Killer Year–The Class of 2007


To Dust, To Death, My Idol
July 31, 2007, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Derek Nikitas

 

 

Some weeks ago I stopped by the major American video rental store to pick up a copy of Pan’s Labyrinth, which I’d heard much buzz about but hadn’t yet seen.  While I was waiting in line, another customer ahead of me was also in the process of renting the movie.  As per the policy of this store, the customer was informed ahead of time that Pan’s Labyrinth is in Spanish, whereupon he groaned and decided to rent something else.  Incensed, and next in line, I cut off the clerk before she delivered the same spiel to me.  I said, “Don’t bother, I know how to read,” attempting to speak loud enough for the previous customer to hear me and feel ashamed.  I know—I shouldn’t have been so much of an ass because a) that philistine customer would probably not have been ashamed anyhow, b) the clerk has to take that kind of crap all day, and c) I’d be on higher moral ground only if I had said, “don’t bother, I know Spanish.”

 

Still, I was morally outraged by the fact that clerks are forced to “warn” customers about subtitled films at all, and I was angry that those warnings actually served to drive some people away from foreign films.  I began to think about how different my aesthetic sensibility would’ve been if I had chosen to take that typical American path, watching only Hollywood films, shying away from anything with words (dear God, not words!) at the bottom of the screen.  I would’ve never seen the great French New Wave movies by Truffaut and Godard (Breathless, Shoot the Piano Player, My Life to Live, A Band Apart) that taught me so much about the noir genre.  I would’ve never seen the original Norwegian version of Insomnia, so dramatically superior to Christopher Nolan’s Hollywood versions (in the commentary for Nolan’s version, the screenwriter actually admits that she “adapted” Insomnia for American audiences mainly by making all the subtext and nuance overt and obvious; that is, making the movie shallow).  I would’ve never seen Umberto D or the Bicycle Thief or Amelie or the Idiots or—this could go on forever.

 

I would’ve let this go, would’ve kept it to myself as I normally do, if not for the news I received yesterday, the stark and sudden reminder that even the greatest storytellers are mortal, that we must all, eventually, lose our chess game with Death.  Ingmar Bergman, my idol, my hero, my greatest aesthetic influence, has gone to dust.  Not to God, mind you, because in Bergman’s world there is no God, or God is silent, or God is malevolent, a giant venomous spider living just on the other side of your bedroom wall.  Yes, he was 89 years old, and yes, he hasn’t officially made a theatrical movie since Fanny and Alexander in the early 1980 (though he has had a hand in other projects), long before I ever watched any of his films.  But those facts served to convince me, somehow, that he would always be around, in the shadows, immortal on his private island off the coast of Sweden—that he had somehow contributed so much cinematic musing on metaphysics, God, atheism, and Death that he had actually, somehow, beaten Death itself.  In my endless struggles with these questions, in my bleakest moments, I have always taken heart that Ingmar Bergman, the greatest brooder of the 20th Century, was still around, still brooding.

 

I should’ve known, I should’ve been prepared, because the first thing Bergman ever taught me is that Death always wins.  Of course I knew this before I watched The Seventh Seal, an ancient ten-pound VHS tape on a television in the basement of my college library when I was a Sophomore, but somehow, watching the grainy footage of a medieval knight and his literal battle with the figure of Death, as I struggled to make out the whitewashed words at the bottom of the screen, I was transported into a realm of pure thought, pure meditation, pure humanity.  It’s the sort of thing one is supposed to feel in church, but it is the thing I have always felt most acutely with Ingmar Bergman as he cast off the specter of God and found the means, no matter how tenuous, to face the absolute nothingness that is death head on, without fear, without the crutch of faith.  Bergman had been preparing for yesterday’s departure all his life, and he has been generous enough to help the rest of us doubters prepare in ways that religion never could.  His oeuvre has been my Bible—though, admittedly, it has not been good news (neither is the Bible, particularly).  Of course, I don’t want to mischaracterize Bergman; his films were in fact haunted by God and the Bible and Christianity, none more so than The Seventh Seal and Winter Light.  It’s just that he met God with the skepticism that usually accompanies genius.

