“I KILL PEOPLE” was a best selling tee shirt at the Love Is Murder writers’ convention in
Chicago. I spent the weekend with a couple hundred people who do just that––at least on
paper. What a weekend it was! Lovers of the mystery genre—aspiring authors, established
novelists, and veterans on the New York Times Bestseller list––all rubbed elbows, shared
ideas, and laughed together.
Publishers, agents, and experienced writers gave tips to us novices
to hone our writing skills
. . . to hook our readers with just the right beginning
. . . to not get muddled in the middle
. . . to nail the ending.
Those workshops were instructive, but the real fun came from
meeting crime scene experts. You should have heard the conversations!
“How long does it take to suffocate a person?”
“My victim was murdered . . .”
“How much blood would . . .”
Gruesome, but in that crowd, very normal.
Thursday evening I shared a table with Dr. David Ciambrone, a retired scientist, weapons designer, oceanographer, and coroner with eleven books published, including a non-fiction book on poisons. He helped me “get it right” by describing the effects of a crushed skull and by giving me facts about the poisonous blue bead lilies which become a weapon in my second novel, Wolf Pack.
Scott Gamboe was a paratrooper and a Desert Storm veteran. He now is a forensic investigator for the Peoria medical examiner and the author of three police thrillers. While sharing a dinner table with him, I asked about rigor mortis and the smell that would emanate from a body after 12 hours. I can now accurately describe the dead bad guy in Wolf Pack.
By the way, dinner was delicious.
My favorite may have been Marco Conelli who could star in any of the TV cop shows. He’s a veteran NYPD detective who specialized in undercover gun and narcotic seizure and now works in Organized Crime Control. He writes award-winning crime novels and entertains the crowd with his real-life experiences. My novels will not be as hard boiled as Marco Conelli’s, but I now have a better feel for drug busts and organized crime. A bit of those may show up in a novel I have percolating in my brain.
How important is realism?
My goal is to immerse readers in the exciting locals in my novels, so I researched Rim To Rim by hiking across the Grand Canyon and Wolf Pack by exploring Isle Royale. The backpacking jargon rings true. The scenery descriptions are accurate. I’ve never experienced any crimes, but tried to make them credible by asking for advice from law officials, medical personnel, and now these forensic experts. What fun!
Have you ever felt cheated by a story in which the author didn’t “get it right”? How much research do you do––or do you write only what you know?