Guest Linda Lovely

Edith here, writing from north of Boston, where fall has finally hit. Our guest today is the multi-published Linda Lovely.  Bones to Pick, the first mystery in herFINALBonesToPickfrontCover new Brie Hooker Mysteries series, releases in a few weeks! To celebrate, she’ll give away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today. Take it away, Linda.

Wicked Research for Wicked Villains

This blog’s Wicked Cozy Authors title echoes my belief that the best cozy mysteries have plenty of wicked seasoning. Just because a novel eschews profanity, graphic violence and sex doesn’t mean the heroine (or hero) won’t confront a multitude of deadly dangers engineered by wicked, ingenious villains

A mystery’s heroine is most memorable—and heroic—when she faces scary villains. This requires some wicked research. The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), held each August at a real police academy, offers hands-on experiences that writers can use to create haunting villains and plausible plots. WPA instructors are the same ones who train police in everything from firearms and non-lethal weapons to drones and crime scene investigation. Outside experts also explore subjects like bioweapons, forensic psychology, gangs, and private investigation techniques.

Full disclosure: I’m a five-year member of the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) “family.” I handle registrations, coordinate the Golden Donut Short Story contest, and help with varied organizational details. I volunteer because the program affords me—and fellow crime writers—invaluable opportunities to pick the brains of experts and get the details right.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOver the years, the WPA has given me the chance to fire a Glock and an AR-15…feel the tension of making a split-second, shoot-don’t-shoot decision…learn to free myself from a larger assailant…ride in an ambulance with a paramedic…handcuff a suspect…join a SWAT team in clearing a building…wear a duty belt…swing a baton. And the list goes on.

Once I’m home, these experiences weave their way into my cozy mysteries. In Bones To Pick, the first novel in my Brie Hooker Mystery series, Brie’s recall of her dad’s story about gangbangers hiding  weapons saves her life. (Though Brie’s dad is a horticultural professor, he’s also an aspiring crime novelist who attends the WPA each summer.)

In the second Brie Hooker Mystery, which I recently turned into my editor at Henery Press, the heroine flies a drone to gain key information. While Brie doesn’t pack heat, the villains she faces do. So I tap weapons’ knowledge gained at WPA to describe their firearms. Insights into police procedures, CSI techniques, autopsies, poisons and criminal proceedings also figure in how Brie interacts with law enforcement and the legal system.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In the real world, amateur sleuths seldom prove the innocence of a loved one, solve a cold murder case, uncover fraud, or thwart a radical group’s attempt to rig an election. However, authors can make any of these plots more plausible by weaving in accurate criminal behavior and crime-fighting details.

Writers who can’t attend a WPA can look to information sources in their own backyards Options include ride-alongs with local police and online and in-person programs hosted by Sisters in Crime. Speakers at my Upstate South Carolina SinC chapter’s meetings have included K-9 officers, DAs, judges, detectives, US Marshalls, FBI agents, crime scene investigators, ATF officers, paramedics, bank fraud investigators, and even psychics.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe best part? I’ve yet to meet an expert who wasn’t willing to answer my questions. I’ve gained insights into experiences well outside my day-to-day existence. It’s also allowed me to make friends with people from many walks of life. Yes, research improves books, but it also enriches the researcher’s life.

Linda Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and advertising copy. Her blend of mystery and humor lets her chuckle as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her new Brie Hooker Mystery series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. While her new series may be cozy, she weaves in plenty of adrenaline-packed scenes to keep readers flipping pages. LindaHeadshot

She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and also belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She’s the award-winning author of five prior mystery/suspense/thriller novels. To learn more, visit her website: www.lindalovely.com  

Readers: Which expert has helped you in some area of your life? Writers: Who is the quirkiest expert you’ve called on in the name of research? Remember, she’s giving away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today.

In the Name of Research – Writer’s Police Academy

Liz here. This month, we’re focusing a lot of our topics on research, so I wanted to share this ultimate research adventure! In September 2012, Edith and I had the pleasure of attending the Writer’s Police Academy hosted by the fabulous Lee Lofland and some of the best law enforcement professionals in the country. It was definitely a weekend to remember, and I wrote a guest post about my experience. The below article first appeared on The Graveyard Shift blog, Sept. 2012. 

I spent a beautiful September weekend in North Carolina being shot at by drug dealers, shooting (and killing) fugitives and uncovering a makeshift grave. 

