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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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Fiction Setting in past times

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Some of us write fiction set in past times. That could be from last year back several decades or centuries. My Beyond stories are set in the late 1990s, so many things were different even back then 17 or 18 years ago.For example, technology could be considered part of setting (think wi-fi availability today in cafes, public transit, and just walking along the street). What we take for granted today, may not have been around back in the days of your novel or short story.

One big setting factor is weather. We can all probably figure out that today’s weather is much more extreme in all ways. There are more floods, tornadoes, heavy snowfalls, etc. And so if you are writing in another time period, you have to be aware what is going on in the weather then. And not in general, but on the days your story takes place and the actual location. That requires some research beyond your memory of back then if you were actually living in that time period. Leave your memory of the weather for your feelings about it when it happened and you might be able to use that in your story. You need to do more concrete research.

If you don’t something like the following could happen.

Supposing you are setting your story in August 2011 in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. You have been there many times in the past, but not since 2010. So, you write your story setting it in August 2011 in Goderich as you remember it with its centre of town set up in a square..

Hold it right here. On August 21, 2011 a big tornado hit Goderich, Ontario causing extensive damage to the downtown square and nearby houses. If you have your characters meeting at one of the shops there or even in a chase through the downtown square on that date or just after, but don’t factor in the tornado, oops.

A tornado can add to the suspense in your story, so consider including it.

But do your research first – online with old news stories.And if you don’t know what the weather was like on certain days of certain years, you can check with weather authorities (such as Environment Canada) for historical weather information about dates in the past. You don’t want to have a blizzard in late November in such-and-such year just north of Toronto when the weather was actually mild for the time and it rained the proverbially buckets.

There are many other time-related issues that factor into setting. I’ll cover a few more of them in a future post, but here’s one to think about and research.

Your characters are eating soup that came out of a can and the year is 1921. Did soup or any other foods come in cans in 1921? You need to do your research. And you can take that food area much further to what people actually ate in the your story’s time period and how they prepared and stored food and where and how they ate.

Setting covers much more than geographic location.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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Crunch time for publisher’s deadline for novel

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

I am in the last month to finish the rewrite of the third book in my mystery Beyond series before submitting in to my publisher.. Of course, it won’t be the final rewrite. Once a publisher decides to publish a book, the author always has more rewrites.

I have limited my email time – I set a timer and when it rings I finish the current email and the rest can wait for another day. And I am particular which events I go to .

Some of the latter has been railroaded because I also just got yet another sinus infection over the weekend. So the two writing-related workshops I planned to go to, I had to cancel.

And with all my health issues, I am trying to keep medical appointments to one health issue a month. Last summer and fall when all these health issues kept coming and coming, often overlapping, I tried to deal with them all at once, including medical appointments. That caused way too much worry and anxiety and I might have had to add “shrink” to the list.  So, I’m trying the one-at-a-time approach and hope it works. Some of the medical people aren’t too happy about it. Too bad. I am trying to get more sleep to help heal.

But I like to rewrite what I have written. Sometimes the most creative twists in plots and character development occurs here. It is also a time to fix plot and character inconsistencies, get rid of excess and not necessary scenes and even chapters, smooth out the telling – get rid of awkward phrases and sentences, polish it all up. .And do final fact checking on your research.

It is the latter that is driving me crazy. A few new police procedure questions and also questions on the social issue in this novel have come up. And I’m having trouble getting the experts to reply to my emails and phone calls to get some answers.

My police consultant just retired and has moved out of the country. I am grateful for all his help with my other two books and this third book as well. So, I’ve been doing what most authors without police connections do – contact the corporate communications media department of the police services. I have emailed and phoned there and have received no response. It has been a week and a half.

Meantime I visited the Toronto Reference Library and looked at criminal code books from the shelves and stacks. Made notes as those books are not for lending. My book is set in late 1999, which is an added glitch. And did more Internet search.

Also emailed a government department’s service questions part. That was done two days ago and so can’t complain yet about that

I am also rewriting to change parts of the plot to fit in with what my research (at the library and online) has revealed, even to the point where I have a few options for a couple of areas.

But I need some answers.

So, I will try some contacts via Linked In and see where that gets me.

For those of you writing fiction, how do you deal with this type of non-response to your research questions? How do you get your rewriting done to meet your deadlines?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

If you click on the book cover at the top it will take you to my publisher’s page about my books and my background.

 

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Criminals and historical figures on CWC panel

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

The bad guys and history guys weren’t there in person. But five of us from Crime Writers of Canada – Rosemary McCracken, Steve Burrows, Sylvia Warsh, Nate Hendley and I told tales of crossing paths with the above and more in our research to write that perfect mystery novel or true crime story.

