December 10 – 16: “What are the happy, accidental finds you’ve come across during the research of a novel?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Robert McKee famously said, “Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it’s the key to victory over fear and it’s cousin, depression.” This week, ITW Members Lisa de Nikolits, Lisa Preston, Uri Norwich, Ken Kuhlken, Tess Makovesky, Lynn Cahoon, Les Edgerton and Dave Zeltserman will discuss the happy, accidental finds they’ve across during the research of their novels. Scroll down to the “comments” section below to follow along. You won’t want to miss this!

 

Lisa Preston turned to writing after careers as an Alaskan police sergeant and a fire department paramedic. Booklist praised her debut psychological thriller, Orchids and Stone (Thomas & Mercer, 2016), as riveting. Publisher’s Weekly called her psychological suspense, The Measure of the Moon (Thomas & Mercer, 2017), gripping. She runs and rides on the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle.

 

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has lived in Canada since 2000. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain. No Fury Like That, her most recently published work, is her seventh novel. It will be published in Italian, under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo, in 2019. Previous works include: The Hungry Mirror (winner 2011 IPPY Gold Medal); West of Wawa (winner 2012 IPPY Silver Medal); A Glittering Chaos (winner 2016 Bronze IPPY Medal); The Witchdoctor’s Bones; Between The Cracks She Fell (winner 2016 for Contemporary Fiction); and The Nearly Girl. Lisa lives and writes in Toronto. Her ninth novel, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution is forthcoming in 2019.

 

Lynn Cahoon is the author of the New York Times and USA Today best-selling Tourist Trap cozy mystery series. GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER, book 1 of the series, won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction. She also pens the Cat Latimer series available in mass market paperback with SLAY IN CHARACTER coming in late 2018. In addition to releasing WHO MOVED MY GOAT CHEESE in March as part of the new Farm to Fork series, KILLER GREEN TOMATOES released July 3rd, 2018.

 

Les Edgerton is a full-time writer. He is an ex-con, having served two years at Pendleton Reformatory on a 2-5 sentence for second-degree burglary back in the late sixties. His work has been nominated for or been awarded: the Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, PEN/Faulkner Award, Derringer Award, Spinetingler Magazine Thriller of the Year, Jesse Jones Book Award, Edgar Allan Poe Award (short story category), Violet Crown Book Award, and others.

 

Liverpool lass Tess Makovesky is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep. Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines. Her novella ‘Raise the Blade’ is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing, and her first novel, ‘Gravy Train’, is out now from All Due Respect.”

 

Dave Zeltserman’s crime and horror thrillers have been picked by NPR, the Washington Post, ALA, Booklist, and WBUR as best novels of the year, and his short mystery fiction have won numerous awards. His novel  SMALL CRIMES is a Netflix film starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.  His novel latest novel HUSK has been called  “a unique and splendid novel” by Booklist in a starred review.

 

Before starting to write his novels, Uri Norwich attained his knowledge in various fields of expertise. His formal education consists of a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering and an MBA in economics leading eventually to a career in investment and money management. The author has been traveling the world extensively. His experiences reflected in his novels convey to the reader a sense of being present at the time and place he is reading about. The first book Russian Jews Don’t Cry was published in 2013. Working on this book, the author was presented with numerous challenges. While trying to tell his own story, he did not want to be constrained by preset guidelines of the autobiographical genre.

 

Some of Ken Kuhlken’s favorites are early mornings, the desert in spring, kind and honest people, baseball and other sports played by those who don’t take themselves too seriously, most kids, and films he and his Zoe can enjoy together. He reads classic novels, philosophy, theology, and all sorts of mysteries. On his blog, he offers some hard truths and encouragement about living as a writer. He has long been the author of novels, stories, articles, poems, and essays. Lots of honors have come his way, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship; Poets, Essayists and Novelist’s Ernest Hemingway Award; Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel and Shamus Best Novel; and several San Diego and Los Angeles Book Awards.

 

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65 Comments
  1. I had a few accidental finds while researching my novels. Whether they were happy finds or not, I would like my readers along with esteemed members of this panel to judge. Here is the first one,

    “A half of our society is in a state of mental disorder. One has to determine which half to belong to…”

    I used it as the opening line of my released last week new espionage novel “The American Dossier.” Whether you agree or disagree with this statement, keeping it in mind helped me in writing in our beloved thriller genre. I’m interested to hear what the rest of the panel thinks.

      1. Hello Tess, brilliant comment. Many people won’t admit it. Even less, they cannot determine their own standing in the Western society. Confusion reins, thus breeds the problems. It is not necessarily a bad thing. As we say in financial world, someone’s loss, another one’s gain.

