I have put together a rough outline for the third (and I think final) book in my P.J. Benson Mystery series, but I can’t start writing. Actually, I probably could write one or two pages, but then I’d have to stop. Why? Because I don’t know the whos, the whats or the wheres that I need in order to move forward. I need to do some research.
In this case, I need to know what law enforcement departments would be called to the scene of the crime and who would have jurisdiction, what hospital the injured would be sent to (it might be two different ones), and what the next steps would be.
I could, of course, make it all up—this is fiction after all—but I like my stories to be as factual as possible, and since I’m using real locations, I know some readers would be upset if I don’t have my facts correct. So I’m going to the experts for answers.
I belong to an on-line group (firstname.lastname@example.org) that is a wonderful resource for answering questions, but they are best utilized if it’s a general question rather than something specific about jurisdiction in a certain state or county. In my case, I’m going to have to contact the coast guard and our local police department and maybe even the county sheriff’s department or state police. (That’s what I need to find out.) I’m always a little nervous about asking for help, but in the past I’ve been amazed by how helpful these people are, and I’ve discovered talking to them personally always gives me additional information that I didn’t even realize I might need.
If I personally know someone who might be able to supply the answers I need or can direct me to someone who could answer my questions, I’ll usually call or email that person. Otherwise, I start by cold calling the listed number and asking the person who answers if there is a PR person I can talk to. I’m lucky that I have several published books to my credit, but even before I was published, I found people love to talk about what they do. Police, firemen, doctors, nurses, pilots…the list can go on and on. People love it when their profession is in a book and the information about it is correct.
So that’s where I am right now, waiting to take a coast guard auxiliary member out to breakfast so we can talk about blowing up a boat. I just hope no one in the next booth overhears our conversation or I may also be talking to someone from Home Land Security.