It was one of the best weekends of my life. 

But I expected nothing less from my first Writer’s Police Academy. I’d heard only great things about Lee’s event, and every one of them was true. Being immersed in the world of law enforcement, experiencing what these brave men and women experience every day, getting hands on and seeing and hearing the reality of their job was incredible and sobering and endlessly fascinating. 

Crime has always drawn me (not committing it, I promise) as much as telling stories has drawn me. The first research paper I ever wrote as an 11-year-old detailed the Charles Stuart murder case in Boston. While my friends were reading Sweet Valley High books, I could be counted on to have my nose in a true crime serial killer account. Even then, I was fascinated with the “whys” of each story, a gift from my grandfather, who spent decades as a detective in Lawrence, Mass. and had the stories to prove it. 

Family and friends of police officers know: a large part of police work is retelling the war stories. I was always an anomaly in my family due to my outlandish imagination and obsession with scary stories, so my grandfather’s penchant for telling these narratives — both real and embellished — was a breath of fresh air. Those stories drew me into his world, like a key to a secret club. They fed my imagination and got me asking questions and gave me yet another reason to admire him. I ate them up and imagined the days when I’d get to tell my own. 

As an adult, I didn’t pursue the job. But I did the next best thing: I became a crime fiction writer. Which meant learning everything about how cops and sheriffs and FBI and DEA agents do their jobs to make it believable on the page. I read tons of books, wormed my way onto any crime story I could catch as a reporter and supplemented my interest with friends on the job. I collected stories from police captains, parole officers and corrections officers. I tried to weasel my way into ride-alongs and local police business.

And this year, I finally got to the Writer’s Police Academy. 

me_edith

Lee and the law enforcement professionals who gave their time and expertise to our quirky group gave us an invaluable gift. We were privy to not only their firsthand experiences, but seeing and being part of those experiences. Crashing though doors with shields and rifles and learning how to sweep an apartment potentially full of lethal enemies, feeling the adrenaline rush to discover a person actually waiting behind the door (right, Edith?) and understanding how easy it would be for something to go wrong in a split second. 

TonyGoing through a firearms simulation where a mass shooter is killing innocent people and trying to gauge if and when you should shoot him. Traipsing through the woods (we were lucky the weather happened to be nice) and finding a finger in your path, and a few yards later finding the person the finger belonged to buried with leaves and twigs in a shallow hole. Imagining the insects swarming, the smells, the aftermath. 

Watching a live police chase and seeing what could happen when a traffic stop turns into something much more menacing. Learning how someone could slip out of their handcuffs and give a cop a really bad night. 

Me_cuffed

And the stories. As much as I loved being “shot at” by drug dealers and shooting bad people and everything else Lee had in store for us, what really grabbed me were the stories. Every officer and agent there let us into their lives. Some of the stories were funny, others were tragic, some were downright terrifying. But they were all real. I could’ve sat there for weeks and just listened, whether it was tales of a killer sighting his or her prey, the realities of gang violence, or how undercover cops avoid a drug dealer’s request to prove themselves by taking drugs. My grandfather would have been in his glory. 

Everything I did, saw and heard that weekend gave new meaning to the phrase “putting your life on the line,” and that’s what these people do every day. I was already grateful for the law enforcement officers who work so hard to keep us safe. Now, I’m indebted. 

Lee and all our instructors — thank you. I’ll see you next year, as long as you’ll have us. 

Patti Phillips on Marketing a Character

Edith here: I’m delighted to host author, blogger, reviewer, and photographer Patti Phillips EdithLizDSC_0031today. Liz and I first met Patti at the Writers’ Police Academy a couple of years ago, and loved talking crime with her, as well as watching her be the conference’s expert photographer.

In Patti’s new book, Kerrian’s Notebook Volume 1, Homicide HeadshotPattiPhillipsDetective Charlie Kerrian sees bodies everywhere – in the backyard, in the neighborhood, even on vacation. Join Kerrian as he recounts his take on life as a cop in her collection of his 2012 stories.

Marketing a Character
by Patti Phillips

The Plan: write a novel, promote it and break onto the NYT bestseller list.