  2. Happy accidental finds? I find that my stories are more focused on activities I’ve done (or want to do), well besides the method of murder. Slay in Character, my most recent release, has a visit to an old west ghost town that’s been turned into a tourist trap near my fictional Colorado town. My husband and I have been planning on visiting some of Colorado’s old ghost towns with our side by side (think small Jeep.) So I’d already done a lot of research into what’s really out there.

    I’ve also turned our last Thanksgiving trip to the sand dunes in Oklahoma (right? Who knew…) into a trip where the South Cove crew find more than just a fun time riding the dunes.

    Since I’m a cozy author, most of my research is around locations but I love visiting the places my characters may visit in later books.

  3. Whether or not this makes me a screwball, I prefer to think of the happiest stuff that comes out of research as providential rather than accidental. For instance, a local news magazine asked me to write a story about Mother Teresa’s seminarians in Tijuana, so I stayed with them for a few days. And the same magazine asked me to write about a church scandal and I interviewed lots of people involved. Then the two stories got together in my mind and convinced me to use them for more than the feature articles. So I wrote The Very Least, which came out last month.

  4. Research? What research? Only joking… although as I write mostly about human nature I don’t need to do as much research as some crime writers. I do, though, love researching the setting for my books, which is the city of Birmingham in the UK. It has a bad reputation (nothing but 1960s concrete) which is so far from the truth I don’t know where to start, and I enjoy poking about in the nooks and corners, taking photos, and finding new things.

    In spite of living in the city for over 20 years I still discover something new almost every time I go. Most recently it was a statue of a Field Marshall near Five Ways island, and the footings of a long-vanished tropical glasshouse in Cannon Hill Park. Neither turn up in ‘Gravy Train’ but they may well feature in future books!

    So, do you like researching locations? As a reader, do you enjoy reading about different, unusual places? What are some of your favourites, to read or to write?

  5. When it comes to writing, I rely on happy accidents! Some people don’t believe in luck or in magic when it comes to writing but I do. For example, if I am struggling with what a character might look like, I will take a bus ride and the perfect person (with some singularly distinguishing characteristic) will climb onboard and there you go, my person has come to life! This, to me, is affirmation that I’m on the right path with the story.

    Or I ‘accidently’ watch a TV show that gives me an idea for a plot detail, or a crime detail that ties right in. The other day I watched Vintage Tech Hunters and saw micro cars for the first time – I love them so much and they’ll fit perfectly into a novel I’m working on!

    Happy accidents definitely help me layer my writing with details and to me, these are gifts from the writing gods and I simply say thank you!

    1. I’m with you on the shows, news feeds etc to give me plot ideas, Lisa – it’s how ‘Gravy Train’ first started! Someone really did fish a bag of money out of a canal in Birmingham and it set me wondering how on earth it got there. It’s always worth keeping eyes and ears open, isn’t it? 🙂

  6. P.S. I wanted to add that for me, real life is research and I’m constantly scouring the earth for ideas and gems for plots, characters, locations and descriptions.

    When it comes to actual research, I’ve had many fantastic accidental lucky finds and sometimes my luck has been too much!

    With The Witchdoctor’s Bones, for example, I found some amazing historical facts in the Toronto Reference Library and I found some great books in used bookstores, books about Namibia and South Africa. The trouble was, my luck was so good and my finds were so vast that my ms ended up being 220K words!

    Kind of a rookie mistake, since it was the first book I wrote – although it was published fourth in line – because I had so much work to do on it, cutting it down!

    Since them I learned to keep an eye on my word count and temper the use of my accidental lucky finds – or I save them for blog posts!

  7. Lisa made a great point. In many cases, To Say Less is To Say More.
    I have discovered this simple premise after writing a few novels.

    The shorter the novel the more money it makes.
    First had 680 pages.
    Second had 400 pages.
    Third had 115 pages.
    The latest one 380 pages.(In the spirit of full disclosure, this novel just went on sale last week–no stats yet.)

    The shortest novel got the most sales. It had been picked up and made in Audio book, translated in a few languages, and is considered for a TV mini series.

    My understanding is that people have a very short attention span and no time to spare. To be exact, you can measure the attention span in 140 characters (length of a tweet.)
    It is extended to 280 characters now. Take advantage of it.
    I’m interested to hear what the panel thinks.

      1. Lisa, people measure success differently. My industry background suggests that MONEY is the prime prize. You can talk about moral, ethics, etc…, of course, and all other PC stuff. It is all good. I only add to money success just one other:convincing your readers.

