Thursday, April 19, 2018

Any and All Errors in This Book Are Mine and Mine Alone

Even though I write fiction, I still need to do some research for my books because I don't want to make the kinds of mistakes in my work that would jar a reader out of the story and make them, well, distrust me. Forever. Have you ever had that happen? You're happily reading along in a book, turning the pages, enjoying the tale, and all of a sudden the author includes a detail that is just WRONG. And you know it's wrong. And you wonder why that writer didn't know it was wrong. And then it colors the rest of the book (assuming you finish reading it) as well as how you look at that writer for the rest of your reading life. 

That has happened to me on an occasion or two. One particular writer made a mistake that I read waaaay back in 1978, and to this day, I still think of this author as "The one who got that one detail really, really wrong." I know that's horribly judgmental and I hope I never have that effect on a reader. And in an effort to forestall that, I do research.

Now, my kind of research does include what you might think of when I say the word "research". Dead Voices required me to find out about the cholera outbreaks in the Midwest during the 1800's. It also led me to ask a doctor I was working with at the time about the disease itself -how it killed, what the person would look like in death-  which I can tell you, earned me some strange looks.

Fortunately, strange looks don't bother me. Like the slightly suspicious look I got from my dentist when I asked about identifying a body from dental records. The information he gave me after he got past his initial reaction is invaluable. Or the one I received from a pharmacist, married to a friend, when I asked about possible poisons that would leave absolutely no trace. And he did answer the question.

I have interviewed a police sketch artist, two weapons (guns) experts, a retired deputy federal marshall, a staff member at an adoption agency, a minister ("Do you allow suicides to be buried in your churchyard?"), several artists, two museum curators, a cemetery secretary, two mediums, a ghost hunter, a bridge expert, a police detective, an ER doctor, a bed and breakfast owner, a nutritionist,  and a nurse. I always gather a ton of information because I never know what exact details I will need as each of my stories progress, and it's always better to have more than not enough.

To this end, I am constantly on the look-out for people whose knowledge and expertise I might need at a later date. I "collected" my anatomy and physiology teacher back when I was studying to become a medical assistant. I know more martial artists, both Eastern and Western, than you can shake a stick at. Whatever that means. I know a professional musician, a tarot card reader, several professors in various disciplines, a landscaper, a home remodeler or two, data analysts, hotel and hospitality professionals, two real estate agents, a couple of accountants, an astrologer, two psychics, and a bunch of writers and artists. 

But I wouldn't mind finding a lawyer or two, a firefighter, science teachers at different levels of education, and probably a cab driver.

I realize this must sound strange, but when I write a character who is in a line of work I have never tried myself, I  need details. Details can make or break a story. And details can derail a writer-reader relationship, as mentioned before.

So I guess if I ever post to Facebook, now that I post regularly, that I am looking for an expert who happens to be you, please don't be shy in stepping forward. I can't afford to pay you for your time, but you will ALWAYS get an acknowledgment at the front of my book and also, you'll know you helped this writer get the details right. Or as right as I can make them. As always, any and all errors in my books are mine and mine alone.

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