Thursday, August 15, 2019

It's All in the Family


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Where do you do your research? People ask. And I have to smile. Sure, there are the places we all go,  libraries and courthouses and the like, but one of my best sources is my husband Jonathan. A complete legal expert, with experience and savvy and stories and—most important—answers. And I don’t even have to leave home! Or pay to make copies.
The wonderful Friend of Reds Judy Penz Sheluk has also discovered the joys of using your own family for research. When she began to step into murky story waters, she knew exactly where to turn.

A Tale of Three Nieces

I have three beautiful nieces. While relatively close in age (mid 20s to mid 30s), they’ve followed completely different paths in life. Ashley works in cyber security, Leah is a personal trainer, and Rebecca is a social worker. And yet each of them garnered a credit in the Acknowledgments in my latest Marketville Mystery, A Fool’s Journey, featuring protagonist Calamity (Callie) Barnstable and her team at Past & Present Investigations.
With a background in journalism (2003 to 2018), I’m well aware of how important research is, and as an author (and avid reader), I’m equally aware how one false fact can spoil the literary broth. And so when I was creating the character of tattoo artist Sam Sanchez, I knew I needed help: I’ve never been inside a tattoo parlor, and the closest I’ve come to voluntarily getting pricked by a needle is getting my ears pierced when I was twelve.
Enter niece Ashley, who, when not fighting crime, running ultra marathons, or parenting her four-year old son, participates in local theater. More recently, she played the role of Gretchen in the regional TV show Kitchener Sync, where a housemate referred to her as “Tattoo Barbie.” Enough said!
At any rate, Ashley was able to come to the rescue with a primer on tattoo talk. Now, I knew that a complete arm of tattoos was called a “sleeve” but what I didn’t know was that one inside the elbow is referred to as a “ditch” tattoo (apparently quite painful) and symbols on the fingers are known as “finger bangers,” whereas the generic tattoo artwork is known as “flash”— though Ashley assured me that most folks want custom designs these days. Further research revealed that tattoos became mainstream following the airing of the TV show, Miami Ink, in 2005, and that vintage flash art has now become quite collectible. Did all of this information make it into the book? Of course it did!
Niece Leah came to the rescue when I was trying to find the perfect spot for an auction and art gallery that specialized in tattoo flash. I wanted the gallery, aptly named Light Box (a piece of equipment used in tattooing), to be situated in the scenic town of Burlington, Ontario. When she’s not building bodies (including bench pressing her own weight), Leah hangs out with her equally ripped-abs, fit hubby at their home in Burlington. Her Google maps links to various spots in downtown Burlington were instrumental in helping me fine-tune the details that allowed me to imagine, and subsequently describe, the gallery and surrounding area, right down to the stucco-fronted, awning-covered buildings and street parking. In fact, the street parking led me to write a somewhat humorous scene where my protagonist, Callie Barnstable, is trying very hard to avoid parallel parking, given her last attempt was when she got her license 20+ years earlier. (What can I say? Sometimes Callie’s a bit like me…)
Niece Rebecca’s MSW was put to good use when Jeanine Westlake, stepsister to Brandon Colbeck (the man Callie has been hired to find) explains various parenting styles to Callie. Jeanine, you see, is a social worker, and the owner of New Beginnings Center for Life. Her childhood was also vastly different from that of her stepbrother…even though they were both raised in the same house. For this, I’d done a ton of research on my own, learning about styles defined as authoritarian or disciplinarian, permissive or indulgent, and authoritative, and I sent the chapter delving into all of that to Rebecca, quite sure she was going to say it was perfect, and giving me 5 stars for research.
Well…not exactly. While I had the facts right, the way Jeanine explained the various parenting styles to Callie was completely wrong. “We wouldn’t talk in such absolutes,” Rebecca wrote me, and proceeded to offer suggestions on the way a social worker would offer information and counseling. It was a perfect example of how online research should never be used without consulting with an expert.
And that’s how my three nieces made it into the acknowledgments of A Fool’s Journey. Could I have done it without them? Probably. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

HANK: Love this! And “one false fact can spoil the literary broth” is hilarious. Reds and Readers. Have you ever gone to a family member for advice on writing or a decision you were trying to make that fell outside of your knowledge zone? Not just in writing, of course!  
ADDED LATER: In fact: we ALL have something special we could contribute to each other--volunteers, anyone?  I can consult about--TV, of course. Journalism. How about you all, reds and readers? What do you have for the research bank?


