Monday, July 19, 2010

Homework Time: by Terry Odell

nowheretohide_680 Thanks to Terry Odell for guest posting for me today! Terry’s books straddle the mystery and romance genres and you can find out more about them here.

Thanks to Elizabeth for inviting me to usurp her blog today. Although my books are considered romantic suspense, I write them like mysteries, with a little more emphasis on the relationship. If there was such a category, I'd call them mystery-romances. To be honest, I thought I was writing a mystery when I wrote my first book, "Finding Sarah."

Everyone says, "Write what you know." Well, obviously it helps to know something about your subject, but research is vital. I toyed with writing a historical romance once—I'd read a few time-travel romances that I'd enjoyed. But I realized I hated history class, and had no knowledge whatsoever of history, so I abandoned that idea…fast.

But with proper research, you can write about the unfamiliar—it's a matter of knowing what you don't know, and learning what you need to fit your manuscript.

My latest release, "Nowhere to Hide" has its roots "Finding Sarah." I thought it would be easier to write about Orlando, where I was living at the time. I'd been pestering my sister in law in Oregon to make sure I got the setting details right. Rather than keep bugging her, I decided Colleen would move to Orlando, where I was more comfortable with the locale. After all, she was going to live in my neighborhood, so if I wanted to know what something looked like, all I had to do was open my front door.

Some things were easier—I knew what plants grew, I knew what the climate felt like, I knew that from my house you can hear the roller coasters at Universal Studios, and I could scope out various locations on my own.

Others things were harder. Why? Because I'd decided that Colleen was going to meet up with an Orlando deputy sheriff. Why? Because 'only trouble is interesting' and to give Colleen a reason to move across country, I'd decided she'd had a bad experience on the job as a cop in Oregon. So, who's the last person she'd want to have to deal with? Another cop.

But all of a sudden I couldn't get away with making too much stuff up. After all, there was a chance, remote though it might be, that a real member of the Orange County Sheriff's Office might read the book. I didn't want them laughing at me.

First, the procedure details had to be right. Back in the small Oregon town I'd made up, I had a small police force, and everyone did everything. But in the large Orange County system, there's a much bigger division of labor. I had to figure out how I could get my hero to show up where I needed him, and do what I needed him to do without breaking the rules. One thing I learned is that just about everything the cops do is based on making sure it will stand up in court. I couldn't have my hero be a lousy cop.

I enrolled in the Civilian Police Academy and developed some contacts. One, a former SWAT commander taught fitness classes at the Y where I worked out (and you'll see scenes set there in the book), and he was kind enough to offer advice and give me a tour of the building. Another contact was a homicide detective, who was always willing to answer my questions—and some of them are so basic, you hate to bother someone, but if my hero was going to work in the building, I needed to know things like, "Are there vending machines?" and "How would he get a fax," not to mention, "What color are the walls and carpets?"

Of course, there's always a lag between writing and publication, and for this book, it was several years, and a new publisher. I'd set a rather pivotal scene in a local Thai restaurant (didn't mind doing the research for that one, and neither did my husband). Readers who go in search of it will find the shopping center where it used to be, but alas, it closed its doors. Since then, two other restaurants have tried to make a go of it there, but there must be trouble with that location. I hope it wasn't me.

And, I decided that my future books were going to be set in made-up locations, with made up organizations. Preferably close to home, and based on the way things really work, but it's much easier to create your own procedures when you need something to work for the plot. Because in real life, there are rules.

Terry Odell recently moved from Orlando to the mountains of Colorado where she's got brand new settings to explore. Writing to the sounds of wildlife instead of roller coasters has proved inspiring. You can visit her at her website. She also loves people to drop by her blog, Terry's Place.