 

Yes, I know this is a blog about crime fiction, and Bergman was not technically interested in that kind of stuff.  Most viewers, especially those with stunted contemporary attention spans and an unwillingness to read, will find his films interminably slow and talky.  But I have seen the uncanny similarities between the concerns of noir and the concerns of Bergman’s films—they are both existentialist to the core, a fact that Jean Luc Godard noted when he cited Bergman’s influence on his noir films.  Hell, Bergman’s medieval revenge drama The Virgin Spring was so loaded with palpable horror that Wes Craven remade it as Last House on the Left., and my own forthcoming novel also bears a resemblance to that story.  Bergman’s film Persona explores the doppelganger trope that is so pervasive in noir films, like Vertigo or Mulholland Drive (the latter so obviously informed by Persona that I’m waiting for somebody to write a paper about it).  The existentialist Lutheran parson in Winter Light could easily be recast as one of the many bleak private eyes that have bloodied the pages of pulp books for decades.  The Hour of the Wolf is a subtle horror film, as is Through a Glass Darkly, and The Silence is overtly Kafkaesque in the way that so many spy stories are.

 

Bergman’s movies have had such a profound influence on my aesthetic that I wouldn’t dare begin to unravel the genetic strains that have knotted themselves into my novel Pyres.  Like so many of his movies, especially Persona, my characters are women in search of their own identities in a harsh environment.  Their metaphysical selves are lifted from Bergman’s world, their worries and aspirations are his.  My novel drips with Swedish melancholy, and, every now and then, the magic of myth and spiritual vision breaks through to the surface, just as it tends to do with Bergman.  My own pale attempts will never achieve what Bergman achieved, but even a small spark of his power was enough light to keep me pushing forward through the darkness.

 

He is gone now, and in keeping with his beliefs, I will not speculate about the whereabouts of his spirit or his soul.  They are probably nowhere, except where they remain in his work, in his films.  So, yes, Bergman’s movies are in Swedish with English subtitles, but I thank the void, thank the silent vengeful God, that I watched them and will continue to watch them.  Death takes the body, but it cannot take the art. 

 

Derek Nikitas                   



Pleasure Island
July 27, 2007, 1:33 pm
Filed under: Derek Nikitas, Killer Year Members

Midway into my third free drink, standing beside a table arrayed with pastries and snacks, chatting with writers at every stage of their careers, immersed in the southern stateliness of campus house at a beautiful mountaintop college in Tennessee, while outside on the porch celebrated authors sing country and folk songs under the moonlight, strumming their guitars and patting a drum set made from cans and overturned trash baskets, I begin to feel a paranoia setting in, a feeling that this is all too damn wonderful, a feeling akin to how Pinocchio must have felt in those moments on Pleasure Island just before his donkey ears began to grow.  Mercifully, the paranoia has passed, I am still here at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South, and I am fairly confident that they’ll let me go home when the time comes. 

 

But I have been spoiled these last two weeks, that’s certain.  Days and nights of readings and panels and almost nothing but talk about writing.  First it was Thrillerfest in New York, where, by the great kindness of the International Thriller Writers scholarship committee (public thanks!), I was able to meet for the first time in person all but one of my Killer Year friends, where I had that fabled lunch with my editor at a NYC bistro, where I basked in the glow of some of the greatest writers, editors, publishers and fans of the thriller genre.  One day after Thrillerfest ended, I shipped off to Sewanee and began my two weeks as a resident Walter E. Dakin “fellow:” a designation given to an up-and-coming writer who has been invited to assist established and award-winning literary authors as they run workshops for aspiring writers.  It is very much like the distinction of being a “debut author” at Thrillerfest, only it last for two weeks in the woods of Tennessee instead of three days at the New York Grand Marriot. 