    1. I’m hoping you’re right, Uri, as ‘Gravy Train’ is a little over 200 pages! But as a short story specialist I struggle with longer works, and this book is quite an achievement for me.

      1. Tess, I can only wish you Good Luck. I can also assure you from my own experience, income from your novel feels different and warm than from any other day job, whether you need it or not.

  8. I don’t do much formal research as most of my novels are drawn from my own experiences. However, another person doing research recently read my memoir which had just been launched and as a result of her research it turned out to be a happy find for both her and myself.

    A woman who had been adopted 51 years ago was suffering from some physical problems and decided to submit a DNA sample to Ancestry.com in hopes of discovering who her birth parents were for the possibility of getting some of her health history for her and her daughter.

    Maria’s search turned up my name and she Googled it and found out my memoir, Adrenaline Junkie, had just been released. She obtained a copy of it and read:

    (From Adrenaline Junkie)
    About a week later, a detective dropped by the apartment while Sherry was at work and told me I would probably walk on my charges, get probation like my lawyer’d said. He said I’d beat them. Then, he dropped a bomb on me. He said that even though I had a good chance of walking, they were going to go after Sherry and would make sure she got sentenced and did time at the Indiana Women’s Prison. He told me some things about her past that convinced me the judge probably would give her at least six months in the joint. The detective said the only way I could save her ass was to plead guilty and if I did that, they’d drop the charges completely on Sherry. He also spent a lot of time telling me what would happen to her down at the Women’s Prison in Indianapolis. Things other inmates would do to her with broomsticks, stuff like that.
    This stuff got to me. Sherry was pregnant with our child and this guy kept telling me our kid would be born in prison and end up in foster homes being abused. Stuff like that.
    I decided to plead guilty. The deal was, I would cop to one count of second-degree burglary and they would drop all the other burglary counts, plus all the other charges, the armed and strong-arm robberies. I might still get probation, I was told, but even if I didn’t, the most I’d get would be a two to five-year sentence or maybe a one-to-ten on the burglary thing.
    That was a laugh. They weren’t even considering probation. As soon as I pled guilty, I was let back out on my original bond for two weeks while they did the presentence investigation and when I went back, I ended up getting a two to five and sent over to the jail to await paperwork and transportation to Pendleton Reformatory.
    During the two-week period of the presentence investigation, Sherry and I got married and I made arrangements for my sister Jo and her husband Jim to take Sherry in during her pregnancy in case I got sent up. They lived in Lakeville and had two kids of their own, but both of them had big hearts and didn’t even hesitate when I asked them to take her in. Sherry hadn’t wanted to get married, but I didn’t want our kid being born a bastard.
    Once I in Pendleton, Sherry visited a couple of times and then I didn’t see her any more. Her letters stopped as well. Normal shit for cons. Then, I got a letter from a lawyer asking my consent for a divorce. I wouldn’t sign it, and then my sister wrote me a letter saying they had had to kick Sherry out. It seems she was eight months pregnant and one day my brother-in-law Jim was painting the living room and she walked up to him on the ladder and grabbed his johnson and told him she wanted to screw him. He was a righteous dude and told her to get fucked and also to pack her shit and leave their house, which she did. Jo apologized over and over for having to kick her out, but I thought she showed remarkable forbearance, as did Jim, for what she’d done. I signed the divorce papers, but a few months later, I was served with some more papers asking if I’d allow Sherry to put the baby (it was a girl) up for adoption. I refused to sign them, and wrote my sister to see if they would consider keeping the baby until I got out and could care for her. They immediately agreed—great sister!—but Sherry told all of us to get fucked and put the baby up for adoption anyway. It turned out they didn’t need my signature to do that, even though I was the legal father. You forfeit all such rights when you’re in prison. So our little girl was adopted and I’ve never seen or heard of her since.
    When I got released a couple of years later, I went to a minister and told him my story. I wanted to know if he thought I should try to locate my daughter and get her back. He advised me to leave things the way they were. “She’s in a good home now,” he said. “Parents who love her and who she thinks of as her mom and dad. You can’t take care of her at this time, so leave her alone. She’s better off.” I saw he was right and did as he suggested. Many times since then I have wondered if I did the right thing. I also wonder if she’ll ever try to look me up. I hope her life turned out all right. I hope if she ever does look me up she’ll understand why I didn’t try to find her.

    She found my email address and mailed me this:

    Hi, I recently did my Ancestry DNA and apparently we are closely related. I was adopted at birth. I have no biological family information, including medical history. I don’t know if you have or are willing to give me any information on who I am, but if you are I would appreciate it. Thank you. Signed, Maria

    We emailed back and forth and soon established that she was my daughter. Then, she said something that meant the world to me:

    I was so overjoyed to read in your book that you wanted me and that you tried everything to keep me. That it was in there, without your ever knowing if I would read it, means that it was how you really felt and that means more than if I had been told that my birth parents named me this or did this or that.

