A very long time ago (or so it seems now!) I did a post celebrating my 100 followers in which I asked for suggestions for future blog posts. Sometime after that, I prepared this post and somehow never actually posted it. So I am posting it now. It is in answer to the very original J.C. Martin's suggestion for a blog topic:
I'd like you to talk more about your process when writing a crime novel: research, plot, the lot! Do you have the bad guy decided from the start, or do you decide as you write who it will be?
(Also please check out her book coming out this year with J. Taylor Publishing, titled Oracle. It comes out July 30th! I had the privilege of reading it and it is quite fabulous. Also her novel, The Doll is available now on Amazon so check that out too.)
I definitely know who the bad guy is right from the start. Or at least I know who I have in mind. Sometimes midway through the book I'll wonder if I shouldn't change it but I have someone in mind from the outset and I work toward the reveal, as it were.
In terms of research I use the internet a great deal. It always amazes me just how much I can find out from a bunch of obscure Google searches. I also read memoirs, biographies and non-fiction accounts depending on what kind of characters I have. That's where I start anyway. When I was writing Aberration, as I said, I had just read legendary FBI profiler, John Douglas' books. I read a few more books by FBI profilers or as they say, "behavioral analysts". When I started writing the Starting With a Sample book which has a neurosurgeon in it, I read a bunch of books by actual neurosurgeons which were actually very fascinating. For my WIP, I read a few memoirs by police officers and detectives, specifically female officers. I also check out textbooks whenever I can. For example, there is at least one interrogation scene in my WIP and when I was ready to write it, I didn't yet have access to a real, live police source so I found a cheap, older edition of a textbook on Interrogation--the kind used to train police officers--and I read it. Took notes. It was fascinating and I learned a great deal.
Finally, whenever I can, I try to talk to or exchange emails with real, live people who are working in the same fields as my characters. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as it were) I had met a handful of police officers and detectives here in Philadelphia several years ago and took that opportunity to interview them for tidbits I might use in my book(s). I even got some tours of various facilities. Recently, I happened to run into someone I had been friendly with in my twenties who I hadn't been in touch with in well over ten years. He is now on the police force, working in my neighborhood. He graciously agreed to answer any questions I have (and I have many) so I have interviewed him several times.
I also recently read an online article about a Philadelphia detective where the article mentioned his Twitter username. So I went on over there and contacted him and he was very happy to answer all my questions by email. He's been incredibly gracious, patient, thorough and just downright wonderful in answering all my questions. I find it easier to communicate via email whenever possible because when I'm actually talking to someone, I'm scribbling notes so quickly that later I have a hard time discerning what I've written. If I have an email from someone, it's all right there and I can reference it at any time.
So basically, if I want to talk to a real live person, I just look for someone who has information I need and I say, "I'm a fiction writer. The book I'm working on is about [insert description here]. Would you be willing to answer some questions about your field and/or possible scenarios in your work? I'd like my book to be as authentic as possible."
I've found that people have one of two reactions to me when I ask for help with research for a book--either they look at me like I've just asked them to set themselves on fire or they are incredibly happy to help. I immediately disregard the snooty balkers. Most people are the opposite: they are very pleasant and helpful.
How do you do your research? Do you use the internet? Do you interview people? Have any wild and whacky research stories to share?