 In March 2000, twenty-year old Brandon Colbeck left home to find himself on a self-proclaimed “fool’s journey.” No one—not friends or family—have seen or heard from him since, until a phone call from a man claiming to be Brandon brings everything back to the forefront. Calamity (Callie) Barnstable and her team at Past & Present Investigations have been hired to find out what happened to Brandon, and, if still alive, where he might be. As Callie follows a trail of buried secrets and decades-old deceptions only one thing is certain: whatever the outcome, there is no such thing as closure.

Now available for pre-order, A Fool’s Journey, book 3 in Judy’s Marketville Mystery series, will be released on August 21 in trade paperback at all the usual suspects, and on Kindle.


Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of the Glass Dolphin Mystery and Marketville Mystery series, and the editor of The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. Her short stories can be found in several collections. Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at judypenzsheluk.com.

88 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Judy. I love that your nieces were able to help you with your research and I’m looking forward to reading your story . . . .

    I often ask my retired police sergeant husband about police things. When I read something police-related that doesn’t seem quite right to me, he always explains it . . . .

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    1. Thanks Joan. Next time I'll have to get the nephews on the case! You're lucky to have a hubby who knows policing!

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    2. Oh, the best! Can he come and advise us, too?

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  2. How wonderful to have family that can be so helpful to you.

    And congrats on the new book!

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    1. We all have SOMEthing special we can advise others about--what would be yours, Mark?

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  3. What a great piece of advice for new authors, Judy, that research should include experts who have actual experience with a subject or issue. Your three nieces were certainly great resources. Congratulations on A Fool's Journey. It sounds just like the kind of mystery I would love.

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  4. I love how your nieces all chose such different career paths, and yet were all able to contribute to your book, Judy. Sounds like you have a wonderful team at your disposal!

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    1. Hi Marla, yes, I am very lucky to have such great family.

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    2. I keep wondering , now, what each of us could help the other with...I might add that to the blog. Hmm.

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  5. Sounds like you had the perfect team for A Fool's Journey. What a great family!

    Hubs is a pilot, former military, and rocket scientist, anytime I need a primer in hand to hand combat, or information on weapons, he's my go to.

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    1. Kait, your hubby sounds like quite the multi-tasker! Thanks for your good wishes.

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    2. PERFECT for the Reds research bank!

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  6. Thanks Reds, for hosting me today! It was fun writing this one.

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  7. Way to use local resources, Judy! I have used both sons for bicycling knowledge, one son for chicken-raising facts, the other for finding historical anachronisms in my writing, and a sister for her familiarity with Hoosiers, since she is one. I'm sure I've tapped my other sister for something, and I've certainly used my Hugh for whenever I write about renovating old houses, for helping me act out attack scenes ("Grab this arm and put me in a choke hold - I have to see if I can reach my cell with with my other hand..."), and more.

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    1. I think you win, Edith, with the chicken-raising facts! But yes, I will use any resource I can if I think it will help.

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    2. Hey, when you write a farm series and you've never raised chickens - gotta go where the expertise is!

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  8. Congrats on the new book Judy!

    I've never had to go to anyone in my family for advice on writing stories, since I don't really write any. However, my mother used to be the person I would go to for editing advice whenever I'd write little articles or letters of comment. She always made sure that the writing was tighter than my first drafts.

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    1. AWw..that's a wonderful story! She taught you well!

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    2. Love that story Jay! My husband was my first reader/editor at the beginning of my writing career. Makes a big difference doesn't it?

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    3. Jay, my hubby is my first reader and he finds an annoying amount of mistakes...

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    4. Hank, well I try. I'm not always successful. And having an editor for my book reviews helps make my initial reviews that much better.

      Lucy, yes it does make a big difference. The stories that I wrote for my niece when she was growing up always got a first look from my mother. (Those stories were all written for various holidays and such where I was sending her a present).

      Judy, it does seem we miss a lot of mistakes when it is our own writing. Of course, whenever my boss writes something at my job he hands it to me to look over for mistakes because I've caught them so many times.

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  9. Welcome to JRW Judy! I lean on a lot of people while doing research, but don't have your array of talented nieces--or at least I haven't tapped them yet. I wonder if you built the story thinking of them?

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    1. And you can be golf--and psychology, and cooking! And cats, and Tarot cards. (Judy's a golfer, too!)

