By Terry Odell
A year ago, I had the opportunity to go on a Caribbean cruise with a group of 25 photographers and decided it would be a good research opportunity. I’m not a photographer, but my son is, and he organized the tour. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And, to make it a “research” trip, all I had to do was write a book using information I picked up on the cruise. I’d already foreshadowed a cruise for Gordon, Mapleton Colorado’s Chief of Police, and Angie, his girlfriend, in Deadly Places, Book Five in my Mapleton series, so it made sense that another Mapleton Mystery would be the book to write.
I’m not a plotter, so although I did have “what story can I tell?” in mind while on the cruise. I wasn’t trying to map out an outline—the very word sends chills down my spine. Although a lot of ideas came to mind (Gordon stumbles across a crime in one of the ports; Angie is accused of a crime); ultimately reality intervened. After all, there was no way a cop, even a Chief of Police from a tiny city in Colorado, would be part of an investigation. But we did have three ports of call with photography tours, and there were days at sea for exploring the ship.
I might not be a photographer, but I had a little point-and-shoot camera and my phone, so I attempted to document as much as I could with pictures. This is important, because you’ll never remember everything. Plus, these visuals help with descriptions. Taking notes is also highly recommended. When you read Deadly Engagement, you’ll find some of these images incorporated into the story.
However, when transferring what you see and experience on a research trip, be it first hand or through Google or reference books, it’s important to remember that you want to give the readers the flavor of the setting, not a history lesson or a real estate tour. Research should be like an iceberg. Seventy percent is below the surface. It’s about letting your readers feel like they’re in your setting.
It’s not a blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute accounts of my cruise, which would be a total yawner, but this is a pit many writers fall into. I’ve read books like that, where authors are either showing off their expertise in the field, or parroting back all the research they’ve done so the reader can see how hard they worked to be accurate.
Most of the research you do doesn’t belong on the page. It’s there to enhance the story, not weigh it down like an anchor. Research is the spice of your writing. Too much pepper will kill the dish. And, one more caveat: Make sure whatever it is you’re putting on the page comes from the character, not you.
(Another important caveat, which is why I set my novella on an imaginary cruise ship with an imaginary itinerary, is that you don’t name names if bad stuff happens!)
And, if you’re wondering what the title of this post has to do with research, here’s the answer. While on the cruise, I learned that one of the photographers in our group had Multiple Sclerosis. Since my daughter is also afflicted with MS, it struck a chord. In fact, when this person first told me she had MS, I was surprised to see how prevalent the disease is. One out of 25 in this small group. One out of 11 people on another trip I took. I went for a hike in a National Park, and the woman taking memberships had MS. And when I mentioned my daughter’s diagnosis, I found a number of my author friends had relatives with MS. My eyes were opened, and I wanted to help. I decided I wanted to help bring awareness about MS and do what I could to help raise funds for research.
Here’s a note from my daughter:
If you’re with a cop, there’s no escaping mystery and crime, even on a Caribbean cruise.
Angie Mead thinks time away from Gordon’s “Cop Stuff” is what he needs to distract him from being suspended as Mapleton’s Chief of Police and get over killing a man. A Caribbean cruise, where Gordon has no jurisdiction, seems the perfect solution—and Angie is looking forward to some fun in the sun.
Communication mishaps and Gordon’s apparent lack of interest in their getaway create second thoughts for Angie. That is, until a series of petty thefts give Gordon a new bone to chew on. When he includes Angie in his investigative way of thinking, the two of them switch to sleuthing mode, and their real adventure begins.
Petty thievery is only the beginning. A passenger from their dinner table dies under suspicious circumstances, bringing Gordon’s cop credentials to the attention of the ship’s security. Soon Angie and Gordon are neck deep in the onboard intrigues.
A new twist in the Mapleton Mystery series, this engaging novella, in which nothing is quite as it first appears, is a great read for returning fans or newcomers. Both readers of cozy mysteries and police procedurals will find something to love.
You can find more about the book, including an excerpt and a link to the first chapter here.
From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to “fix” stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn’t always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she’d never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as “Mysteries With Relationships.” She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, the Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series.
Her newest release is Deadly Engagement: A Mapleton Novella, the 6th offering in that series.