Getting the Facts by Christine Duncan

I have to say that one of the hardest things I have to do as a writer is to contact people who can give me information to be able to write the books. Over the years, I have take citizen police academy classes so I could get the guts up to ask my specific questions of cops; I have called firefighters so I could ask about the fire in the shelter for my first book. I have even talked to a couple of people in the FBI–once as we toured the Denver headquarters with Sisters in Crime and another guy was the husband of a fellow writer.
It’s hard to say, “hey, I’m a writer and I want to know this.” It’s harder still to know what you don’t know, so you can ask the right questions. And sometimes you have to get over your own prejudices. For my third book, which is written but not yet published, I wanted someone to be killed with just about anything rather than a gun. I just am not a gun person. It wasn’t until after I talked to the fellow writer’s husband, rather extensively, that I realized the scene couldn’t work any other way. And then, since I know so little about guns, I was really stumped, but he helped me through it.
Talking to someone in the field you’re writing about goes beyond crime novels. Recently I read a romance novel about someone who was apparently an accountant for a construction company. Her boss owned the company and was the love interest. Since my husband has a drafting firm, and I do the books, I could relate. Except I couldn’t. The dialog was all wrong.
Conversations in different professions have their own language. Accounting in general needs a dictionary sometimes and construction accounting is no different than anything else. There is talk about consent of sureties, DBEs, and retention, first and second tier subs, backcharges and I can go on and on. It is a language you won’t hear in the accounting area of a manufacturing company. But it’s all accounting.
Okay, so that is boring and that’s why the author didn’t include that stuff. Good enough, it just didn’t sound like the back chatter I know.
But in construction companies, there is usually a lot of talk about the weather. Weather matters. Everyone on God’s green earth knows that winter is just a crummy season for anything in construction–unless I guess you live in Hawaii, California, or Florida. Except for the author who wrote the book I was reading because their company, based in Wisconsin, was going great guns in December and hiring on extra people.
It doesn’t take much to make a reader not believe in your book. I put it down about then.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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