Rosemary moderated the panel which gave me a breather from that function so I would just have to show up and answer questions. But apparently I had trouble finding the Fairview library branch, or rather the exit from Fairview Mall, where I had to run a few errands first (like glasses cleaner, very important to be able to see through your glasses to read from your books). And I’ve been at this library before and had no trouble then going from the mall across the parking lot to the library. This time I couldn’t find the right exit or even the right level of the mall. Finally I asked at the Guest Service booth.

We had a good audience turnout. Rosemary got us panelists talking and the stories that came out. Sylvia’s Dr. Rebecca Temple mysteries are set in 1979 Toronto, but Find Me Again also goes back in time to Catherine the Great. She did most of her research on the Internet. You can’t exactly interview Catherine the Great. Nate, who writes about true crime (Crystal Death), has met the criminal element – bikers and the like. Rosemary, whose protagonist Pat Tierney is a financial advisor (Safe Harbor), writes about finances as a journalist, so has information and connections there. Steve writes the Birder mysteries (A Siege of Bitterns), so birding features in his novels (Steve is a birder), but he had to do some police research. My Beyond books (Beyond Blood) are set in the late 1990s (so far, the third one I’m working on goes into the twenty-first century). As mentioned in last week’s blog post (https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/2015/07/23/researching-mid-stream-for-your-novel/), I have a police consultant and have to keep any police procedure in that time period. I also have to be careful with technical devices. No social media. Internet connection was via dial-up until late fall 1999, cellphones were just that and they folded closed and had antennae. But there was email and that figures in my Beyond books. In this third one I write, I may have to talk to a psychic, so that should be interesting.

We also read excerpts from our books and answered questions on marketing your book.

Authors and audience connected so well, we had to be reminder by the librarian that it was time to leave.

In August I take a break from actual gigs. So will be spending more time researching and writing that third Beyond book. With a bit of final arrangements for fall presentations and readings. It promises to be a busy fall. Check out the Gigs and Blog Tours page on this blog and also my website http://www.samcraw.com/ for updates as I get them in there.

Meantime, the photo at the top of this post still connects to where you can get e-copies of Beyond Blood and Beyond the Tripping Point. Print copies available (among other places) at https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=Beyond%20blood%20and%20Sharon%20A.%20Crawford

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Kick-start writing your novel when it hits stall mode

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Has the novel you are writing hit stall mode?

Maybe you’ve been procrastinating? Maybe family and/or work stuff has taken up a lot of your time? Or maybe, like me, 2015 has been shoving unwanted and unanticipated problems at you.

To get back on track with writing your novel takes some major work on your part. What I am doing to get back on track with writing the next novel in my Beyond mystery series may not be your cup of tea, but for what it’s worth, here it is.

When I get hit with a lot of problems from “outside” as I call it – and that can be anything from weather-related property problems to cable TV problems to computer problems, I find that getting angry about it helps. I use that anger to get at whomever or whatever is causing the problem to fix it. Sometimes I am even nice about it. But I find anger combined with persistence, can help get the problem resolved.

That’s when a third party doesn’t have to be called in to fix the problem, but that’s another story.

As you can guess, all this steals my precious time, time I could be using writing my new mystery novel. So how am I getting back to that?

  1. I switched over to Research mode – I had some research I needed to do before I could get much further in the novel anyway. Research can be worked into a fragmented schedule at home or in transit (except when driving) – whether online or from print material.
  2. Go back to your novel outline – plot and characters. Chances are your mind is scattered with all your problems, so focusing on just where your novel is going (or not) and fixing that not only gets your mind off the problem temporarily, it helps you move forward with your novel. Because of the crappy winter weather conditions, I decided to arrive very early to teach a memoir writing workshop last week at a local library branch. I didn’t bring my laptop because I was carting enough books and handouts for the workshop. But I did bring a small print file containing some plot and character concerns. So, I sat in the library branch and reworked some of the outline. I figured out exactly why I wanted X character to be the murderer and also how to add more suspense and foreshadowing in the novel.
  3. Make an hour or two during your day when you can actually sit at your computer and do some more writing – and to hell with the problems. This is a good distraction and also moves your novel along.
  4. I also went back to the beginning to work in more suspense and foreshadowing, mainly connected to the murderer. Sometimes going back to the beginning and just reading it, not only refreshes your memory, it might also provide more ideas and you will find yourself making a few changes.

 

And the problem causers?

They better watch out. I don’t take kindly to having my life screwed up big time. Especially when it interferes with my writing. Sometimes I work these people, organizations, etc. into my fiction-writing – changing names and details of course. All fodder for the fiction.

 

See, you can have some fun as an author and also get some writing done, too.

 

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Author of the Beyond book series. See http://www.samcraw.com and http://www.bluedenimpress.com for more info. Book at top of this post links to my Amazon author profile.

To watch my interview on Liquid Lunch on thatchannel.com go to Go to http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY and enjoy

 

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