Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Guest Post from Debra Purdy Kong: RESEARCH, WITH A PERSONAL TOUCH

I met Debra Purdy Kong through Crime Writers of Canada.
Staying in touch through Facebook and other crime-related
events (no jail time involved) has allowed me to get to know her 
and appreciate not only her talent but her determination. She's
one of those people who supports her colleagues and gives
thoughtful, intelligent feedback and inspiration. Here's her
insightful look at research.

For crime fiction writers, finding ideas is easy. All we have to do is turn to news sources. Research, however, is another matter, but these five strategies really help:

leg work
firsthand experience
expert interviews and consultants
internet research

For me, leg work is important. When I incorporate foreign settings, I choose places I’ve been to and find something specific about them to weave into a story. In my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, one of the chapters is set in Amsterdam. I mention the pricey McDonald's hamburgers and the ubiquitous dirt particles that swirled over Casey’s hair and face whenever the wind blew. These memories have stayed with me over the years.

Firsthand experience is the most time-consuming type of research, yet it's become invaluable. Employment in security added authenticity for the Holland series and my recently released Evan Dunstan novella, Dead Man Floating. I didn't set out to incorporate day jobs into short stories and novels. It just worked out that way. The security field had interested me, so I answered an ad in the paper and wound up training as a campus guard, dispatcher, and later a supervisor.

Networking in person and online is another great resource. Discussions about my work have put me in touch with IT and forensics experts, for instance. Twitter helped me connect with a bus driver who is now my consultant on a current Casey Holland mystery.

Many times, you don’t even need a referral to find an expert. Universities, organizations, and libraries have links to databases listing all sorts of people willing to answer questions. One question often leads to another and soon you're gathering knowledge to about things you hadn't known to ask. Once you’ve identified an expert, a short, polite email query often gets the ball rolling.

It might seem strange, but Google research is the resource I've used least so far. It’s probably because I've had the benefit of working in the same field as my protagonists and set most of my stories locally. But I hope to expand my horizons. I’m mulling over new work in a different genre and research needs will definitely expand. I can't wait to see where the search will take me.

Link to Dead Man Floating: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Floating-Evan-Dunstan-Mystery-ebook/dp/B014K0UY1A


Propping the kickstand, Evan removed the small flashlight attached to his belt then stepped nearer the water. Oh shit! It was a hand! A freakin’ hand! And legs! He moved the flashlight up the body until he spotted the grey fringe circling a bald head that glowed like a moon. Evan shivered. Was the guy alive? He wouldn’t have to perform CPR, would he? That first-aid course last year didn’t go so well after he broke that manikin.


Author of six full-length mysteries and over fifty short stories, Debra has won numerous awards for her work. She conducts workshops, is an administrative assistant at Simon Fraser University, and also works as a substitute facilitator for the creative writing program with Port Moody Parks & Recreation.

More information about Debra’s books and her blog can be found at www.debrapurdykong.com
Also visit her FB Author Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mystery-Author-Debra-Purdy-Kong/139005706175139
Or find her on Twitter @DebraPurdyKong


Kristina Stanley said...

Debra, your research has certainly paid off. Right from the first chapter of Dead Man Floating, I felt like I was back on campus with your characters. Dead Man Floating is an exciting read from start to finish.

Melodie Campbell said...

A personal touch of research definitely makes a work seem real. Good post, and a good reminder for us to get off our butts and actually walk/drive the streets of the city we are using!

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Kristina and Melodie. The writing is always more meaningful to me when I can add something I've seen or experienced!

Allan J. Emerson said...

I agree there's nothing like personal experience to give your story a convincing touch. And it helps you avoid guffaw-evoking mistakes from readers familiar with your subject matter.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Being a research addict, I completely agree with your top methods of legwork and personal experience. Google is a valuable resource - especially when you need to fact check a small but important detail - but nothing beats beating the pavement. (Which is why I keep dragging my kids on detours when we go on road trips.)

Catherine Astolfo said...

I love the leg work too - driving past a burned-out building and stopping to sniff just so I could describe it. How about the dead cat under our porch? Asking the removal guy if I could look? Then there was the time I asked my artist friends if a dead body would still be OK for painting. Maybe these aren't such great examples. Oh, I know one! Strolling the streets of Venice so I could put that in a novel.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Great comments everyone! Alison, I've dragged my hubby to a few places, but mostly I go alone so I can stop and think. Last summer, I was staying with my sister at her cottage on Pender Island (one of the Gulf Islands) and we hunted down the island's history (yes, there was a museum devoted to it) and some of the old abandoned buildings. It was great fun. I still have the pictures on my phone, but have yet to sit down and incorporate my findings into fiction.

Cathy, you raise a great point. Smells. They are unique to so many locales and the one thing a Google search just can't help you with!

Gloria Ferris Mystery Writer said...

Great post, Debra! No reason we can't have fun while researching. Just another reason to travel and experience new things - we never know what we'll use in that next novel! Best of luck with Dead Man Floating.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Thank you for stopping by, Gloria. Yes, getting out and experiencing life appeals to me far more than sitting in my home all day, everyday, trying to come up with stimulating situations.