Hey! Liz here, with two fabulous guests today! Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker are here to talk research today in celebration of their latest books. Welcome, girls!
Liz and gang, Shannon and I are so happy to be here! We know that in much the same way that book groups are fronts for wine drinking and dirty joke-telling, cozy authors (and their books) may have sweet faces but in truth are rich in deviance, debauchery, and a wicked sense of humor. In honor of uncovering the truth, Shannon and I would like to talk about research today.
First, a little background. Shannon and I met around seven years ago at a writing conference. We were both published at Midnight Ink at the time, Shannon with her Tony Hillermann-esque Nora Abbott series, me with my little-bit-raunchy Murder by Month series, and we hit it off right away. We both like to drink and to laugh, preferably simultaneously (not a sport for the amateur). When we recently discovered that our thrillers had the same September 6 release date, Stripped Bare for her and Salem’s Cipher for me, we decided to embark on a 30-day Double Booked blog tour.
What in the name of the devil’s underpants were we thinking?
Turns out we were thinking smart things because touring together is a blast, even if 30 days is a long time. Shannon, speaking of blasts that take a long time, I know that Stripped Bare is set in the Nebraska Sandhills, which was your home for a while. Did setting your novel in a familiar landscape mean that you didn’t have to do much research?
Shannon: Luckily, I have dear friends there who can fill me in on details I’ve forgotten or tip me about crazy goings on since I left. But I’m not in law enforcement so all that is research. The county sheriff where I lived is a great friend of mine and he’s on speed dial, so that helps. But here’s something that shocked me about Nebraska. Turns out, you don’t have to have any qualifications to be elected county sheriff. None. Zip. After election, you have 12 months to complete and pass an 8-week training at the police academy and until you do, you can’t perform anything you aren’t certified to do. Not even a traffic stop. So the state patrol and adjoining county sheriffs take care of official business in your county. Sounds like a criminal free-for-all, to me. Your new thriller has so many fascinating aspects, Jess. What kind of research did you dig up?
Jess here. I set the opening chapters of Salem’s Cipher in Minneapolis, where I live, because I love the city. It’s interesting, quirky, and underwritten in popular culture. I also set it here because I wanted to ground the novel in something familiar to me before it took off across the country as well as back in time. My protagonist, agoraphobic cryptanalyst Salem Wiley, is forced to leave the comfort of her apartment to embark on a cross-country race to save her mother as well as to save the first viable female presidential candidate in the history of the U.S.
The story drove some of the places she had to travel to. For example, Emily Dickinson as well as those involved in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s play a role in the story, so it made sense that my character, Salem Wiley, would travel to Amherst and Salem, Massachusetts. I visited the city of Salem in February 2015 to do on-the-ground research, a process I love. It makes me feel like a real writer! Plus, it’s a tax write-off.
I’d been to Amherst before, and so called on those memories plus Google Earth. Same for San Francisco. When it came to writing realistically about West Virginia, though, an area that plays a crucial role in the book, I reached out to Facebook friends to help me with details, and boy did they come through: a sunset that cuts through air like ink, the sweet frog song that starts before moonrise, the earthy smell of manure laced with mountain mist. These are details I wouldn’t have found through traditional research. Shannon, have you ever rung up the Facebook hive to help you with your novel research?
Shannon: I live in Tucson now and it’s mid-April, with temps in the 80s and 90s. But Kate Fox is in Nebraska in mid-May, just before dawn, when it’s somewhere around 35 degrees. I asked FB: If a car had been driving 80mph for an hour and had been turned off for 45 minutes, would the hood still be warm? These details are important if you don’t want some hotheaded reader mailing anthrax to you. The answer is yes, though Amiee Hix felt compelled to talk about quantum mechanics. Some people. (Jess here—why is Aimee Hix so damn smart??? Like, math smart AND word smart.)
Below, please share with us your best research tip or leave a comment for a chance to win either a copy of Salem’s Cipher or a copy of Stripped Bare.
Wait! There’s more (no, not knives, you ninny):
If you order Salem’s Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner’s home!
If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to email@example.com to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.
If you preorder both, you’re welcome to enter both contests as well as step to the front of the karma line.
Pop on over to the Writer Unboxed blog Monday as we share The Writing Tips We’d Be Naked Without, part of the Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour.
Jess and Shannon – so awesome to have you guys on the blog. Best of luck with your new releases! Readers, did any of these research revelations surprise or inspire you?
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com, or check her out on Facebook or Twitter.
Shannon Baker writes the Kate Fox mystery series. Stripped Bare, the first in the series, features a sheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2104 Writer of the Year. She writes from the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson. Her website is http://shannon-baker.com/.