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    2. Hi Roberta, actually, it didn't start out that way and in fact, the tattoo artist was supposed to have a really minor role. But Ashley painted her, and the interior of the shop, so vividly I had to expand the character. The sister being a social worker, niece Rebecca was a natural fit. Once I had 2 nieces, I wanted to include Leah, and so Burlington became the location of choice for the flash art gallery,

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  10. Judy, I love that piece of advice--you can do the research, but unless you can ask someone who has personal knowledge of a field, your research can come across just wrong or stilted or sound exactly like what it is--impersonal. I know, for example, basically what a nurse does. But if I wanted to write a character who happened to be a nurse, you can bet I'd be talking to at least one practicing nurse to find out what it's really like on the job.

    Congrats on the new book--always on the look-out here at JRW for new-to-me authors!

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    1. Hi Flora, that's exactly right. And really, the internet is a treasure trove of incorrect "facts" -- thanks for the congrats, too. I hope you check out the Marketville series (FYI, book 2, Past & Present, is currently on for .99 on Kobo, Kindle, B&N, Apple and Google Play -- until Aug. 19) and book 1 goes on sale on Aug. 21 for 5 dats (Skeletons in the Attic)...if you wanted to start at the beginning.

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  11. How lucky are you, Judy, to have such accommodating nieces! I'm sure they loved being your go-to people for your research, too.

    My three daughters are also used to Mom and Dad plumbing the depths of their diverse knowledge. From the nurse/diabetes management educator with a lawyer husband, to the energy consultant/climber/ultra-marathoner/tequila aficionado, to the microbiologist/electronics expert/DIY-er, they each get their fair share of questions. So far, only three tattoos between them, that I know of!

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    1. KAREN! You won The Third Mrs. Durst! Email me your address!

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    2. HI Karen, you have an impressive list of resources!

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  12. Congratulations, Judy!

    In HEAVEN HAS NO RAGE, on of the characters has a military background. The Hubby spent over 20 years in the Army, including a stint with Special Forces, so he kept me straight on all the details.

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    1. Perfect. And see you here tomorrow!

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    2. HI Liz, it's good to have an expert in the family, isn't it?

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  13. Hey Judy, nice to see you at JRW.

    Tattoos, eh? Now I'm doubly looking forward to reading your latest.

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    1. Lots of tattoos, Susan! Btw, for some reason there's been a problem getting the book into Chapters. Ingram (the distributor who distributes paperbacks) and Chapters have a "known issue." Whatever that means.

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  14. AND THE WINNER . of THE THIRD MRS. DURST--chosen by Ann Aguirre herself!-- is: Karen in Ohio!! Karen, email me your address!

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  15. Congratulations on your new release! My son was an investigator for the DC Public Defender's Service before law school. I can email questions to Beth Roach, the Blue Ash, Ohio police community resource officer. And the Hamilton County coroner's office has a public information liaison. My husband the scientist is good on poisons. When I had my makeup done for my daughter's recent wedding, I quizzed the woman about how to mix topical poisons in the aerosol makeup sprayer. She knew about lead and arsenic, too.

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    1. WOW! You are the queen of useful knowledge! (And that is terrifying....)

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    2. Margaret, that makeup person sounds a bit scary :-) Thanks for the good wishes!

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  16. Judy, your nieces sound wonderful! I often rely on my daughters -- one's an architect, the other a writer -- for the inside scoop on writing 30-somethings. I used to rely on my mother-in-law for writing older women, and now... never mind. (I'd be afraid to write about tattoos because I'd feel as if I really should get one... for verisimilitude.)

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    1. And the 30-something language, too!

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    2. Hallie, my mother used to talk abut having read an article in some women's magazine that challenged women of her generation (she'd have turned 100 this year) to dare to be different with a list that included "Have a tiny heart tattooed on your heel." I think that would be the only one I would ever consider getting. (How far-reaching a throw-away line from a feature article from the Forties can be!)

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    3. Hi Hallie, I had no desire to get a tattoo when I was writing the book. I let my nieces take over on that front!

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    4. Laughing, Ellen - because have you tried to SEE your heel lately. It hasn't gotten any further away, and yet....
      Judy, you are a wise woman.

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  17. What a delightful take on research! The research I need really does (often) come from the Brooklyn history collection at Brooklyn Public Library -such fun to explore - but I did have one family source. When I started thinking about a series with a mother of a teen, I used to consult my (recent teen)daughters for believable slang. Alas, real life has moved faster than book life, and my daughters are now career woman, wives and mothers, just useless for current teen inside info. My husband plays a different role. An intellectual property lawyer with decades of experience in publishing and documentataries, he's the guy who says, "No, you can't use that true story." Me: "But...but...Law and Order." Him: NBC can afford a lawsuit, we can't." But he keeps all the tech working and reads all my contracts, so I'll keep him. :-)

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  18. PS And my daughter the photo editor has been a help with covers and website.

