Research Makes or Breaks the Novel

A thousand pardons to my two loyal readers — I haven’t posted anything all year. My New Year’s Resolution is to post at least once a
month.

Something fabulous happened last week: I finished my fourth novel! I completed three fantasy novels in the past few years, but there’s no market for them. So I set them aside and tried my hand at a murder mystery. My editor calls it a “cozy” but that doesn’t seem quite right to me. It’s in the same vein as the Jesse Stone novels: small town
cop, witty dialogue, tons of sarcasm, quirky townspeople, lots of fun (aside from the two dead women).

 

I found that the amount of research necessary for a murder is on par with the research for fantasies. Before, I had to research the “old” way of doing things: How do you make butter? How do you sharpen a sword? How do you make boots?

In a modern-day mystery, I had to research things like: What’s learned in an autopsy? How long does it take the State Crime Lab to analyze tissue samples or ballistics? How many cops are are employed by a town of 20,000 people? How do you “book” someone? What kind of gun do cops carry, and do they carry all the time?

 

I discovered that I LIKE doing this type of research. Granted, I ran into a few things I couldn’t find on-line and couldn’t find an expert who could help me, so I had to make a few things up. But I found nearly everything I needed, including two unlikely sources: the pharmacist at my local grocery store was pleased to tell me all about the prescription drugs in my novel, and the public information officer at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab volunteered quite a bit of information on tissue/ballistics analysis and timelines.

 

I also found a series of books from Writer’s Digest called the Howdunit Series. They go in-depth on all the topics you’d need for a mystery: writer’s guides to missing persons, private eyes, ballistics
and weapons, crime scenes, body trauma, poisons, homicides, etc. I found a plethora of information in these books that were crucial to
the success of my novel.

 

Granted, I ran into several walls. Originally, I called my family
physician to ask about pharmaceuticals. She didn’t have time in her schedule to chat with me about these things, so I had to find an alternative (hence the pharmacist). The web is bursting with information about pharmaceuticals, but finding the answer to a single question (like how many milligrams of liquid fit in an epi-pen?) is daunting and proved to be too sophisticated for my meager surfing skills.

 

The bottom line is that research is a necessary evil for writers of any genre, and I discovered that people get really excited when used as a resource. My local pharmacist now waves to me every time I come into the grocery store and asks when he’ll see my book at the bookstand. He’ll be even more excited when he sees I’ve put his name
on the “thank you” page.

For what it’s worth,

-Sonja

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