Thursday, March 16, 2023


Left Coast Crime 2023

 Hello, Dear Readers. I (Donis) am not really here today. I am in Tucson Arizona at Left Coast Crime. This is a rather alarming thing for me, since I haven't been in a large group setting for three years and I'm not sure I remember how to interact with others. I suppose I have to start sometime!

One fun thing I'm doing is participating in a live panel on Friday (St. Patrick's Day) morning entitled “Why We Love Research”, with Elizabeth Crowens, Clare Broyles, and Susan McDufee. The wonderful Francine Mathews was scheduled to be on our panel, but she came down with Covid at the last minute. I hope this doesn't bode ... anything!

Anyway, about research: I do a tremendous amount of research for my books. One would expect this of a historic novelist. But only a very small percent of the research I do for each book finds its way onto the page. I'm not writing a history book. I'm trying create a world, and it's amazing how little it takes to add just that perfect touch of authenticity to your story.

Mickey Spillane, when asked how much research he does in the intent of authenticity said, "None. My job is not to tell the truth. My job is to make you believe." (Note: I’ve used that quote for years, but when I looked it up for this entry, I see that it’s actually “I don’t research anything. When I need something, I make it up.” However, I like my version, so there it is. D.)

So why do research if all you have to do is make things up?

The purpose of research is to inform you, the writer, so that when you come to write, you do so from a position of knowledge, not putting all that knowledge on display, but using it to give you and your reader an absorbing, enjoyable, and authentic experience.

My own familiarity with the era I'm writing about is going to show without my having to make a big deal out of it. The characters are going to move naturally through their world without thinking about it, just like we do in our own world. 

I’m able to find out a lot on the internet, but it’s surprising how difficult it sometimes is to find simple facts that would be readily available if I was on the scene. So, I often end up on the phone, explaining what I need to a librarian or historian in whatever area or subject I am interested in.

Libraries have info you don't have. Right now I’m researching realistic and historically accurate ways to kill people. This is always problematic for me. Sadly, I have reached such a state of paranoia that I am a little bit afraid to do murderous research on my home computer, lest the NSA bust down my door in the middle of the night. Once I spent many hours doing anonymous research on library computers because wanted to discover exactly how oil field workers used nitroglycerin to clear obstructions from a well. I am writing murder mystery, after all, and I thought that blowing someone to hell with nitro seemed like a colorful way to commit murder.

 How much research is too much? I mean, eventually you have to write the book. it isn’t necessary to do so much research that I become the world’s foremost expert on my subject. The golden rule of writing is that you must never put anything in your novel that is going to take the reader out of the story. 

Concentrate on finding key points.  Drop details into your story like little jewels.  All you need are the important points and the reader will connect the dots.

Unless you’re writing a research paper or a textbook, a good writer, historic or otherwise, tries to make the reader feel that he’s had a true experience of a time or place or event.  You want to be accurate, but the point is not to give the reader information.  The point is to give the reader an experience. Your job is to make the reader believe.

p.s. When I do play fast and loose with history, such as move a historical event up a couple of months or have a historical character show up somewhere he never went, I always put an authors note explaining the truth at the end of the book. Some reader knows what really happened, and believe me, they'll let you know if you got it wrong.