 

In a few days I’ll return to my normal life, where nobody will make any sort of fuss about me, where much more will be demanded of me, and where my unfinished novel, like a lonely pet dog, is eagerly awaiting my return.  This is as it should be.  I’ll miss this full immersion in the literary life and the friendships I’ve developed with other young writers at the same stages of their careers as mine; I’ll miss the free booze—but I can’t forget that what brought me here is the art, the book, the one I wrote and the one I have yet to complete.  Writing is ultimately a lonely art, and this is also as it should be. 

 

At first, I wanted to be a shrewd observer about the differences between the genre-oriented Thrillerfest and the literary-oriented Sewanee Writers’ Conference.  I wanted to be able to make strong distinctions, somehow, though my own fiction has somehow failed to make any such distinctions.  What I’ve experienced, however, is very much the same kind of camaraderie and support in both places, that same eager anticipation among the debut authors, that same support among the great literary and crime-writing figures I’ve encountered.  Sure, they talk about different authors, and maybe I heard a little more about the business side of writing at Thrillerfest, a little more about poetry and language at Sewanee, but I’m happy to find these two worlds are hardly separate worlds at all. 

 

On the first full day at Sewanee, I had a reading in front of well over a hundred conference participants.  I chose to read the first chapter of my novel, a chapter that is mainly action based and ends in a murder, real thriller-genre stuff.  Since my novel is a mystery of sorts, I’m rather restricted in regards to where I can read from the novel; I can’t turn to a favorite passage three quarters of the way through the book and read it without giving away significant plot points.  So I was concerned, to be honest, that my reading would “out” me as an imposter, a genre hack who had somehow weaseled his way into a group of serious writers, an outcast.  But I received quite the opposite response when my reading was through; many in the audience were captivated by the first few pages and eager to find out what happens next.  Then, of course, I had to tell them that the book doesn’t come out for another three months.      

 

I have to admit it’s strange, almost unnatural, to have spent these last two weeks of my life not feeling, somehow, like an outsider.  That feeling is my natural state, by and large, and I might go so far as to say it drives me as a fiction writer.  The darkness, the pessimism, the paranoia, the introversion, the melancholy—it’s my fuel, no matter what the writers of “The Secret” would like me to believe.  Nonetheless, even I will admit it’s nice to get out from underneath the dark storm cloud every now and then, meet some of the others who’ve been wandering around in the dark.  Will I be glad to get back?  Sure.  It’s been a pleasure, by pleasure can’t last forever, and nobody wants to turn into an ass.

 

That’s my twisted way of saying thank you thank you thank you to the folks at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the folks at Thrillerfest for the wonderful two weeks you’ve given me.

 

Derek Nikitas

author of Pyres

St. Martin’s Minotaur

October 16, 2007



The End
July 24, 2007, 11:24 pm
Filed under: Dave White

I had a teacher who used to say “they’ll only remember the beginning and the ending.”

I believe that saying.  Especially about the ending.  Yes, the beginning is what drags readers into a book, but the ending is what sticks with a reader.

I love the sucker punch ending.  Books that just reach out, grab you, and when you hit that final page you are breathless.  The ending that sticks with you, that you think about for days, picking it apart and letting it haunt your dreams.

The ending that’s always stuck with me was Dennis Lehane’s SHUTTER ISLAND.  Not the “twist,” I saw that coming at least 100  pages from the end.  No, the moments that followed the twist where we find out what actually happened.  The description of “logs” in the water.  So sad, so deep.  That’s what stuck with me.  I still get chills regarding that chapter.  That novel punched me in the gut and here 4 years later, it still won’t let go.

I want my endings to do that.  I want to grip the reader and continually turn the screw, revelation after revelation.  Characters should go through hell so readers can be shocked.  Moments, scenes, words should stick with the reader.

