I’m not exactly sure which was weirder, the actual research for this fact or the result of researching the fact the way I did. You decide.
I was writing a mystery novella back when the internet wasn’t so prolific. I’m still not sure if the workload was a bit easier for the writer without all the social media work necessary today to stay alive in the public arena. But this was back when most of the research of writers started in the library and then moved on to interviewing experts to share firsthand knowledge.
In writing a story, as you all know, the facts have to be genuine. This is true whether you are writing contemporary stories or building a fantasy world. I opened every conversation with the librarians with I was writing fiction.
The problem? I don’t think anyone believed me. I even offered to show them the manuscript in progress. No one took me up on that offer.
Okay, so I’m not Mary Higgins Clark. No, I’m not J.K. Rowling either.
Nope! I’m just plain ol’ Victoria Marie Lees.
Guess what? No one cared. All they cared about was that I had a question about the use of a hand gun.
Just a basic question. After all, I’ve never used a hand gun before.
So I couldn’t really find any information at the library. And I was running out of time. This novella was my final assignment for a course at the University of Pennsylvania, a writing seminar in fiction entitled “From Murder Most Foul to the Explicit Corpse.” I only had a week to complete it. And with all the workload for two courses, working outside the home, helping my five children with their own school work, not to mention trying to get ready for Christmas, I didn’t have much time for research.
So I called my town police station. Well, who else do you know uses hand guns regularly?
All I needed to know was which type of handgun expelled bullet shells. I needed them, I told the police officer, at my fictional crime site. They were key to discovering who the murderer was in my mystery.
There was silence on the phone.
“Officer?” I asked.
“Sir, this really is a fictional story about a murder that happens onstage during a performance. … Hello? Are you still there?”
After a few minutes, I heard muffled voices on the other side of the line.
“Guys, I can bring the manuscript in to show you if you want.”
Finally, the officer answered my question. But later that day, a town police cruiser drove past my home. Slowly. Peering into my living room windows. I guess they wanted to see where I hid the body.
In fact, the police drove by my home every day for several weeks.
However, after noticing all the foot traffic at my house what with five children playing outside, running in and out of the house, friends and people popping by, the police figured I must be a crazy writer and not a murderer. For how could I ever find time to murder anyone let alone hide a dead body? And then keep the body hidden from all the occupants and visitors at the house.
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This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.
36 thoughts on “Insecure Writers want to know: What is the weirdest thing you ever had to research for your story?”
These days, they probably wouldn't care and would've answered your questions. Seems a bit extreme to send out a patrol car.
Doesn't it though? I'm blessed to live in a quiet town where there isn't much action. Maybe they were curious. But then they kept an eye on the home for another week or two.
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OMG, you made me laugh. Thank you, and wishing best of success.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Feather. Good! This post is meant to make writers laugh. Thanks so much for your kind words. They mean the world to me. All the best to you, too! Please stop by Adventures in Writing again.
Now that is scary. But what a hoot. You had the police on their toes and your neighborhood. That could be a great strategy for getting more protection for your home. 🙂
What an funny story especially watching you. Too funny. There are a lot of strange ones out there. I retired from emergency communications police/fire/emt and did get the occasional call like that and some even weirder. The weirder ones they really did check out They few about stories though they invited them up to tour the station and participate in the Citizens Police Academy. Of course this might have been another way to check them out because for the Citizens Police Academy we did background check on you, lol.
' Juneta @ Writer's Gambit
Yet nowadays there are so many crime shows, and the need for writers to research this stuff is so well known, that they actually have a Writers' Police Academy!
Yikes! How disconcerting. Glad it all worked out, though.
This takes the prize, for sure ~ best chuckle all evening, Victoria. I can't imagine how you juggled all of that and wrote a novella. Wow! Happy writing this month!
I guess it was good of them to be thorough in their work 😉
Bahaha!! That's great. Add that to your next mystery novel. I wish I could have seen their faces:)
Yes it could be a good strategy, Lee. I never thought of that. And looking back, it is extremely funny. But at the time, I was afraid to tell my husband what I did. He just kept asking why the police were driving down our street all the time.
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Good for you, Juneta, for being an emergency communications operator. You must have had an exciting career. My sister was one, too. In fact she received a commendation for remaining cool in a dangerous situation. I am so proud of her.
I never thought to call 911 or an emergency operator to ask a gun question. I was afraid of taking up the operator's time when someone might have an emergency. What a good idea to invite the caller in for the Citizens Police Academy. Much easier to learn about them than simply watching their house. Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Juneta!
This is wonderful, Jennifer! Where or at what site do I find the Writers' Police Academy? What a splendid tip to watch crime shows, but do they really give genuine facts? I would think they would leave out a vital fact so that in real life, the police can still find the bullet casing.
