Saturday, August 10, 2013

Guest Blogger Vicki Delany and Making facts fit the story

The founder is back! The founder is back! We’re all pleased as punch that our guest blogger this weekend is none other than Vicki Delany. That’s right the Vicki Delany!

“It’s a crime not to read Delany,” so says the London Free Press (It is in Canada at least, and will get you 5-10, I hear.—Rick). Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers. Her newest novel is A Cold White Sun, the sixth book in the Smith & Winters police procedural series for Poisoned Pen Press. She also writes standalone novels of psychological suspense, and the light-hearted Klondike Gold Rush books which are published by Dundurn.

Her Rapid Reads book, A Winter Kill, was shortlisted for the 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for best novella.

Having taken early retirement from her job as a systems analyst in the high-pressure financial world, Vicki enjoys the rural life in bucolic, Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Visit Vicki at www.vickidelany.com, on Twitter @vickidelany and Facebook at facebook.com/Vicki.Delany. She blogs about the writing life at One Woman Crime Wave (klondikeandtrafalgar.blogspot.com).

Making facts fit the story.
by Vicki Delany


How much real life do you put into your books?

I get asked this question a lot, and I’ve found over the years when I do public appearances that the audience enjoys hearing about how we either make things up out of whole cloth or tweak something real to make it fit into fiction.

They get a lot of snow in those mountains.
I try and make everything as realistic as I can within the bounds of fiction. How many bodies does a real life person come across in the course of their day?

Even many cops might never encounter a murder, much less engage in a battle of wits with a different diabolical killer regularly.

Having said that, books are expected to have far more veracity than movies or TV. And that definitely suits me as a reader: I rarely watch TV because I’m too busy noticing things that aren’t realistic. The suspension of disbelief is important, but really…

It certainly bothers me to read a book in which the author hasn’t even bothered to get easily checked facts right. My biggest turn-off is Canadian books where everything the author knows about policing they got from watching American TV.

In pursuit of veracity for the police in my books, I’ve asked loads of questions, been on ride-alongs, walk-alongs, been to in-service training, and to the firearms range. Even if an author doesn’t have time for all that or the contacts, for heaven’s sake they could look on the web page of a typical police department to check the ranks.

A cold white sun in Nelson, B.C.
My Constable Molly Smith series from Poisoned Pen Press is set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. The town of Trafalgar is not-at-all loosely based on Nelson, B.C. It is Nelson, but Trafalgar gives me the freedom to move things around as I need to. For example in the fourth book in the series, Negative Image, what the room service waiter sees is critically important. There isn’t a hotel in Nelson that has room service, but under the guise of fiction, I can wave my magic wand and create one. I might have made up a town, but I have tried faithfully to keep to the flavour of the place, its beautiful scenery, isolated setting, assortment of eccentric characters. I’ve grounded the fictional location in reality so that readers do have a sense of where the stories take place - the characters go to Trail for autopsies, to Castlegar to catch a plane, even to Nelson to concerts or police meetings.

My last year’s book, a standalone titled More than Sorrow, is set in a place so real, I live there. Prince Edward County, Ontario. The County is an island in Lake Ontario, a place of family farms, gentle hills, long sandy beaches, small villages and meandering country roads. Over the course of the book, I describe the train station in Belleville, the nearest city, the main street of Picton, the primary town, the beautiful historic library on Main Street. I have a scene set in the library where, if you look closely, you’ll see me seated at my weekly bridge game in the side room that houses the historical archives.

I was comfortable setting this book in a real setting because not a lot of action takes place in the town itself or other recognizable places. Unlike in the Molly Smith books, the Chief of Police or the Mayor – people known to small town residents as people not just job descriptions - are not characters.

This month I’m heading back to Trafalgar for the release of the sixth book in the Constable Molly Smith series, A Cold White Sun.

In this book Molly engages in a couple of police actions, first a knife fight in a bar (she deescalates the situation, something some real-life Toronto police could learn to do), and then a door-to-door search looking for an active shooter. I relied heavily on what I learned watching police in-service training and I hope I got it accurate.

One of the problems with learning all this interesting stuff, is knowing when to stop. I’m not writing a police training manual after all. But Molly is just a beat cop, not a detective, so that is the sort of thing she does on the day-to-day job. And help the detective sergeant solve the murders, of course.

I have been told that there is no one on the police in Nelson who can quite remember when the last murder took place. That had to change when I created my fictional town, didn’t it?

I try as hard as I can to get things as right as I can, but in the end, the facts do have to fit the story. It is called fiction, isn’t it?

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