At the same time the ending has to be aesthetically pleasing as well.  It can’t just shock for shock’s sake.  It has to work with what came before.  Motivations have to make sense, twists have to be plausible.  As a reader, you have to believe in them in the world of the book.  Readers have to believe what happened.  They have to care.

Hopefully, that will happen with WHEN ONE MAN DIES.  Hopefully the reader will care.  Hopefully the ending will stick with them.

(Can you tell I’m getting close to the end of revising my second book?)



How Much is Just Enough

Now that THE MARK has been out for a few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of receiving a fair number of emails from readers. Most have been positive, a scant few negative. But though the negative nellies, for the most part, enjoyed the story, they were extraordinarily quick to point out one or two places in the book where, let’s just say, I either made up facts or actually made an error. I’ve received three emails alone from readers who felt I didn’t accurately depict a stretch of highway near Cincinnati.

Now every author wants to offer as much authenticity as possible in their novels. They want readers to be able to see, hear, and smell their locations and characters (ok, maybe not always smell the characters). So at what point is artistic license allowed to kick in, or should readers expect every detail in a novel to be 100% accurate and honest?

When I went to the Romantic Times convention in April (man, is that a story to be told over a six pack), I sat in on a panel featuring Charlaine Harris, bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries. Charlaine made several tongue-in-cheek jokes about how “thankful” she was when readers pointed out mistakes in her books. And if you read the acknowledgments page in just about any Harlan Coben novel, he ends by saying, “I’m a novelist. That means I make stuff up.” It seems as much a defensive statement as a statement-of-fact. No doubt both authors, having written many books with readers likely in the millions, have received their fair share of letters from readers pointing out exactly where they “made stuff up,” and how they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so.

Interestingly the more fictitious something is, the more it’s likely allowed to pass reader scrutiny. I doubt Anne Rice ever received a fan letter saying:

Dear Anne – I just finished INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, and had to point out a glaring mistake in your book. There are no such thing as vampires. They don’t exist. I’m surprised your editor didn’t catch this. Hopefully they can correct this in future printings. Other than that I enjoyed your book.

I suppose it has to do with “world building,” that inaccuracies are allowed provided they are consisted with the larger picture you’ve painted. There are many authors who do much more research for their books than I do. Probably some who do a lot less. I did considerably more research for my second novel, THE GUILTY, than a I did for THE MARK, and I’m certain I’ll get more angry letters from readers. Know why? Because I made some stuff up.

So how much is enough (or too much?) authenticity? And to what extent are you allowed to make stuff up?

Jason Pinter

author of THE MARK

www.jasonpinter.com

The Man in Black Blog



You’re Stupid and So is Your Book
July 22, 2007, 3:54 pm
Filed under: Gregg Olsen

this-books-for-the-dogs.gifthis-books-for-the-dogs.gifthis-books-for-the-dogs.gifthis-books-for-the-dogs.gifFull disclosure here. I’ve had had my share of bad reviews. People despise me. Hate my books. Wish my mother had miscarried.

They hate my covers. Think I can’t spell. Can’t write. Don’t know a pronoun from a proctologist. Every now and then, they post on the internet book review sites just what they think about me. Sometimes I wince and wonder if they think I ran over their cat.

But I love cats and would never do that.

After A Wicked Snow came out, someone named “laci jo” posted this on Amazon.com.

I am so disappointed i cried! i know most of the players in this book and not only was the storyline awful there are a great many untruths! save your money and borrow one if you must read it…..ugggggggggggggg please my 5 year old son could do a better job! I love reading true crime books and no i don’t think i ever want to read another, by this author at least….jo

One problem. A Wicked Snow is fiction. Laci Jo says she knew most of they players in the book and they were mad at me. Hmmmm. A quick tap of the keyboard showed that LJ was a uberfan of another true crime writer.

Me thinks she didn’t read A Wicked Snow at all.