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Jennifer. Thank you so much for your advice.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! Yikes, is right, Sandra. I was so worried that asking this question put my name on some sort of persons to watch list.
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I've found asking people who wouldn't normally be asked to be part of a book excites them. Like, to know about shooting a gun, I'd probably stop by a local gun shop. But then I live with a family of marksmen, so give me a holler if you ever have another gun question.
Thank you so much for your kind words. They are appreciated more than you know. It is always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All the best to you.
As a matter of fact, I think it was, too. It's just that…I hoped my name wasn't on some sort of "watch out for" list.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Lynda. Hope all is well.
Hello, Jennifer, and welcome to Adventures in Writing. That's a good idea to add this type of fact to my next mystery about an amateur detective.
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Thank you so much for the offer, Elizabeth! I truly will ask you my next gun question. It's true. I never thought of asking the question at a local gun shop. In fact, I don't really know where any are.
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All best to you.
Yes, TV shows typically take a lot of liberties with the truth.
The academy is:
April Henry has blogged (enthusiastically) a few times about her experiences there.
There's also an organization for crime + mystery writers called Sisters in Crime, which you might be interested in.
That's good to know that your police officers are doing their job. I can only imagine what they were thinking when they heard the question you asked. I'm sure nowadays, the FBI would be knocking on your door if you were to search this online.
Great post as always.
That is the funniest research story I have read… To be honest, I might have approached it the same way, except, I would have probably showed up at the police station in person and they might have locked me away. See, I don't have five children, and I don't even have a home they could drive by. I guess I better never become a mystery writer, people already think I am crazy. 🙂
Haha…fun research story! OMG, scary but such fun having the cops cruising around to catch you in the act maybe?
Hi Victoria – I think I had a brain mis-match and never clicked in here … but thankfully I'm catching up now. Gosh – I think I'd have driven down there and asked the question … but no need now -with Elizabeth's offer! Crazy to read … but good to laugh about later – cheers Hilary
Thank you so much for your kind words, Michelle. It is good that my town police take everything seriously. The FBI would terrify me, if they ever knocked on my door. But you are probably right. In today's climate, that might have happened. Memo to self, Vic…
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Michelle.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Liesbet! Thank you so much for your kind words. Looking back, it is funny, but at the time, I was under a deadline to get the novella completed. And Yes, I was afraid that if I showed up at the police station, they'd lock me up too. And, no one at my house would miss me…until dinnertime!
Don't worry, Liesbet. Everyone thinks I'm crazy, too. I'm the crazy lady with five kids. Thank you so much for visiting Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. It is greatly appreciated.
Isn't it though, Nas? At least the town police are taking things seriously. And really…how would a mother of five ever find the time to kill someone…and hide the body from everyone?
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for your comment.
Thank you so much for your note, Hilary. It's always appreciated seeing you here at Adventures in Writing.
I’m so lucky having Elizabeth offer to help me with any gun questions I may have. Thanks again for your note, Hilary! All the best to you, my dear.
Jennifer, this is wonderful! Thank you so much for this information. I truly value it. I'll look up April Henry's blog posts as well as checking in with the police academy and Sisters in Crime.
All the best to you, my dear.
That is kind of funny, but I can see where the attention from the police would make one somewhat uneasy. This is just the kind of question that the internet is good for. I've gotten info about weapons online and it was easy with no attention paid to me. If you had a gun store near you that would probably have been a good place to get questions answered. Gun people usually like to talk about guns.
Tossing It Out
Thank you for this, Arlee. At the time I was researching the mystery, I had limited time and the internet was not ubiquitous. It's funny. I never thought of gun shops. I don't know of any in my area at this time.
Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Arlee. Thanks so much for your comment.
Too funny, Victoria. I'm surprised that you have had issues with people believing you are writing fiction. If I had been in your shoes I may have just used a shotgun since I would have known it had shells, but it is no surprise you went the extra mile for authenticity. (Who am I kidding, I would have had a cop patrolling me too.)
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing! So wonderful of you to stop by and leave a note. Well, a shotgun would have been difficult to conceal for the murderer in a mystery story. But I understand what you mean about the shells. Writers need to go that extra mile you speak of to have that story authenticity so as not to lose the reader.
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you actually called the police? you're brave! especially in these troublesome times. wow! i stick to google or friends in the field. if anyone looked up my browser history, they'd think i was trying to invent technology to take over the world! fun post =)
Tara Tyler Talks
Thank you so much, Tara! At the time that I was writing the novella, the internet wasn't as prolific. And I was running out of time for the assignment. I called the police as a last resort. I didn't know where else to go for the information. Always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Tara. Thanks again for your comment.