Reality: A few years ago I wrote a mystery, One Sweet Motion, then attended several conferences featuring workshops focused on how to promote the finished product. The advice was remarkably repetitive: establish an online presence with social media sites, start a website, look at what other authors were doing, pass out bookmarks and business cards, build a brand.

Start a website? That sounded like a fun way to present the novel and its Jamaican setting, so I hired a couple of techy guys to put my photos and text together. Not long after our second meeting, the team split up. The website they built? The design never worked for me.

The novel had been set aside (revisions had been underway) as I dealt with family illness, but when the time came, I wanted to be ready to help promote my future bestseller!

An online class with MJ Rose (co-founder of AuthorBuzz) clarified my ideas about promotion. In addition to being an internationally published, bestselling author, she had a background in PR and marketing. And the course spoke to me. The underlying advice: create something different that exemplifies your brand. I realized that the old website didn’t work because it was too soft, too vacation-looking, not at all crime related. Money poorly spent, lesson learned.

Rose also advised: Don’t copy everybody else. And, do something that makes you happy, because you may be spending a couple of hours a day, every day, working on it.

One night, my character’s name was mentioned during an episode on a popular TV show. Somebody else was using the name that I had so carefully researched as my protagonist’s name! Gulp. Then it happened again a few nights later. While I realize that it’s practically impossible to lock up rights to a name, I did want my first foray into fiction to be unique. I did not want there to be any confusion between the guys on TV and my guy. I had to choose a new name and figure out a way to claim it as my own.

My brand is cops and the life they lead. I started writing short stories from the point of view of my new Homicide Detective, Charlie Kerrian, and every few days, posted one on Facebook. After just a few weeks, if you Googled “Charlie Kerrian,” my name would come up in connection with it. And, to my delight, a small, but fervent fan base on Facebook grew and wanted more.

A few months after Charlie Kerrian spoke up on Facebook for the first time, social media gurus began to advise writers not to put original posts on public sites – that the sites might claim ownership or want to manage how those posts were used. It was time for me to rethink my own website, since I wanted to keep control over how the Detective Kerrian brand would be seen. That’s why www.kerriansnotebook.com was born in December 2011.

I had a small ‘direct contact’ list of subscribers for the website who were alerted to new posts as soon as they were available, but thousands of followers who stopped in at coffee breaks or at the end of the day. This marketing tool for my novel now had a life of its own, with people sharing what they liked about Charlie Kerrian and about the cases he investigated or reported. Extremely valuable info for a newbie fiction writer.

The feedback from the fans caused me to adjust the direction of the posts in the second year to include more real cases, some complaints from Charlie’s wife and even some recipes that the two of them worked on together. Many of the posts have links to newspaper articles dealing with the material. I’ve added information for writers that can be used as a reference (guns, handcuffs, fingerprints – to name a few). There is a Visiting Detectives section, so that other writers can showcase their own detectives.

After Kerrian’s Notebook reached the eighteen-month mark, some of my subscribers asked if I had an ebook version of the posts, so that they could read them all in a virtual book format. Was I surprised by the question? You bet! I asked some writer pals at one of the crime writer conferences (Writers’ Police Academy) what they thought of an ebook collection of blog posts. Nobody hesitated. Nobody said, “Bad idea.” Everybody said, “Go for it!” and two gals checked in almost weekly to get a progress report on the project.

That’s how Kerrian’s Notebook Volume 1 came to be. It’s a way to spread the Kerrian's_Notebook_fingerprint_cover_small- copy (1)word about nice guy, coffee loving Detective Kerrian and most of all, it’s a thank-you gift to the readers to whom I will be forever indebted.

There will be a Volume 2 (a collection of the 2nd year of the pages from the Notebook) later in 2014. One Sweet Motion is now being shopped around to agents, but until it gets published, Charlie Kerrian lives in the ebook(s) and the weekly blog posts. After publication of One Sweet Motion, the ebooks will remain as companion pieces.

Marketing does work, sometimes in ways we could never have imagined.

Patti Phillips is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina. Her best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research and playing golf. Her time on the golf course has been murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in her novel, One Sweet Motion. Did you know that there are spots on a golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices?

Ms. Phillips (writing as Detective Charlie Kerrian) can be found at www.kerriansnotebook.com. Her book reviews can be read at www.nightstandbookreviews.com

Fascinating story, Patti! You did your research and it paid off. Readers – questions for Patti? She’ll stop by and answer as she’s able.