So take a moment and travel with me the literary dustbin we call Amazon. You know the place where every man is a reviewer and every writer should have known better? I’m all for discussion, reviews, book clubs, and other means of communicating a book’s shortcomings and value. But anonymous reviews sometimes smack of one-upmanship and envy. Who knows, I could be wrong. There could even be an altruistic reason for their typed ire.

Here are some of my favorite vigilante reviews of my true crime pals:

First up, M. William Phelps, who goes by the name of Matt and not William, for some strange reason (I blog with Matt over at www.crimerant.com). Here’s what Amy Vrescak of PA said about his book about Diane O’Dell, a murderous mom in Sleep in Heavenly Peace:

This story had a lot of potential to make for a fascinating read, but the author completely blows it. The writing is confusing and boring. I didn’t feel that the author was very successful in getting into Odell’s state of mind. Much of the writing was merely a report of others’ findings without any additional insight or discussion.

OMG. Much of the writing is reporting others’ findings? That’s what journalism is, dear. Reporting. If you want discussion, Amy, start a scrap booking group, for goodness sake. Seriously, I’m of the opinion that it is nearly impossible to “get into the mind” of another human
being.

Do you know what I’m thinking now? Of course not. You never really can KNOW.

Lisa, town unknown, has this to say about Aphrodite Jones concerning her book on the Michael Peterson murder case. She headlined it: Unreliable, ill-conceived, and badly written.

Another ghoulish ambulance chaser capitalizing on the grief of this poor family. It wouldn’t be so bad if the book contained facts, if it really tried to investigate what happened the night of Kathleen Peterson’s death. But it doesn’t. Jones has decided that Peterson is a sociopath and only includes information that she believes proves it. She doesn’t mention ever speaking to Michael Peterson, or to any of the people who knew him well. She has only spoken to those who had a reason to dislike him and believe him guilty. She contradicts herself so frequently that I have to believe she didn’t understand what she was talking about. The details she highlights from Peterson’s life also contradict so frequently with the other book in this vein, Diane Fanning’s “Written in Blood” that I scarcely know who to believe. They both show such obvious bias that I tend not to believe either of them. I hope Michael Peterson is guilty, and deserves the treatment he’s been given. It’s just too horrible to think of an innocent man being persecuted in this shabby way.

A decade or so ago, Aphrodite Jones was the hottest young writer in True Crime. She’s beautiful, smart, and has a great flair for the dramatic. She’s been a lot of things (author, lecturer and producer) but I can assure you, she’s never treated anyone shabbily. I have no clue if her book is trash, but I doubt it. Sometimes I doubt whether or not the reviewer READ the book, or if they were just part of the story and were mad they were shoved off the pages.

And then there’s this little winner posted by some coward named “A Reader.” Mr. or Ms. Reader takes on Dennis McDougal’s masterpiece In the Best of Families. The headline: Blah, Blah, Blah.

The review:

This book is AWFUL. Don’t waste your time or money. The writer is horrible, he’s all over the place, never keeping to the story, going off on adventures and subjects that have ZERO to do with the story AND is EXTREMELY BORING. I stopped reading 1/2 way through the book – maybe when I got nothing else to read on a rainy day I’ll finish it, or should I say, skip through the remainder as I did thus far. Horrible, horrible writing – don’t publish anymore books by this author!

Mr. Reader will be sorry to know that McDougal’s writing career has been just fine, thank you. Apparently, publishers are not so picky. And thank goodness they didn’t rely on you for marketing advice.

If there’s a better writer on this blog, I’d be hard-pressed to name him or her. Carlton Stowers has never written a dog (and most of us can cop to at least one). K. O’Brien of New Haven, CT, hated his Edgar Award-winning book, Careless Whispers.

I found this book generally interminable and sometimes incomprehensible, with poor pacing and organization, and it’s hero-worship of the detective became downright annoying. I read it many years ago, long before there was a public outcry over the convictions (and execution), but even then felt that the case was a reach. My advice is to avoid it, particularly since even the factual basis for the book is questionable at this stage.