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  19. I will stop reading a book that contains a legal or historical error, so yeah, do your research! And if your premise is that your protagonist doesn't WANT to know (I once started reading a romance novel like that), I have been known to throw the book across the room. It is really hard to care about a protagonist who is an idiot.

    I have lots of other areas of semi-expertise, so when one mystery writer set a book in my hometown and had her protagonist driving miles out of her way to get to a place three blocks down the street, or talked about a garden full of flowers that won't grow in our climate, I'm afraid that the review I'd been hired to write was largely on the negative side.

    Boots on the ground are extremely useful. Luckily, I have a very large extended family, since my paternal grandfather was one of ten children and my paternal grandmother one of seven-- and my mom was one of eight siblings. Amazing how helpful a cousin can be.

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    1. Ellen, I'm with you. I remember reading a book by a well known author. He talked about igloos in Newfoundland. I stopped reading him then and there. He continues to flourish on the bestseller list.

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    2. Hank, he wrote another novel where the football player (charged with rape in the 90s) was eventually found not guilty because...wait for it...the cheerleader he was accused of raping sent a TEXT MESSAGE to her boyfriend--In the 90s. Yup.

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  20. Always nice to knowledge at your fingertips or at least a phone call/email away. Finding a missing person years after the fact - this sounds fascinating.

    Since I'm not writing, my advise needs come from "how to" questions. Lately my sister has been putting power tools in my hands, determined to make me more self-sufficient. My brother-in-law is an iron worker, working on big construction like bridges over San Francisco Bay, renovation projects for buildings. He would be my go-to for all things around tie-wire, rebar, concrete, etc. What knowledge could I pass to others? I crochet but I'd never claim to be an expert, it's just recreation that is portable, like books. I've worked in recreation, as a pre-school teacher, but am not an expert in any those areas either. I create some nice, large matching flower arrangements for church every month. You could ask me about Aquaform, why blue tones don't work, what I would almost always refuse to work with and why.

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    1. Deana, you may not write, but you know enough about a lot of things to know if the author got a fact wrong. And wouldn't that annoy you? As for my missing person knowledge, one of my beta readers was Lusia Dion, who is the founder of www.missingadults.ca. She was amazing with helping me get not just the facts right, but to be mindful/respectful of those who may have been in that situation. This book would not have been possible without her.

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    2. Blue tones in flowers? I'd love to know about that!

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    3. Hank, think iris, delphiniums, foxglove, sterling roses and such. They have blue tones (blue, lavender, purple even some fuchsias) and the color gets absorbed by the greenery. Mom attended a workshop years ago, the presenter arranged flowers for Queen Elizabeth and even the Queen did not get blue tone flowers. I've seen beautiful, expensive arrangements with blue iris. You couldn't see the flowers, the bride thought they were dead.

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    4. SO interesting! So what do you have to do--add yellow and white? I will remember this forever..Thank you!

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  21. Well, I remember trivial details but not of the type that would get me on Jeopardy or win me a game of Trivial Pursuit.( Do you want to know how many times Great-Uncle Alfred was married? Do you want to know the name of the cat Mom and Dad had before I was born? What?! You didn’t know they had a cat?!)

    I worked in a city office for 21 years, where about a third of my job involved processing paperwork to provide local benefits for wartime veterans. I can recite the requirements in my sleep. Many people don’t take advantage of what’s available because they believe the misinformation spread by people who have little familiarity with how things work. I’m retired now, and I know that there are changes in the works (beneficial to vets) but it still bothers me that people hold off for years on applying for something that is easy to qualify for, because of someone else’s misinformation. Call the office and ask!

    I know the ins and outs, good and bad, of trying to help a mentally ill relative get help. I know how to get satisfaction if a loved one is receiving poor quality care at a nursing home.(And I know which one to tell friends to avoid if they have a family member who needs to go to a nursing home.)

    I think Blogger is actually going to allow me to post today! For about a week I have not been allowed to post, even though I was signed in to Google. I couldn’t even post as Anonymous. Last night I began to write an email to send to the Reds telling them that I can no longer communicate with them via the blog but will continue to read JRW every day. I didn’t want them to think I don’t love them anymore!

    DebRo

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    1. Hi Deb,
      Blogger can be tricky. I use Safari but I can't comment on Safari, so I have to use Google as the browser. But thank you for persevering and commenting on my post. And yes, call and ask!! Don't rely on your Great Aunt Gertie.

