I'm interested in those who have researched, other than online. Have you contacted professionals, gone to the morgue, visited a crime scene, or created your own scenes...? :)

How do you make your novel stand out? How do you make it believable?

I've got the crime scene tape ready...now...please...do tell...

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention
(all of my novels have crime elements)

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With my initial suspense book, I took over 45 hrs of training with my local cop shop, learning what they do, spending a day at their firing range & blowing up stuff with their bomb squad, etc. I also do the occasional ride-along with a late night shift officer. Many cities do this type of program. You should check into it.

On every one of my books thus far, I've had at least one or more technical advisors to give authenticity--not only for the law enforcement aspects, but also for language, setting, local politics etc. This becomes important for the color and flavor of the area you're working.

One the lieutenants I consulted with knew I had a flashbang in my story and he set one off near me so I could see how it felt. Very cool. He also became one of my secondary characters. I let his wife read my excerpts on his scene and she laughed, saying I nailed his personality. Now that I'm going to write full time from June forward, I hope to do a lot more research with the local crime lab, interview a few area women bounty hunters, and at Bouchercon in Alaska, I'll be visiting a locale I'll write about in my latest project. I lived in AK for 10 yrs, but I'm not familiar with the recent changes in the area. Research is important to me. The Internet will only take you so far. I usually try to verify any info I get off the Internet with 1-2 other sources, including an actual person when possible.

Good luck with your project!
Hey Cheryl;
I've interviewed the coroner, much to the chagrin of my teen daughtr who said, "Other moms go to PTA meetings and mine goes to see the coroner." But it was a great, and credible sources for my book.
Also, don't forget about homicide detectives. If you can latch on to one who has the time, they're one of the best sources. I've done this too.
And as far as getting the physicial stuff right, you can ask your doctor. He/She can tell you how the body works in different situations. Fortunately, my doctor is an avid mystery/horror reader and was more than happy to answer.
All of these will help create believability in the scene.
I've been to the local ME's office a few times - they have a program that involves working through a crime scene - and I've done the autopsy bay tour, heard a fair number of stories, seen the stuff.

I also researched directly with the RCMP on some aspects of investigation and one of the top trainers in the country read over scenes and worked through them with me so I got things right.

I've attended a lot of sessions, with pharmacists, undercover police officers, private investigators, etc. Wherever possible, cultivate your own sources for contact for the information you'll need. My husband's a fire fighter, which means he's been on some crime scenes, and he's also trained in arson investigation.
Because the stuff I write is, quite frankly, stupid, I don't feel that I can ask serious people - they might think I was making light of things. Jordan - the programme of going on ride alongs and seeing what the police do I don't believe is an option in the UK (I did once tell a friend in the US that I wish I lived there because then I could go on drive-bys. It was only when she looked horrified that I realised I had used the incorrect term :o)) I would love to do something like that. I did once interview a PI for an article for Crimespree magazine and he told me about a PI course that they run sometimes so I might think about doing that at some point.

My current WIP involves a scene at a museum and I went along to my local art gallery/museum and I'm sure I have been caught on their surveillance cameras checking out the windows and the alarm system. My fingerprints are all over one of the ventilation shaft grilles. I desperately wanted to ask one of the security guards about the best way to break in, but I stopped myself.

I find the internet fascinating for really unimprotant stuff. I have a character who once used to be in the French Foreign Legion. It's just a throwaway line, but I spent hours on a very fascinating website that tells you all sorts of stuff such as what they get paid, and how to desert, and how fit you need to be.

And for my first book I tried out loads of cocktails.

But serious research? I'd love to, but just feel I have no one to ask and can't just ring up the professionals.
As a newspaper reporter who handled a certain number of crime stories over the years, I've gotten a lot of stuff first-hand and, when I didn't develop it in the course of my regular job duties, I'd just ask my editor if I could go and--for instance--spend a day in the morgue and write a story about it. But some of the research I did any non-reporter could do. For instance, as several people suggested, do a drive-along with the local cops. Or, as I did outside of my reporting duties, take a class in pistol shooting. Or find a private investigator and ask him or her about the job. One thing that non-reporters may not realize is that everyone wants to talk about what he or she does for a living, so getting people to open up is really easy. I would suggest though, that you "hook" the person you want to interview by coming up with a set of questions about something specific. For instance, someone on this forum recently said he was writing a scene about an undercover detective who was carrying a pistol that went off when it was dropped. What kind of pistol was likely to do this, the writer asked? That kind of question will intrigue a firearms expert, and then you can move on to firearms in general, or whatever.
Donna--I'm the kind of friend who would take you on my next drive-by. No questions asked. Or I might offer to drive your white Ford Bronco when you're making your getaway. :)

On one of my weapons loops (for research, that is), I had a writer ask a question about launching an aasault on a country club and she wanted no one to survive. We all answered her seriously, until she just happened to mention that this country club was hosting a vampire barmitzvah. The group suddenly lost interest except for me. I kept on answering until she told me her vampire world had all sorts of unique rules she made up. Finally, even I got frustrated.

I think if you're up front with people, they'd probably want to help--short of setting off an alarm, that is. (And didn't anyone ever tell you to wear gloves when you're breaking in?) Oh and you might want to bring along a necklace of garlic and a small vile of holy water...just in case.
Excellent Jordan - next time I'm in your neck of the woods, I will be calling on you to go for a drive-by. Can we take a picnic?

I may have to see if I can get to know a policeman :o)
When I belonged to MWA in Los Angeles, they offered a tour to the LA crime lab. Quite the eye opener from the slick CSI offerings. I wasn't writing any contemporary mysteries at the time but I figured what the heck. I'm glad I did because it does give you insight into what needs to happen in the mystery, the time it takes, etc. And now since I am writing a contemporary, I'll be using that information and also going to the local police station to interview some detectives, get a tour, and see how they do things in Redlands, CA. I'd like to get the little details right (what does their lock-up look like, do they have a county coroner, where do they take the body, all that).
Wow, thanks for all the feedback. I have written 3 novels (all published) that have various degrees of research. The most intense was The River. I was able to interview some scientists in the field of nanotechnology. I've also interviewed police detectives, firefighters, paramedics, drug addicts and others. I am hoping to do some ride-alongs this summer, and I would like to visit the morgue and jails. That'll be my summer vacation! :) And I'll probably write about it too!

It is very interesting to read everyone's experiences here. And my advice to others, don't be afraid to ask an expert. Most really enjoy the idea of helping an author! Although be very careful when you ask a police detective about the best way to kill off a husband without leaving trace. The handcuffs are tight!


Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, Divine Intervention and The River
If you have a newsletter to your readers, they may find your research interesting too. So you might think about a quick recap for them as well.
Hey, awesome group idea! Thanks for the tip!!! I can use all the expert knowledge I can get, so I just signed up. :)


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