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Saturday, March 20, 2010

To what personal lengths to writers go to research their work?

When I wrote Blood on His Hands I was drawing on a lot of information that I already knew from personal experience, not just from my Appalachian Trail hike, but in building the two main male characters, Mike and Ian. There is a lot of me in both men, the good and the bad characteristics. I drew on knowledge of attending school as a foreign student, from the travel aspect to playing goalkeeper on the university soccer team. I drew upon my sons work experience on oil rigs and my own love of the movies and my intimate knowledge of Oklahoma, having resided in Oklahoma City for eighteen years.
The things I did not know, for instance details on guns, dead bodies and the Episcopal Church, I went to experts and asked questions. I sat down with a Catholic priest and asked for his reaction to the confession that would be given. Readers are intelligent and have questions and will catch you out if you are inaccurate. I had my first experience of sitting down with the Friends of the Library book club in Alamogordo NM in February and have them ask why and what for. I think I gave a good showing for my first ‘grilling’.

I am currently engrossed in writing what I hope is the first in a series of a planned five book set. The work is yet un-named however the plot is well scripted in my mind and vaguely outlined. I have my spiral bound note book with cardboard dividers and pockets to hold documents and have character and plot notes accumulating. So far I’m about a half dozen chapters in to the work. It is interesting to see how I am again writing of the familiar, the child of a preacher and using lots of poetic license. This time I am in a lot more unfamiliar territory. Having never been in a law enforcement job and writing about a police detective I am doing a lot more in the field research. I sat in a nine week course with the Oro Valley Citizens Academy, talking copious notes as a variety of officers described the routine of their duties, I drove with both the Pima County Sheriff around Three Points (a small town outside of Tucson) and with the Border Patrol down to the Mexican border town of Sasabe, AZ. I have witnessed a car burning in the desert and helped chase down illegal immigrants. Just as much hands on experience as prior books called for but more planning and less life experience. I have interviewed retired law enforcement officers to learn what border life was like back in the ’70’s and listened to first-hand knowledge of parties thrown in drug lords homes in Sonora.

My writing has suffered for the last three months or so while I made an attempt to promote Blood on His Hands by expending my energies into networking, attending book signings and festivals in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona but I feel the time is right to write. The figurative pen needs to hit the paper – I actually type straight into the computer – but you get the idea. I still have a couple of research projects to work on, but I have enough to move forward again with a renewed confidence in my abilities to get the story down in print and worry about the editing later. I am looking forward to creating the characters that have been running around in my mind for the last few months and letting them move and breathe and talk so I can find out what happens next.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Research is a pain in the rear, but a necessity. Seems like you went to great pains too.


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