It is hard to argue against one point made by KO. The facts changed. But what didn’t change was the riveting tale created by Stowers in Careless Whispers. The pacing was perfection.

I’d never even heard of Steven Long before coming to ICB. But from what I’ve been reading about him, his work, I doubt that this review is anything but a diatribe born of a too tight girdle. The reviewer is Kristen and she lives in Washington, DC. The book is Out of Control.

So is the review.

Very, very disappointing. I actually was happy to finish. I would have preferred some character background as most true crime books extensively cover the character. This had NONE! Horrible, scattered writing. I was having to flip back pages to see who was who. Very disappointing, especially since I was truly intrigued by this story. Pass on this book…

Now, now, if you haven’t posted a negative review, haven’t you at least clicked on the “was this review helpful” button? I have. Have I ever posted a negative review just to hurt someone? Nope.

You know maybe I should? Maybe I’ll feel better if I turn into a vigilante reviewer warning reviewers of books they should avoid. No I figured it out. They don’t want me dead. They’re trying to save the world from bad writing. Maybe save some trees.

Al Gore, are you listening? Bad reviews mean fewer books. Fewer books mean more trees.

Gregg Olsen blogs with M.William Phelps at www.crimerant.com.



St. Francis’s Fire
July 20, 2007, 2:57 pm
Filed under: JT Ellison, Toni McGee Causey

There have been many roundups of the past weekend’s festivities in New York, so I’m not going to rehash the event. It was all that, and then some, let me assure you.

Instead, I’m going to wax poetic about friends. And Toni Causey is going to give you her feelings.

JT: I was struck by a phenomenon over the weekend. Because of the size of the hotel, the allure of the city, and the panel scheduling, many people found themselves out and about, wandering the halls, slipping into Grand Central to have a bite to eat, running across the street to the fabulous diner that serves brunch all day. And in these broken up groups, a strange thing happened. I’m going to refer to this phenomenon as St. Francis’s Fire.

For those who don’t know, St. Francis is the patron saint of writers and authors. I love how the church makes a distinction, but it’s simply to designate journalists versus book authors. I’ve called on him from time to time to help with blocks, or to say thanks when something goes especially well.

Show of hands, how many of you have seen the movie St. Elmo’s Fire? I saw it Tuesday night, late on TBS, and was struck by the similarities to our group of writers. The allegory fits Killer Year especially. This weekend marked the first time our merry band of debuts were all under the same roof. (We were minus one, but that’s still an accomplishment in this day and age.) As I watched the movie, I was reminded of our past year. In the movie, the characters have all just graduated from Georgetown. Some are finding great success, some are finding it not as easy as they anticipated. A fitting description of what the debut year is like. There are huge highs (starred reviews, second printings, general consensus that the writers will go on to something great) and lows (PR failures, problems with mailing, and yes, even mutterings of favoritism.) But all in all, a success.

Most importantly, we have each other. A cohort group of authors who started together. We were 22 2007 debut authors strong at this conference, 12 of us Killer Year. We were honored at a breakfast on Friday morning, each allocated time, introduced by the ever gracious Lee Child. We know each other. We’ll support each other. But it wasn’t just the debuts.

In New York, Killer Year drifted together. Not surprising, we’re intimates at this point. What I found so wonderful was how many people drifted right along with us. In the bar, in the hallways, there were loads of other writers and readers who stepped in to the flow, got caught up in the camaraderie of the event, smiled and laughed and enjoyed themselves. The future was there, the books that come out in 2008, the writers shopping manuscripts, looking for agents. Old, young, established, debut, reviewers, writers, readers, the media, all worked in harmony. The bar staff, on the other hand, hated us.
I didn’t see the genre specific clans that sometimes pervades these cons. There was a strong feeling of togetherness. In the bar, in the halls, arms were opened, chairs drawn up. Every small group opened to allow more people in. There was a true sense of friendship among all the writers there. St. Francis’s Fire. And that’s what’s going to serve us all well as we combat the perception that crime fiction and thrillers are just junky beach reads. The collective wisdom in the Grand Hyatt was stunning, and New York noticed.

