Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How Much Research Really Goes into Writing Fiction by Heather Weidner

Roses and Readers, please welcome our guest Heather Weidner!

Thank you so much for letting me visit and talk about my sleuth Delanie Fitzgerald from Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Fiction is made up, right? Surprisingly, I do quite a bit of research for my traditional and cozy novels and short stories. I want the story to be plausible and as accurate as possible. Readers do notice when writers don’t get it quite right.

I grew up as a “C.K.” (Cop’s Kid). Handcuffs, night vision scopes, and
squawk radios were just a part of my childhood. My dad was the SWAT commander in the 1970s, and they needed practice bullets. I sacrificed a ton of crayons for practice ammunition. What other elementary school kid knew how to melt crayons and fill shell casings? I learned how to use a night scope by playing with his on summer nights in the backyard. It was fun to watch the neighbor's dog illuminated all in green. And if you’ve ever gotten a whiff of a police car, you’ll never forget the smell. They can be clean, but they always have that distinctive scent. I was in my twenties before I realized that not everyone talked about crime and murder at the dinner table. Little did I know that all that experience would be invaluable later in my mystery writing life.

My dad, now a retired police captain, is my best law enforcement resource. I’m always asking him things like, “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like” or “how long will a body stay submerged if it is dumped under water?” And he is always willing to share tidbits from weird cases or stupid criminal stories. I think believability is key to mystery writing.

My writers’ groups are also a great resource. The Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter hosts a variety of programs for our authors. We bring in all kinds of professionals, such as law enforcement, criminal psychologists, and K-9 trainers to talk to our writers about what they do. Recently, we have had presentations by a CSX railroad investigator, a tour of a local hospital’s forensic unit, an Alcohol Beverage and Control Board investigator, and a Conservation Officer. These are amazing contacts, and our guest speakers have been wonderful about answering questions. I landed a lot of ideas for my PI series when we had a female private investigator talk to the group about her job and experiences.

My sassy private investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald gets herself into all kinds of adventures. For my second novel, The Tulip Shirt Murders, Delanie gets involved with larping and roller derby. I had to do a lot of research on live-action role playing (larping) and roller derby gals to make sure my descriptions were accurate.

My sleuth lives in a Sears Catalog home, the Yates model from 1939. Beginning in the early 1900s, people were able to order homes from the Sears Catalog, and the parts were delivered by rail. These had to be assembled on the owners’ lots. Some of these homes still exist still in Virginia, and many of the boards and parts still show the parts numbers. I found several good resources on Facebook and Twitter, and real Sears Catalog home owners were willing to answer my questions.
Google Maps is one of my favorite online tools for research. I can find locations where my character visits. The street view is invaluable for giving me ideas about setting and location. Since my character is a PI, I sometimes have to find locations where she can conduct a stakeout without drawing too much attention to herself. With this online tool, I can see surroundings and lots of good places to hide a body or a crime.

Research and in my case, past experiences, are key for fiction writers. I tend to do quite a bit for each of my novels and short stories because I want to make sure the details are right for my readers.  

Author Biography
Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She has a novella, “Diggin’ up Dirt” coming out in November in To Fetch a Thief.
Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. She’s been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.
Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.

Synopsis for The Tulip Shirt Murders
Private investigator Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in The Tulip Shirt Murders. When a local music producer hires the duo to find out who is bootlegging his artists’ CDs, Delanie uncovers more than just copyright thieves. And if chasing bootleggers isn’t bad enough, local strip club owner and resident sleaze, Chaz Smith, pops back into Delanie’s life with more requests. The police have their man in a gruesome murder, but the loud-mouthed strip club owner thinks there is more to the open and shut case. Delanie and Duncan link a series of killings with no common threads. And they must put the rest of the missing pieces together before someone else is murdered.

The Tulip Shirt Murders is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations such as larping and trading elbow jabs with roller derby queens

Contact Information
Pens, Paws, and Claws Blog: http://penspawsandclaws.com/
Amazon Authors: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00HOYR0MQ
Book Links


Margo Hoornstra said...

Welcome to Roses of Prose, Heather. Coming from a law enforcement family (husband and son) I hear you with the dinner table talk. It’s a wonderful life, right? Plus my dad wrote police story scripts for the Manhunt radio show years ago. The Tulip Shirt Murders sounds extremely interesting. Love the title, and cover. Best of luck.

Jannine Gallant said...

Lucky you with such a gem of a source! I'm sure your dad has fun recounting stories, too. Research can be a lot of fun, and Google Maps is a great idea for close up views of places. Best of luck with your series!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Welcome to our group, Heather. How lucky to be a CK! In our generation, our fathers' careers defined us...not so much our mothers'. I'm an Army brat...and I write about/am affected by that life style, too. Congrats on a great book concept!

Vonnie Davis said...

Love your story concept and all the in-depth research you do. I'm from VA, too--Lynchburg. Good luck with your sales.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Great post, Heather. Thanks for being here.

Leah St. James said...

So sorry to be soooo late, Heather! How wonderful you can rely on your dad for some expert advice! Love your blog, BTW!

Diane Burton said...

Welcome, Heather. Sorry for being so late in commenting. I do as much research for my cozy mysteries as I do for my sci-fi romances. My best friend's husband is a retired police chief and my resource for law enforcement questions. My son-in-law is a pathologist (and assistant county coroner) and my resource for medical questions. After that, it's the internet for research. I, too, believe it's important to be accurate.