RHYS: One of the things I always look forward to in the summer is being on the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference. This is the one place where the craft of mystery writing is really taught intensely and well by top level faculty. It has produced a whole bevy of published writers--among them Cara Black, Sheldon Siegel, Susan Shea. And now Cindy Brown. I mentored Cindy at the conference and saw great promise in the story that is now about to become her first published book.
I told her when she was about to be published she should be our guest on Jungle Red Writers, and I'm delighted to welcome her today. You'll love her quirky humor. So Cindy, it's all yours:
Learned how to build a letter bomb.
Conducted an experiment to see if Diet Coke would dissolve a nail (nope).
Cajoled my husband into posing as a dead body so I could see how a corpse
In the name of research, I have:
Attended an Alcoholic Anonymous Back-to-Basics meeting.
Hung out at my auto mechanic’s shop, spit-balling ideas about car fires.
Gone on a ride-along with a member of the Sun City West Posse (yep, posses
still exist, at least in Arizona, though they now use cars instead of horses).
As you may able to tell, I LOVE research. And being a mystery writer gives me a
certain liberty. A few months ago, I was standing in line at a store behind a man who
wore an athletic shirt with a pocket on the back (it’s designed so cyclists don’t have
to sit on their wallets). I asked him if he’d ever lost anything out of it. He hadn’t. I got
to my real question: did he think someone could pick that pocket more easily than a
traditional pocket? “Why don’t you try?” he said, putting his wallet in the pocket. He
learned that he might not want to wear that shirt in a crowd, and I learned that I
possess a certain skill that could be useful if I decide to become a criminal.
One of the things I really love about research is the fascinating stuff I run across
during the process. For instance, I wanted one of my characters to buy something in
Costco that could be used in a crime. But what? In researching the idea, I not only
learned about dangerous office products (stay away from paper shredders and
staple removers), but also that Costco sells home monitoring kits, caskets and
I love to look up words and phrases, too. I now know “forty Yiddish words everyone
should know.” I have an online map of the U.S. that tells me where people say “soda”
and where they say “pop.” And I now know that if you are researching current
teenage slang and decide to look up “sex” in the Urban Dictionary, you will get this
message: “What kind of moron are you that you look up sex in the urban
dictionary?” Yes, it really says that.
And though I’m really looking for details to include in my books, I find that my
research often proves to be practically useful. I’ve learned that powdered lemonade
cleans toilet bowls, that Doritos are good fire starters, and that a wooden spoon
placed on top of a pot of boiling water will keep the liquid from boiling over. I’ve
also learned how to make a duct tape bra (I haven’t tried it, as I think I’m a little old
for strapless bras, and besides, it sounds really uncomfortable).
Truth be told, I’m even treating this guest post (thank you Rhys!) as a bit of research,
because I’d love to know what wacky things you have learned while writing. And to
sweeten the pot, I’ll give away a signed copy of Macdeath to one lucky commenter!
Macdeath, a madcap mystery set in the off, off, off Broadway word of theater, was
just released by Henery Press on January 20th. The lovely Rhys Bowen calls it “ a
delicious romp with plenty of humor and suspense.”
Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and
playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s
lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013
international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is
an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband
now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than
25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.
RHYS: So thank you, Cindy. I'm dying to hear what kind of insane things others have done in the name of research. I've wrestled on the floor, found where to push someone out of a train, thus terrifying everyone else in the carriage and suffered for my art by having to spend time in Nice and Paris!