Friday, March 01, 2013

The Continuing Education of Mystery Writers

On Saturday morning, I'm going back to the archery store that I visited a couple of weeks ago. On my first visit, the helpful and friendly staff person answered my question about the difference between a recurve bow and a compound bow. He also let me hold the bows, and that was when I discovered that my form needs a whole lot of work and I need the aid of the pulleys on the compound bow. Now, this should have been interesting, but not relevant. I was there to do research for my book in progress – the second book in my Albany police procedural series, working title, Cock Robin's Funeral. As you might gather from the title, someone gets killed with a bow and arrow. But since it happens in 2020, I could have made it up. Except from my research, it seemed that bow technology changes, but there is still a basic "bow" concept. So, I thought I should at least found out how one stood to fire a bow and how it feels to hold it. But I got carried away. I signed up for my first archery lesson and on Saturday I'm planning to buy this really "adorable" blue compound bow. You will note that I did use that word that men sometimes mock women for using. In this case, the bow is a lovely shade of blue, and the staff person informed me that it came in other colors after I made that observation. This fact is something that is going to find its way into my book. The bow is attractive and fun to hold. But that little bow can be used to bring down a deer. And, as the staff person reminded me when I asked if people practiced in the park (research question), the bow is technically a weapon. Which I shouldn't have forgotten, since I plan to use it as one in my book.

The point of this post, in case you haven't gotten it, is that writers – perhaps mystery writers more than writers in other genres – are constantly not only doing research but finding themselves engaged in continuing education. It's not just me; I've heard other writers talk about starting out to learn only what they need to know and getting drawn in deeper. This time around, it looks like I may be going for a triple play. First, the archery lessons and plans to buy a bow. Then, snowshoeing. I saw an article in the local newspaper about how a ski center offering snowshoe lessons is attracting baby boomers who have decided to stopped risking their bodies going down the slopes. I have never been on skis. I've always been sure that I would break my neck, or at least a leg, if I tried going down a mountain. I thought of cross-country, but never found the time to buy the skis and take the lessons. But snowshoeing has a certain appeal. And, as it happens, I have a massive blizzard at the beginning of my book. Since this is 2020, I have some ideas about futuristic snowmobiles and snowboards. Why not snowshoes, too? And then there are the seances – no, I don't intend to train as a medium. But since one of my characters is a "spiritualist", I need to learn a bit more about mediums and seances. Having grown up in the South and had a grandmother who told scary ghost stories, I have an open mind about whether the dead can communicate with the living. I have hadn't that experience, but I'm heading to the local psychic institute with an open mind. But I'm pretty sure the spiritualist in my book is going to end up being in the tradition of the 19th century Fox sisters (i.e., a phony).

At any rate, with bow and arrow, snowshoes, and seances, I should be getting more than my usual dose of continuing education with this book. But every book I've written has required me to learn about something new. And that's a bonus. Mystery writers do what the experts tell us all adults should do to keep our brains healthy and slow down the mental aging process. We constantly expose our brains to new information and occasionally acquire new skills. This doesn't mean I'll be good at archery or snowshoes and won't get kicked out of the seance for screaming and/or laughing, but my brain should appreciate my efforts.

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