Saturday, December 1, 2012

Step Away From the Desk

 Guest post by Kelly Miller, crime fiction novelist

I’m sure you’ll all agree technology has made the writer’s life easier. No more trips to the library, just Google it. No more visits to the courthouse, instead check records online. Now that we have Google Earth is there a need to travel to the corner of Cherry & Main when you can simply power up the computer and visit electronically? But this begs the question, have we become too dependent on technology?

It’s tempting to lean on our computer crutch. A writer has so few minutes free in the day. If we’re not writing our next novel, we’re endlessly blogging, tweeting, and facebooking. So I can understand our dependence on virtual travel. But I say, “Step away from the desk!” 

If you simply rely on a picture on a computer screen, you’ll miss out on the nuances of a location, the flavor of a city. Researching for my debut novel, Dead Like Me, I set up a private three-hour tour of the Tampa Police headquarters. It was the best thing I could have ever done for my novel. I like to keep my stories as factual as possible so I wanted to record everything. Like the fact that the homicide department is on the eighth floor and how the precinct has a nondescript smell. Unless of course, you’re on the fourth floor when seized marijuana plants are drying out. 

As a crime fiction writer, police anecdotes and rookie mistake stories are golden. When I toured the homicide department, I discovered the guys had played a practical joke on one of the detectives. They turned his desk into a boat, attaching a steering wheel to the end of the desk and PVC piping to the top creating a bimini. A steel cleat was even mounted right in the middle of his desk. Of course this was too good to pass up, so I included it in my novel. These are all things I never would have found out through interviews or sitting behind my computer. 

How about you? Do you rely heavily on your computer for research, or do you get out from behind your desk and travel, soaking up the local flavor of a location? Or maybe you use a combination of the two approaches?

Kelly Miller’s first novel, Dead Like Me, debuted November 29. To purchase a copy, visit You can learn more about Kelly by visiting her website at or her blog at


  1. I talk to law enforcement sources for every book I write: FBI agents, homicide detectives, crime scene experts, SWAT commanders, and more. I like to visit the places I write about, but I set most of my stories in Eugene, so that's easy. The Gauntlet Assassin is set in Washington D.C., in the future, and I admit, I didn't make a trip to the capitol but relied on Google maps instead. Readers haven't complained about that yet, but it could still happen.

  2. Thanks for guest blogging with us again, Kelly! As a freelance editor, I like to travel a lot so I can experience different locales, especially various well-known U.S. cities, first-hand and help my clients that way. My slogan is "Have laptop, will travel!" And when I combine my traveling with writers' conferences, I not only get to see new places and network with writers - friends, acquaintances, and potential clients - but I get to deduct part of the costs of two of them per year at tax time! A win-win-win situation!

  3. Thanks for letting me post again! I really appreciate it. Now when I travel, I can't shut my writer's brain off. I'm always looking around trying to soak up as many details as possible. I never know when they'll come in handy.

    L. J., I'm waiting for the chance when I finally have time to join the Citizen's Academy class that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office holds twice a year. It'll be a great way to make new contacts and learn more about police procedure.

  4. Kelly, welcome back to CFC.

    Professional resources are invaluable. LJ is far beyond me in developing a go-to list of law enforcement people, but I'm getting a start. The police chief in Aspen was critical in advising me about a plot element in THE MISSINGS.

    My next book, where the familiar Colorado landscape is my launch pad, also takes me to the swamps and bayou country of Louisiana. I've only been in the swamps during the day, and my husband isn't keen on going back for the nighttime exposure I'm looking for. So I will have to rely on memory, imagination, resource books, the Internet… but I have lined up a couple of living, breathing Cajuns to make sure I stay authentic.


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