It gives me great pleasure to welcome Stacy Verdick Case here to day. Thank you for dropping by on your blog tour to entertain us, Stacy. I wish you huge success with you book sales. You can purchase Stacy's book entitled A Grand Murder here.
Step Outside In The Name of Research
When a friend of mine approached me with an opportunity to participate in a six-week citizens police academy, it wasn’t something I jumped at right away. Writers by nature tend to be introverted, so this experience would be outside my comfort zone.
My friend, also a writer, convinced me this experience would give me access to areas in the police department I wouldn’t normally see, including the evidence locker and the 911 dispatch center. More importantly, I would be able to cultivate valuable contacts who know I’m a writer and are happy to answer creepy mystery writer questions. So after much cajoling, I agreed.
Now, I believe there is no substitute for meeting people in the jobs you’re writing about. You pick up character traits you wouldn’t expect that can give your characters depth, and insights, you could never get anywhere else.
At the end of the six week training, each person was able to participate in a ride along. The whole night was pretty uneventful, but I was able to ask the officer a lot of questions, so it wasn’t a total loss. Then fifteen minutes before the end of our shift we got a call. A woman had been raped at gun point, and the man who did it was threatening to shoot anyone who came to the door. We were one of the first two cars on the scene. After a few minutes of discussion, the officers decided they were going in to get the guy.
This wasn’t unexpected. After all, this is what these officers do for a living. It’s their job to put themselves between us, and the people who would harm us. What was unexpected was that in the middle of this intense situation both of these big, strong men took a few minutes before going in to call home. I can’t speak to what the officer in the other car said, but the officer I was with called his wife. The conversation was mundane. He asked if she’d remembered to give the dog its pills, if the kids had a good day at school, and he ended the conversation by saying he would be late tonight and said, “I love you,” to his wife.
I realized he was saying good-bye, just in case, without saying the words. I’m betting that, on some level, she knew what the call meant too.
When he left the car, I cried. Not just because I was afraid that these two officers were going to be shot, but because of the call. It was the first time I thought about being the spouse of a police officer and what everyday must be like. That made me intensify the conflict between my lead character Catherine and her husband Gavin, who initially had a very small part in the book.
Luckily, the standoff ended anti-climactically, and neither the officers, nor the suspect were injured. He simply answered the door, acknowledge what he’d done, and surrendered.
This man who had caused so much pain was brought to sit the back of a squad car in hand cuffs. I sat in a car across from him. I expected to see pure evil, because that what we want to see in our villains. Instead, there was a man in his seventies, who had never had a run in with the law in his whole life, not even a speeding ticket. He was somebody’s father, and grandfather. His eyes were sad and scared.
This unsettled me.
I don’t want to share the full details of what had happened, because this is someone’s life I am writing about, and if his victim reads this I don’t want there to be any identifying markers. It is sufficient to say that, in this man’s mind, he had developed a belief that the woman he raped had feelings for him, and he believed it.
That’s when I realized I had to rewrite my story. I was writing killers who were just evil for the sake of my story.
I’ve heard it said many times, that everyone is the hero of their own story, but I never took it to heart before that night. I went home, and rewrote A Grand Murder, so that the killer believes they are doing what is best by committing murder. The character is now more believable than in the first draft, and I believe more sympathetic.
There are many valuable facts that mystery writers can learn from research books, but an education like the one I had that night, is priceless and can’t be found in a book. For all authors, I implore you to step outside your comfort zone in the name of research, and touch the people you are writing about. You might find the unexpected that gives your writing greater depth.
Stacy Verdick Case is the author of A Grand Murder the first book in the Catherine O’Brien mystery series. Visit Stacy on the web at www.StacyVerdickCase.com and view her blog at sostacythought.wordpress.com