Toni: There’s something inherently intimidating about walking into any sort of convention where several hundred people are attending and you won’t know if you’ll know anyone or be welcomed. There’s something amazingly comforting to know that you’ve made friends the last time and there will be smiles and recognition and welcome and hugs. The thing I found, though, that set this convention apart from any other I’ve attended was that the “welcoming factor” happened last year, the first time we met in Phoenix, and that warmth and friendliness just seemed to be amplified this year. Old friends (of course) met up and there were some pretty enthusiastic smiles and hugs. But I was also so pleased to see that a tremendous number of people introduced themselves to someone new and I’m so glad to have met so many new people myself. Many pulled back chairs, as J.T. said, finding a way to include anyone who wandered over. All weekend long, there was an attitude of “hey, we’re hanging out, come on over, you’re wanted.”

I think it’s the best thing we can do for each other, as authors, this inclusion. I felt like, as a unit, we were recognizing that our competition isn’t each other–it’s apathy and other media options.

We win the battle when we convince people to pick up a book when they’re confronted with so many other choices; we have a real victory if that enthusiasm spreads and more people start turning to books as their first option. I know that having a fun weekend isn’t going to solve the declining readership problem, but I’ll tell you this–I came away from there having met some amazing people and I’ve already been by a Barnes & Noble and have picked up several new-to-me authors that I wouldn’t have known to get. I either heard them speak or heard someone speak highly about their work. I’m the kind of reader who’ll tell people when I’ve loved something… and I know that I’m already looking forward to next year.



the art of research
July 18, 2007, 3:33 am
Filed under: Toni McGee Causey

One of the absolutely best things about going to conferences is that you get to meet a lot of people who are not only interested in writing/reading, but who have fascinating backgrounds and are often willing to field research questions. At ThrillerFest this weekend, I got business cards from an FBI agent, a person who does computer forensics for various government agencies tracking the use of a computer in a crime, finance and banking experts, a district attorney, a detective, firearm experts and so on. When Tess Gerritsen interviewed Lisa Gardner (one of the best sessions I attended at the conference), I was fascinated (and relieved) to learn that when Lisa first started writing suspense, she was intimidated by all of the research and (I’m paraphrasing), felt like, in spite of being a published author, that people wouldn’t believe her to be credible when she called up to ask questions and stated that it was going to be for a book. I have to admit, I often feel this way myself. Even now, with something published, I wonder if they’re going to think I’m nuts or that I’m making it up that it’s research for a book. 

Relying on the internet is such a lure, because we think we can find out everything just from plugging in a few key words (and so many of us are introverts), but Lisa pointed out something she does which I think is very smart: she’ll go to the experts and say something to the effect of “This is the crime,” or “this is how I was thinking my villain would do it, what do you think?” and sometimes the experts would say, “Oh, that’s too easy, I’d have that guy arrested in a couple of hours.” To which she then says, “Okay, how then would you do this if you wanted to get away with it?” And that often gives her the insight and/or the twists that she wouldn’t have known about had she not asked. I think this is a particularly brilliant way to approach research, though it means taking a lot of time ahead of time and asking lots of questions. There’s an art to researching well: you have to research enough to not only have the pertinent details, but to find the angle that is real to that specific area to lend authenticity to what you’re writing about… while not overloading the story with too much and boring the reader. I find writers usually divide up into “can’t stop researching” or “only research when I absolutely have to.”

I know a lot of crime writers do ride alongs or do the citizens police academy, but I’m curious what other kind of research you like to do? Do you mostly stick with the web? Interviews? Can’t stop researching? Can’t start? And what was the topic you dreaded researching and yet, found it fascinating once you got into the thick of studying it?