After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. SUEDE TO REST, the first book in the Material Witness Cozy Mystery Series, has been nominated for the 2015 Lefty Best Humorous Mystery Award. Diane also writes the Mad for Mod Mystery Series, featuring a midcentury modern interior decorator who has modeled her life after Doris Day movies, and the Style & Error Mystery Series, featuring a former fashion buyer. Diane started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.
Last week I asked my Facebook friends if I was the only person who got excited about Jury Duty. The replies came fast and furious. Turns out there are two kinds of people in the world: those who dislike Jury Duty, and mystery writers.
Admittedly, I have two reasons for liking Jury Duty:
1) it feels like research, and
2) it gets me out of the house.
Much research can be done on the internet, but I think there’s something to be said for research that is done in person. You can read about what happens in the jury selection process from start to finish, but you won’t fully appreciate the experience unless you catch a subway at 6:30 in the morning, stand in line for half an hour before they scan your belongings, sit in an uncomfortable chair staring at a photograph of a flamingo (occasionally wondering about the significance of said flamingo photo in a Los Angeles courthouse), watch the people who ignore the sign that says “take a packet and sit down” and form an unnecessary line at the front window.
Plus, you’ll miss the blue carpeting that is stained with a previously-spilled cup of coffee and the scent of the popcorn being sold at the concession stand outside of the Juror Room. You will rarely get this kind of chance to see a snapshot of the people who are a cross-section of the town where you live, pretty much a crash course in human nature.
The thing about research is that it fuels two parts of our manuscripts: the facts and the world-building. Facts can be looked up. World building can be made up. But for both facts and world-building to come alive, you need to deliver the complete experience to your reader. It’s not just the words of dialogue that matter. Creating the setting where a dialogue takes place is important. Whether it’s a historic courthouse for a civil trial or a dingy community center for a town hall meeting or a fancy restaurant that has altered their hours to accommodate a club meeting, when a writer pays attention to what it feels like, smells like, and sounds like—in addition to what it looks like—the reader falls that much farther down the rabbit hole. Their surroundings fade away because we gave them a new place to hang. Even if it isn’t paradise, it’s sometimes the place where our characters hang, too.
And don’t underestimate that getting-out-of-the-house thing, either. Works wonders for a stuck manuscript!