ROBERTA: As you heard from Hank last week, we're experimenting with a new feature called "True Crime Tuesday". Since we all write crime fiction, I thought it would be fun to hear how much and often the Jungle Red Writers have contact with real crime fighters.
I've never been tempted to write a police procedural because I haven't had much personal experience with cops. In fact, I've always been a little afraid of the police. Besides, getting all those details nailed down looked like an awful lot of work. (Although my very good friend SW Hubbard, who wrote a wonderful police procedural series, claims she made every bit of hers up.)
With my amateur sleuth mysteries, I assumed I could finesse most of the police work details and concentrate on things I was more interested in, like psychology and golf. But as I wrote my first book, SIX STROKES UNDER, I realized I needed some specific local facts. In particular, if a murder occurred on the golf course just before a tournament began, would they cancel or postpone the event? A cancellation would ruin my story, so I had to know. Not seeing any way around it, I ferreted out who had jurisdiction of the area covering the Plantation Golf and Country Club and drove to the Sheriff's office.
"I'm a writer," I told the heavyset fellow who manned the front desk, "and I have a question." I explained the scenario. Golf course. Dead body. Tournament. He looked at me blankly. A crackpot, I could imagine him thinking, but is she dangerous?
"There's a law enforcement library in Orlando," he finally said (3 hours away). "I'm sure you could find the answer there." I left in a quiet huff and promptly wrote him into the book as Sheriff Tate, a "short, very sweaty man whose uniform barely stretched over the expansive girth of his stomach."
HANK: Oh, what a great question—this is happening to me right now! The other day in a cab, the driver told me he was an ex-cop. Hurray, I thought, exactly what I need. (Although why an ex-cop is a cab driver might be a better story.) But I said—okay, listen, question for you. You’re going up to a house to ask the resident for information. You don’t who or what is behind the door. What do you say? How do you stand? What are you thinking about? If they say—‘who is it,’ how do you answer?
Huh? He said.
Sigh. Never mind, I replied.
Then the other day, I was walking down the street and walked by a police officer in uniform. Hurray! I thought. Just what I need.
So I said, “Hey, I’m..”
And he said, “ I know who you are, and I can’t talk to you. I can’t say a word to you. You’re press. In fact, I’ve already said too much, and if anyone saw us, I’m already in trouble.”
SO! Two strike outs? Not at all! I got great info—not what I was looking for, but still great—from both!ROSEMARY: I've interviewed cops for each of my books, not because I have a lot of procedural detail in them but, I just didn't want to write anything flat-out ridiculous. The most detail I went into was for The Big Dirt Nap in which some crimes took place on a reservation. I spent days researching tribal law. Maybe a page wound up in the book, but ask me anything about tribal law.
HALLIE: My favorite research was back when I was writing about a group of neuroscientists and I needed to know how brains are handled for research. I visited the amazing brain bank at Harvard's McLean Hospital. Can you believe, (donated) brains arrive in Fedex boxes marked PERISHABLE!...like you'd ship a bowling ball. And on the floor, in transluscent buckets filled with some kind of preservative, floated brains looking like heads of cauliflower. I went right home and signed an organ donor card.
JAN: All through my Hallie Ahern series I met for lunch on a monthly or bimonthly basis with the head of the criminal division in the RHode Island AG's office. He kept me up on crime and law enforcement trends and told great anecdotes that often made it into my manuscript. I also was also lucky to meet with Providence Police as well as an undercover detective in Portsmouth NH who was an expert in online predators (for TEASER). I meet with retired cops and investigators, too. I find that not only do you get the "facts" right when you meet with law enforcement, but you also get away from law enforcement stereotypes and write real characters.
I actually think that meeting with cops and prosecutors and defense attorneys is my favorite part of mystery writing. Next week I get to meet with prosectors in the Suffolk County office (Boston) but that's for my true crime book.
RHYS: I'm relieved that my books take place in the past. That way I don't have police departments to deal with any longer. When I was writing the Constable Evans mysteries I had a friendly police officer in Wales who answered all my questions, including complicated ones on the procedure for a child kidnapped by a Russian national father. I've found every expert I have queried to be extremely helpful.
ROBERTA: Great stories, you guys! Hank is right--again--whatever you get, you can use. What's your favorite police story--have you seen it translated into a book? And if not, can we have it?