II. Today she’s here to discuss crime fiction. Glad to have you back, Carole!
Which comes first when writing a mystery – plot, character, or setting?
For me, plot, setting, then characters, but they all run together so much that it’s really hard to pinpoint an exact timing for them. For example:
The Appleton, WV Romantic Mysteries have an equal amount of mystery and romance.
The setting is huge because it’s one place for all the books. Hometown, small community where everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. And if they don’t, it’s normal to find out.
The characters are planned ahead of time, but developing them takes time and sometimes they even surprise me.
As for the plot, I begin research and creating the possibilities of what will happen at the very beginning, but it also grows as the book progresses.
The Denton and Alex Davies Mystery is mainly mystery, but I do try to include a subplot which is a relationship problem.
The setting is different in each book since the Davies travel in their RV throughout the country.
Their personalities are pretty well developed from the first book. I might offer a surprise detail now and then.
BUT the plot is totally different in each book. This is where I have to dig deep to create interest in the book for the reader. Since the main characters are the same, I have to make sure the book can carry its weight by providing that enticing plot.
You write both romantic mysteries and cozy mysteries. What’s the difference?
I write both suspense books and mysteries. Let me explain briefly the difference:
Suspense is when you have a crime that is usually known from the start and the reader can know who the antagonist is from the start. (Not always, but usually). For example, The Spies of WWII series:
With Music in Their Heart
A Flute in the Willows
Coming: Sing Until You Die
Mysteries are more secretive in that the reader usually doesn’t know who the antagonist is. They can guess and suspect, but with so many people who look guilty, the reader will either be surprised or if they are really good at solving mysteries, will not know the guilty party until the final chapters.
Romantic mysteries (mentioned above) has an equal amount of romance and mystery. The Appleton, WV Romantic Mysteries:
A Knight in Shining Apron
And coming in the next year or so: The Golden Touch and an unnamed one.
Cozy mystery: Mostly mystery with no on-scene death and, if there is romance, it’s written as a subplot only. The Denton and Alex Davies Mysteries:
Coming Soon: Daffy’s Duck
What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?
Hmm. My best and favorite way is to brainstorm with a close friend and/or my hubby. Both are quick thinking outside of the box, and even when I adjust their ideas or go an entirely different direction, they give me the inspiration I need to begin writing again.
What’s the most unusual source of inspiration you have used in your writing?
My hubby’s imagination. Dreams. News that I develop into an entirely different book
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write mysteries?
Read mystery books. Watch mystery shows. Play around with it. Do your research. Realize this is an entirely different ball game than writing a romance or another genre. Perhaps write a short story or novella to dig your toes into at first.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Carole!
Toni DeLuca, the Italian owner of DeLuca Construction, finds herself confronted with doubts about her father and his possible deceptions—all because of the mysterious pink notes she’s been receiving.
Relations with Perrin Douglas who has a troubling history—but the first man in years who’s interested her—is building to a peak. Yet Perrin’s own personal problems and his doubts about women and God, keep getting in the way.
Gossip, a Spanish proposal, an inheritance, and a sabotaged construction business may ruin Christmas for Toni’s employees as well as her own happiness.
Will a mysterious person succeed in pulling off the biggest scam Appleton, West Virginia has ever seen? And will this culprit destroy Toni’s last chance at happiness with the man of her dreams?
Angry at being rejected for military service, Minister Tyrell Walkeraccepts the call to serve as a civilian spy within his own country. Across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio, a spy working for a foreign country is stealing secret plans for newly developed ammunition to be used in the war. According to his FBI cousin, this spy favors pink stationery giving strong indications that a woman is involved.
He’s instructed to obtain a room in the Rayner Boarding House run by the lovely, spunky red-haired Emma Jaine Rayner. Sparks of jealousy and love fly between them immediately even as they battle suspicions that one or the other is not on the up and up.
While Tyrell searches for the murdering spy who reaches even into the boarding home, Emma Jaine struggles with an annoying renter, a worried father (who could be involved in this spy thing), and two younger sisters who are very different but just as strong willed as she is.
As Tyrell works to keep his double life a secret and locate the traitor, he refuses to believe that Emma Jaine could be involved even when he sees a red-haired woman in the arms of another man. Could the handsome and svelte banker who’s also determined to win Emma Jaine’s hand for marriage, be the dangerous man he’s looking for? Is the trouble-making renter who hassles Emma Jaine serving as a flunky? Worse, is Papa Rayner so worried about his finances and keeping his girls in the style they’re used to, that he’ll stoop to espionage?
Will their love survive the danger and personal issues that arise to hinder the path of true love?
Newly retired, all Denton Davies wants to do is to fish and recapture his wife’s love. Instead, a dead body, a missing motorcycle, a strange key, and dope await them at their first stop in the Smoky Mountains.
None of the campground people, or even the sheriff, pretend to like Denton and his snoopy questions, and everyone seems to be lying.
Does a missing motorbike hide evidence that might incriminate the murderer?
The self-centered campground manager seems greedy enough to have hidden the motorcycle for the murderer. So why doesn’t he know where the bike is now?
And why is the sheriff ignoring obvious clues? Why leave a bribery note lying where Denton’s suspicious eyes can see it?
Denton wrestles with his personal demons of self-blame over his nephew’s death while riding a bike. His wife, Alex, resents Denton’s riding roughshod over her feelings.
When he thinks her love is fading, he’s determined to woo her back. But if he doesn’t find the young man’s murderer, their love may stretch to the breaking point.
Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. An author of ten books, she loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?