A few weeks ago, I mentioned how the internet has made research so easy for writers. Need to know what birds would be flying around an Illinois gazebo in October? Google it (sparrows). Wondering how long a voice-activated bugging device can record? Google it (144 hours!). Are there any recently-discovered caves in the US? Google it (Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico, once considered insignificant has been found to be the seventh-longest in the world).
But often online research isn’t enough — I need an expert.
For instance, I’ve only ridden a motorcycle once in my life. I had no idea what type of cycle Patrick Holden would own. With this in mind, my critique group suggested lunch at Kegel Harley-Davidson in Rockford, IL (yes, they have food there and it’s good). I explained to the salesman that Patrick was around forty and a rebellious attorney who drove only a motorcycle. Without hesitation, he led me to a Heritage Softail Classic (below) and explained that Patrick would wear a helmet and gauntlets (fingerless gloves). Later, I met Bob Futrell, estimator at Rockford’s Alpine Body Shop, who told me that a motorcycle going 80 mph and plowing into the side of van would pick that 2-ton van up and flip it.
When I started writing God on Mayhem Street and realized that Leo was taking me to his family farm in Endeavor, Wisconsin, I knew I was in over my head. I’d only been on a farm a handful times. But I was in luck, my friends Jackie and Marcel Batista own Irish Grove Farms in northern Illinois. They gave me the full tour, answered all my questions, and even reviewed my manuscript.
More pictures of Irish Grove Farms
Several weeks later, I realized that Jacob Landry and his right-hand man, Vernon Smith, would poison the Townsend cows, so of course I Googled it — easy, Jacob and Vern would throw blood meal into the cattle’s water supply. Soon after, I was lucky enough to meet Lake Mills Veterinarian Bill Stork at the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival. I asked Dr. Stork if he could tell me the best way to poison cows. He laughed and admitted that that was something he tried to avoid then went on to give me all the details (blood meal is illegal in the U.S. so only urea would do). He also dissected my manuscript and added valuable terminology and information about farming. And, as these things go, we’ve become friends. Bill is the author of two books, In Herriot’s Shadow and Stepping from Herriot’s Shadow and kindly invited me to join him in a book event at the Lake Mills Public Library a couple of years ago.
In many respects, God on Mayhem Street is a crime novel and other than what I see on TV or at the movies or read in books, I don’t have any criminal expertise. So my daughters and I attended the Writers Police Academy in Appleton, Wisconsin and learned how to handcuff each other, the best ways to conceal handguns, various arrest techniques, and bacteria warfare (okay, that’s for another book). I also learned that each county in Wisconsin (and probably across the country) has it’s own police procedures. Sure, they’re similar but there are glaring differences as well.
My fictional Endeavor is in Marquette County, Wisconsin, just like the real Endeavor. So I made an appointment with the Sheriff of Marquette County, Kim Gaffney. Kim is exactly what you’d picture a sheriff to be, a big man over six feet tall, plain-spoken with a wonderful sense of humor. I told him the synopsis of a scene I’d written and when he told me that it sounded something straight out of Hollywood, I knew I’d come to the right place. After jotting down what would actually happen, I asked him what a shotgun blast from 200 yards away would do to a man. He said, “It’d blow a hole in him,” he held up his large hands in a eight-inch circle, “about this big.”
For The Devil Particle Trilogy, I needed to know what scientific substance evil might be. The research was beyond me so I enlisted the aid of . . . well, you’ll just have to wait until next week to find out who.
Where you can find me:
In Print with Libby Fischer Hellmann, Saturday, February 10th, 1-4 p.m., Katie’s Cup, 502 7th Street, Rockford, IL. Critique groups kick-off featuring the most effective critiquing practices and the best ways to start a group.
UW-Madison Writers’ Institute Pathway to Publication April 12-15, 2018. I’ll be busy helping writers practice their pitches to agents, running the Book Fair, and, together with Book Doctor Kevin Mullen, hosting the Live Lit Event. Registration for this premier writing conference is now open!