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Monthly Archives: March 2019

Don’t forget your research

Beyond book No. 3

You may be writing fiction, but you still need to do some research. Sure, you can make up your story, your characters – and you better be doing the latter – but some things such as a place, a date, a real life event will pop up that you need to check out, even if you are writing science fiction. And if you are writing anything – sci-fi or other – and there are police in it, you will need to do research. Ditto for any other career involved even if you have worked in it.

Then there are stories set in countries other than the one you live in – or oven another part of the country you live in. Peter Robinson, who writes the Inspector (now Superintendent, I believe) Banks mystery series sets his novels in Yorkshire, England. Peter has been living in Canada for many, many years, but he makes regular trips back to Yorkshire.

And if you are writing historical novels – romance or mystery, or any novel set in the past, you need to do some research. My Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are set in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Computers, the Internet, etc. were quite a bit different then. If you set your story in the late 1990s you can’t have people running around with smart phones. Yes, there was email and Internet then, but on computers.. My twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture do have cell phones, but the type that flipped open and closed and no email or text on them, although text was just coming in across the pond in Europe. But not in Toronto, Ontario and north of Toronto.

Even though I didn’t have a cell phone then, a real estate agent/friend of mine did. So I could go back to what I remember about that phone, which I did use a few times. Not enough though, so I did a lot of research on cell phones from the past, what they looked like, their size (fortunately in the late 1990s they weren’t still the big clunkers from four or five years earlier). I was able to do enough research for that on the Internet. But not all research on the Internet is sufficient. Sometimes you have to get off your laptop, off the Internet and off your butt, off your smart phone, and get out there and do other research.

There is the obvious one with police and I’ll go into that in another post. Today, I want to talk about one of my in-your-face type of research – not exactly interviewing someone – which I did a lot of when I was a journalist (and some was via phone and email). No, something else I used to do for research for a story was to get out their and “absorb the scene”.

One of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point is set in present day Toronto. There is an alley in the story, so I re-visited the alley behind a street of row houses where relatives used to live many years before present day. I walked up the street in front of the houses to see what they looked like today and then I went around the corner and into the alley behind and started walking there. I visualized the scene in the story (Missing in Action) and decided this alley fit the story. So when I wrote that scene this was the alley I was thinking about. Yet I didn’t pinpoint where it was in Toronto in the story.

In the story “Unfinished Business” I have the main character revisiting her childhood home area in Toronto with her 12-year old daughter because the daughter insisted. Something really bad happened to the mother when she was around the daughter’s age and she had only been back once just for a ride-through with a friend and she ducked down in the car so she wouldn’t see the place. When she came with her daughter, I envisioned where I grew up and had her drive in past buildings and on roads there up to the house (but I changed the street names). However, the whole street was in my mind as I wrote it as were most of the changes outside the house like for my house – except the rickety old garage at the back  of the driveway. It had been replaced  just before I moved back to Toronto in 1998, but I left it in my story, because it was crucial to the story. The people in the story and the bad thing that happened to my character didn’t happen in my life. (I had other things that happened instead). And for the record, I have a son, not a daughter. And also for the record, I took many walks along that street and even talked to the current owners before I wrote my story. Unlike my story’s main character, I don’t drive.

And how the latter happened is the “fault” of a couple of cousins visiting from Michigan, well, one of them. Here’s how that went.

My cousins, G and K and I were driving downtown from my place to meet my son for dinner. As we drove past the street where I grew up, big mouth me mentioned this. G turned onto my street, stopped outside the house (big mouth  me again telling him which one). A man in his mid-fifties was hauling a golf set from the trunk of his car. G rolled down the window and shouted out “My cousin used to live here.” So the three of us had to get out and we got into a conversation with the man and his wife. Turns out they (particularly her) are interested in the house’s history and the street’s history too. And the garage came into the conversation. The wife asked me if the original garage was so far back and I said “no.” Some more comparisons of outside were made and I learned some of the history of the property from after I moved. And I saw more inside when a few months later (I had their permission to call to make an appointment for this) I visited the couple inside the house.

Unfinished Business did not take place inside the house, but it did have scenes on the street, in the driveway and the old rickety garage.

So research is not all boring and you can get some physical exercise doing it. Just remember to go beyond the Internet.

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series.

Short story collection (2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Public Libraries Help Writers and their Readers

How many times have you been at a table trying to sell your books? Maybe it is a writer’s festival or maybe a church bazaar or some other event. And you get some interest in your book from someone until they look at the price. Then it is “is it available in an e-copy.” Or I don’t have enough cash on me/spent all my money/I’ll be back later when I’m leaving.”

Instead of frowning, yelling, whining or going into extreme book selling mode, why not suggest the person borrow your book from their local library branch? Maybe you don’t think about that because you figure you won’t be paid if someone reads a borrowed copy of your book.

Wrong.

If you as an author have your book(s) signed up with a Public Lending Rights Program (over 30 countries have them), you can receive royalty payments annually. Some library systems base the amount on how many times your books are borrowed or if your book or books are in the library catalogues (tcatalogues are online on most library websites). Canada follows this latter method and the payout annually has to work out to not under $50. But it can go up to $4,000. My Beyond mystery books haven’t reached a $4,000 royalty, but for last year, the amount was more than a 100 per cent increase from 2017.

Canada’s Public Lending Rights Program has a window of time to sign up – usually from sometime in February to May. And then that’s it for another year. Forms are online and are downloadable. This year the timeline ends May 1.

See here for more information on Canada’s program.

So how do you get your books into the library? Most libraries have book submission forms – in print at the branch or online, although sometimes the former are set up for  you to recommend a book by any other author who isn’t you. So get another author you know to recommend your book and you do the same for them.

The best way is to have a librarian get your book in. I have cold-called some librarians and persuaded them to carry my book. Depending on the library I may mention that I have family in their city or town (this has to be true – don’t make up stuff – leave that for your fiction books). Or I may say my books are set in their city or town or a city or town loosely based on their city or town (true for York Region just north of Toronto).

My favourite is actually doing a presentation (with other authors or on my own) or teaching a workshop at a library branch. Now, I have been doing the former for eight years and the latter six years. Particularly if the presentation or workshop is connected to your book – i.e. creating compelling fiction characters and you write fiction. Also, if you are presenting at a library, the librarians usually do order in a few copies of your book ahead of time.

Although one didn’t. So, one of the five of us crime writers reading asked the librarian if copies of our books were available in the library.

No. But they were soon afterwards.

Probably the best-case scenario is the librarian, Janet, at the library branch where I teach one or two workshops a year and my East End Writers’ Group partners with this branch to hold our meetings there. The librarian actually suggested it after we did a presentation at the library and I decided to get the group out of my house to meet and the two places after that where we met briefly went out of business. So, we are in partnership with the library with this and the program gets under the branch programs umbrella. Janet has made sure my three Beyond books are in that branch.

Of course each library system has its own methods for getting in programs and presentations. How I got into some (besides the East End Writers’ Group one) is fodder for another post.

The bottom line is getting your published books into libraries is a win-win-win situation – for your readers, for libraries and for you.

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series

Available for borrowing in the Toronto Public Library system, some in the York Region Library system, etc.

And I am teaching a memoir writing workshop and doing two presentations with other authors, all in Toronto library branches. See my Gigs and Blog Tours Page on this website here to find out when and where.

 

 

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