Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Research, or Where I find My Ideas

A guest post by Kit Sloane.

When I decided to make my female protagonist a feature film editor, I had no idea what this would mean to me, research-wise. I’m lucky that my daughter (and cover artist for all 9 books, through 3-different publishers) is part of this Hollywood business as an art director and production designer. Thanks to her, I’ve been able to learn some of the complexities of film production. I’ve met people who work in this fascinating field, as well as gone to location shoots and watched, but mostly, I’ve listened.

At the time it just seemed a neat idea to have Margot O’Banion, this shy, wall flower type personality, involved in mysteries. As time has gone on, she’s become romantically involved with a distinctly UN-shy writer/director, my co-protagonist Max, and they have had adventures in Guatemala, Panama, the UK, and, of course, the wilds of California—all places I’ve been and were colorful enough to make me itch to include them in a story. Like the “Golden Ladies” of British mysteries, location is another character in my books. One terrific, unintended, consequence of this choice for my character’s profession was that I could place my stories anywhere in the world. Film people travel!

When we think of a movie we usually look first to who’s starring in it or, maybe, who is directing. But behind the finished product, there are weeks, sometimes months and months of pre-production. It takes hundreds of different people to get a movie made. These people are all highly trained and their fields range from electrician to construction to designer to makeup artists to writer and director. Each facet is distinct. Each person on every crew is working toward one thing, a completed movie.

Needless to say, these are highly sought after jobs. Networking is used extensively. If you have a poor working reputation, word quickly gets out. Good, efficient, on time workers reap the rewards. Competitive? Ohmygoodness. Many of these crews have dozens of “interns” lined up just hoping to help, ignoring the 17-hr. workdays. Unpaid, of course. All of them hoping for the experience of making a movie to put on their resum├ęs. 

So when I’m visiting on soundstages or on location. I cruise the sidelines and stay out of everyone’s way. I have managed NOT to trip over miles of cable spread over the floors or knock over any of the horribly expensive lights. So far, so good!As I mentioned, I’ve found nearly all my ideas from listening to these busy people. From “First you’ve gotta have the money,” the basis for Location, Location, to the sentence that struck a chord for my new one, Close-Up.

A year ago my daughter, the production designer, was working on a commercial shoot for a very fancy product with a very fancy fashion photographer. I lurked. Positioning myself near the cameras, the TV monitors, and the director, I stayed in the shadows and waited. The sets, of course, are brilliantly lit, but the shadows that surround them are dark and perfect for eavesdropping…

As we all stood there, watching the set being completed, the diva makeup artist ran up to the director/photographer and said, “Ohmygawd! I couldn’t make her up. She came in already done.”

The director/photographer never took his eyes off the lighted set in front of him and replied, “I know. It’s Jenny’s work. I recognized the eyebrows.”

The eyebrows. That just struck me how utterly detail-oriented these professionals are. And what a lovely clue for a story. The eyebrows.

So I wrote Close-Up about the ins and outs of trying to get 15-more minutes of fame for a group of “mature” actors, 75,000 words all from a spark fanned by that one remark.

I think that reading my standalone series is like eavesdropping. The reader is behind the scenes, grappling with the tensions and anxieties of a high powered business. The fact that sometimes even the most intelligent people make some really poor decisions plays right into a suspenseful mystery.

So if you like inside stories with colorful characters in interesting locations, give the series a whirl. Don’t be like that NY editor who once told my agent, “Who really wants to know about Hollywood, anyway?” I often think of her during the Academy Awards show!


A graduate in Art History from Mills College, Oakland, California, Kit has published short stories and many articles on the art of writing and the writing business. She served as first fiction editor for Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine. She especially enjoys lecturing about the writing world and mentoring new writers. A long time member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Mystery Women of the UK, she was named one of Mills College’s Literary Women in 2007. Kit and her professor husband live on a small hilltop horse ranch in Northern California's sublime wine country.


  1. Fascinating post! The eyebrows. Who would have thought. :)

  2. Agreed. I enjoyed your post and loved learning about your character and how you develop your Hollywood stories. What fun research! I'm a little jealous.

  3. It IS fun research! Lots of amazing people and interesting events. Lucky me that my daughter chose that field!

  4. Oh, Kit, I can just see you lurking and listening. Pays off, your books are great.


  5. When I read the M&M books, I always think you must have Hollywood roots, Kit. Instead you gave birth to some. So glad someone disregarded the idea that Hollywood isn't of much interest. It's one of the most twisted labyrinths this country has--as your series shows.

  6. Lurking, eyebrows and . . . perfect timing. The Oscar nominees have just been announced and people are buzzing about movies!

    What a fun post, Kit!

  7. One item I overheard that I left out of this blog was when two men were talking about a reality TV show they avidly followed each week. One said, "Did you catch that Frankenbite?" I asked what he meant and he told me how reality TV has its own vocabulary. That piqued my interest and I wrote THE MAGICIANS to get behind the scenes of reality TV and try to figure out why audiences either love it or hate it. Believe me, it's a different world!


  8. This is fascinating!!!


  9. Great discussion, Kit. Love your description for the sparks that trigger another Margot & Max mystery. Eavesdropping and listening – gotta love it! You just never know what’s going to entice you into writing a new escapade. Bring it on - I’m ready for the next one!


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