Go to the source

In my passion project (tentatively titled, Solitary Boys), a troubled girl goes missing. At first, I hadn’t planned on my main character going to the police. As it stands, his stepfather puts a call into the local detective, and after explaining the girl has a history of drug abuse, the detective botches the case. I did this so my main character would feel an urgency of his own to find his sister. But clearly I’m making up scenarios that are not necessarily realistic to push a plot agenda  — and it shows.

So I emailed Adam from Writer’s Detective to help me out with a missing persons case. He was so kind as to give me information on police work in the 1950s that he’s become my go-to source for police work. (Adam is a working detective in California.) I recently sent him an email just to find out the procedure for filing a missing persons case. Does it have to be a family member who files the report? (No.) Do you really have to wait 24 hours to file? (No.) How do missing persons cases get handled if the missing person has a history of drug abuse? What are the actual steps to finding a missing person? Adam provided a lot of information and because of his help, I not only have new, realistic details to incorporate into my manuscript, but new scene ideas as well.

In my speculative mysteries , I was able to fudge things because ghost stories sort of lend themselves to a suspension of disbelief. But when writing contemporary mysteries, research is key. Mystery writers often interview police officers and detectives to build strong, realistic narratives, and you’d be surprised how many detectives are happy to discuss their field with writers. Just last week, my friend spoke to a local homicide detective about how a murder would be investigated for her book. Normally, I’d be intimidated to cold call a detective about make-believe murders, but it’s vital writers are authentic, as well as, creative.

What fascinating information have you found when researching your mysteries?  Sound off in the comments.

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Author: Kimberly G. Giarratano

I'm a YA author. And mom of 3. I'm also tired. Very, very tired.

10 thoughts on “Go to the source”

  1. One thing I’ve found: cops love to talk. Tell them you’re a writer and you need details, and man they’ll dish for hours. And yes, in there are all the little details you need to make the manuscript come alive. I don’t know that I’ve found one specific thing – although watching SWAT blow a door at Writers’ Police Academy in 2014 was pretty cool.

  2. Kimberly … this is an interesting post to me because I write lighter, cozier stuff with reluctant amateur sleuths. I think that makes it easier for me because as an amateur myself, I can make mistakes and bad choices all over the place for my characters. When I do need facts, I have a nephew who is a big city cop, a son who is a military cop, and all kinds of resources via Sisters in Crime and my other networks. I, too, have found that the sentence, “I’m writing a novel and would like to ask you about…” usually throws open lots of doors!

    And Mary … I’m going to the Writers’ Police Academy this year. Very much looking forward to it!

  3. I really need to interview a cop who did police work in the 1950s. Do you ladies know of anyone?

  4. Kimberly, anyone who did police work in the 50’s is dead or senile. But you might look for some true crime books about crimes of that era. I just googled “crimes 1950s” and voila! there’s a wikipedia article. For my second book, I had a lot of help on Yup’ik culture from my son-in-law and daughter. My daughter helps me with IT stuff. And I have a retired detective friend who helps me not look so stupid. I could really use a doctor friend….

  5. Like Becky, I write cozier stuff, thus evading the need to dig deeply into procedure. Still, I research as much as possible and find cops amazingly approachable. With my SinC group, we have done training scenarios with the cops, which has been invaluable. I also had a narcotics cop in one of my classes once, who was a terrific help.

  6. Yeah, what Keenan said about cops from the ’50s. But there is probably a lot of stuff written.

    Becky, you are going to love WPA! I would so go back if I could afford it.

  7. Keenan, check out Jordyn’s Medical Edge. http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com. She’s a friend of mine and takes questions.

    My biggest problem (experiencing it right now, as a matter of fact) is getting responses when I need them. I have the cell phone number of the FBI Agent I’ve met and talked to a couple of times, but I can’t bring myself to call him. He has important things to do, and taking random phone calls or checking emails isn’t one of them. I’ve even offered to buy him lunch!

    Probably the research I’ve been most fascinated with was learning about working dogs: Search and Rescue; Human Remains Detection; Accelerant Detection; Therapy. I haven’t yet written about police dogs, but that’s only a matter of time… and story.

    Fun post!

  8. I did some online research and the issues I had regarding 1950s police work was details. How long did it take for a police officer to respond to a call? How was a detective assigned? What if the department was too small for a detective? Did they have radios in their cars? That sort of stuff.

  9. I’m going to check out Writer’s Detective. I never want to bother any actual professionals with research questions. It makes me nervous!

  10. This is so timely…I just had a question last week and was gearing up to make the call to ask local police folks. Surprised at how nervous I was… I was a little worried that they were going to think I was planning something instead of writing something–ha! But then I ended up going in another direction. Next time, I’ll just make the call.

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