When I look around at the writers in this blog, I am impressed by their professionalism and dedication to their writing. They do their homework, research carefully, and craft books that tell exciting stories in the most authentic way possible.
They make me feel puny in comparison.
When I was writing Freezer Burn, I turned to my cop friends for advice and opinions, which they were happy to provide. As I wrote my outline, I kept notes on what I needed to know. For example, could I go down to the Coroner's Office and interview anyone? My protagonist's BFF is an assistant coroner, so I might want to have a scene there.
And I should at least visit my local Placentia Police Department. It's in the courtyard with City Hall and the Library, so I've walked past their door a bunch of times, but never even wandered in.
While I mulled all this over, I was reading Joe Konrath's blog, or maybe it was his discussion group, and someone asked him how he got access to the Chicago police department in order to write his Lt. Jack Daniels series. His answer floored me.
"I make it all up."
Butbutbut - his scenes seem so real. I can see the police station and Jack's office and feel the bad ventilation and smell the staleness of the old building and…
So I made two decisions:
1. I was not going to get cozy with the PPD. For one thing, I didn't want any of the police officers to point to a character in the book and ask if that was them. It probably wouldn't be, since I don't write that way, and it would just be awkward. For another thing, I was afraid, if I tried to make the book too realistic and got one pencil holder out of place, there'd be someone to call me on it. Better to just imagine what it looks like and claim ignorance.
2. I was not going to try to tour the Coroner's Office. I just wouldn't set any scenes there.
I still consulted my friends, and even emailed D.P. Lyle about some forensic details, but mostly I went on my merry way, just like Joe, making stuff up.
The results were interesting. One of my friends questioned every move my fictional police did, claiming they would not have done it that way in real life. One of my friends said they had gone on patrol with their local police and they were surprised at how realistic I had made everything look. That surprised me.
One of my friends thought I painted the police in a very bad light, which alarmed me since that was NOT my intent at all. I tried to show them as professional, thorough, and process-driven, but often without resources to take things as far as one stubborn private investigator who is being paid to do nothing but solve this case.
I guess people can read the same words and still understand them differently.
Sometimes I want to walk down LJ's path and interview cops and go to crime-and-forensic seminars and be able to write more police procedurally. Then I would be a serious writer.
But who am I kidding? While I'm writing my stories, I picture them as a TV show, specifically on USA, where characters are welcome (if you ask them). Show of hands: who think Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, etc, could ever happen in real life?
(You, in the back, we need to talk.)
Last Sunday, I went to our monthly Sisters in Crime meeting (the Orange County chapter, for those of you who are mildly interested) and heard a wonderful presentation by Gary Bale, a former investigative homicide specialist, about the differences between reality forensics and TV forensics.
As we talked about the role forensics plays in current mystery books, one of the members said that if you are going to write a mystery set any time after 1990, you must include forensic science. It is used to solve cases nowadays, so the old Sherlock Holmes Deductive Theory solutions wouldn't work.
Another member said it's probably why she tends to like historical fiction better, because she really doesn't like a lot of procedure and forensic description in her mysteries as a reader. She just wants a good story.
I've long thought there are two camps of readers: those who want their entertainment as close to the facts as possible, and those who will accept an entertaining fictional world, whether it's fantasy, history, or yesterday.
What camp are you in?