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    2. OH so frustrating! ANd exactly, Judy, we have learned you often have to go in through Google, or you'll wind up writing comments and they they disappear.

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    3. I always go in through Google; that’s what’s frustrating! Even though I’m clearly signed in to Google, that is not always recognized by Blogger:-(

      DebRo

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  22. Hi Judy! I gave some of my characters tattoos in my latest, so had lots of fun researching the sorts of art worn by chefs and people in the food industry. I didn't go as far as getting one myself, but if I did, it wouldn't be a chef's knife!

    My husband was a police officer and he ran the dispatch center in his city for ten years, as well as the department computers. He also did some fire investigation, so he knows all sorts of useful things. I try to take advantage of him as much as possible! My daughter is a real estate broker, but not so helpful when I'm writing about the UK because things are handled SO differently there.

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    1. Hi Deborah, my nephew is in Real Estate...hmmm....my knowledge (beyond what I've learned buying and selling 6 houses, comes from House Hunters and in UK my fave -- Location, Location, Location.

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    2. Oh, Debs ,you have so many good helpers! xoo

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  23. Judy, you're so right in that one mistake can spoil the book. I wouldn't know if an author had a bazooka shooting bubble gum, but I once read a thriller where the protagonist, a young single mother, was unsure what to about her child's fever and called her sister. Not her pediatrician's office, but her sister, who had never had a child but who liked to read child care books. And the kid was three. AND the sister recommended baby aspirin.

    A non-parent might buy all this (although don't give toddlers aspirin in a readily available fact) but no parent reading would accept someone with THREE YEARS day to day child-rearing experience racing to get schooled by her sister "who reads books." Closed the page at that point and never picked it up again.

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  24. Wasn't it Sayers who used the wrong poison or something like that? The error lives on forever and is my nightmare as an author. I love that you used family for research - how perfect! Congrats on the new book, Judy! It looks fabulous!

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    1. Thanks Jenn...not sure who used the wrong poison, but my guess is that other authors have followed that false lead and the myth lives on.

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    2. OH, what's that story, Jenn? I hadn't heard that...

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  25. Hi Jungle Reds, I have a question and decided I would leave it here and maybe somebody would see. I have a friend who will be transitioning from her office life to that of author. She's asked for help in figuring out the best technology for her next life of writing. Have you ever discussed how you write (as in pencil, typewriter, computer, carving in stone etc.)and what technologies you need to use with your publishers? How do you back up? What do you like and dislike? Thanks so much!

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    1. Oh, tell her to come visit! ANd also to check out Career Authors. ANd the best technology for her is to --forgive me, but this is true--do whatever works for her. If I tried to write in longhand, I wouldn't be able to read a word of it. And if she uses a computer, back up back up back up! The cloud is her friend! And track changes with my editor. We are here to answer all her questions! xxx

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  26. Cathy, I'm responding as a JRW visitor--one size does not fit all. I use Word and love my iMac. Others love Scrivener (I hate it), some write longhand, some only use laptops. Your friend, in my opinion, needs to do what works for her and if she isn't sure, she has to try different things. As for publishers....let her finish her book first and then worry about that, but I don't know of any publisher or agent who reads any format other than Word (.doc or .docx).

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    1. AH HA! Yes, as I just typed above before I read this, I SO agree! Yup, just write the book first. EXACTLY.

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  27. On things like the risk management of major companies, there's my brother-in-law. For oil and gas trading, there is my sister. My niece has been a competitive cheerleader since she was six, she's 18 now, so she is well versed in that world. My eldest nephew is a brewmaster for a small brewery in Colorado so any questions dealing with making beer, I would ask him. My younger nephew is very much a numbers person so anything like accounting would be right up his alley.

    I also have all kinds of friends who do all kinds of things. I have a friend who is about to retire from the U.S. Post Office, I have another friend who is a retired police dispatcher and her husband is a retired Marine and a retired Sherriff's deputy, he has stories that would curl ANYONE'S hair. Her brother just retired from the Navy after 20 years. I also have another friend who is a huge music buff and a book addict. You should SEE her library, Hank. She tends toward Sci-Fi and Fantasy. She's given me the inspiration for a couple of stories. I also have a very dear friend who is a research librarian for one of the U.S. federal appeals courts.

    And then, I have on-line friends who are all over the world who are happy to answer questions for me.

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  28. Very nice, Judy, to have help from the nieces. We all know stuff and helping a writer is great fun. Hugs to you and Hank!

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