    Maria

    Since then, we’ve met in person, Maria has met her two sisters and will meet her brother when she comes to visit again in a couple of weeks. So, while I haven’t had any “happy, accidental finds” I’ve come across myself, my long-lost daughter has while reading my memoir.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever make much from Adrenaline Junkie but I’ve already realized a miracle worth everything from its existence.
    If interested, a more complete account is on my blog at http://www.lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

    1. I saw this wonderful story on Nigel Bird’s blog, Les – how amazing that you’ve managed to track your daughter down, especially right before Christmas! It just shows that we never quite know who’s going to be reading our books and what effect it might have.

  9. Les, I don’t mean disrespect. Although it may be interesting in some other setting, we wouldn’t want to burden readers of this forum with your entire book…
    Discussions make any sense if they are short, and to the point. I just elaborated on people’s short attention span findings.

  10. One of my novels, PARIAH, came from 15 years or so of absorbing everything coming out in the Boston papers about Whitey Bulger, and when I finally decided to plot out the novel I’d been thinking about, I first read all the tell-all books from South Boston mobsters that were coming, and came across a chapter in one of them in which one of these mobsters was bragging about how he was “too big” for two prostitutes he had picked up. I had to fit that in, except I used it for more satirical effect, specifically how these guys lie their asses off.

    I had interesting finds when I was researching my Frankenstein-retelling MONSTER. The book follows the roadmap Shelley laid out in her classic, although I have everything happening for different reason. When I was researching London in the early 1800s, I came across about their street gangs, and found one where the gang members cut off the noses of the poor unfortunates they came across. I had to use that, and so when Victor brings his monster to London, the monster one night by a gang who call themselves the Pig Snout Collectors.

    My latest book HUSK has a member of a cannibal clan hidden deep in the backwoods of NH moving to NYC when he finds himself falling in love with one of his intended victims, and when I was researching the different NYC boroughs, I came across a restaurant called The Cannibal Beer & Butcher, and that opened up a new plot thread for my book that I hadn’t been thinking of.

    1. Oddly enough I’ve recently finished binge-watching the tv series Brotherhood which was loosely based on Whitey Bulger and his brother. I can thoroughly recommend it if anyone’s interested in that gangster/politician scenario, although I don’t remember any jokes about, er, size!

      And cannibals seem to be the “flavour” of the month – I see you have a story in the Skin & Bones anthology as well. Love the name of that restaurant.

      1. Yeah, Brotherhood was a great show, based very loosely on the Whitey/Billy Bulger dynamics. As state president, Billy squashed investigations into Whitey, and Whitey would threaten other state pols to help keep Billy in power.

        Writing the story for the anthology all those years ago got the creative juices flowing, which led me to flipping my story on its head and writing HUSK.

        1. Fascinating! One of the things I loved most about Brotherhood was that neither brother was wholly good or bad. It sounds as though that was based on reality, the same as your book!

  11. One of my fav accidents isn’t really an accident but more like me being a dog with a bone! I ask people for their opinions, I talk to everybody I can – hey, what do you think of this story, what could make it better, what could back it up and make it better – do you know any websites that you that might help me out, how can I make this idea work…. I’m a pain in the neck to everybody I know! Oh and I take pics of ads on subways or busses or websites. I pick up discarded business cards on the street… a lot of my research is like detecting and looking for clues! I’ve found discarded personality tests and all kinds of treasures!

  12. As a specialist in infectious diseases, I write ID—related thrillers. My current WIP is NIGHT PLAGUE in which an insomnia-causing virus spreads through a small town in Tennessee. As more and more of the townsfolk become sleep deprived, an epidemic of violence results with widespread depression-anxiety, and irritability fueling road rage. bar fights, domestic violence, murders, and suicides. My research challenge was to figure out where this virus would come from on the planet. It wasn’t going to be an Andromeda strain that fell out of the sky nor a bio-engineered bug. Most new viruses for humans come from animals. I have always been fascinated by lemurs and the first interesting fact I discovered is that the name comes from the Latin for “roving night spirits” or ghosts. When researching their behavior in their native Madagascar, I found out that most species are diurnal, others are nocturnal, and a few species are crepuscular meaning active at dawn and dusk. As luck would have it, a few species are cathemeral meaning irregularly active both day and night and
    even better, no one understands the basis of cathemerality. I had the source of my
    fictional insomnia virus! How the virus gets from cathemeral lemurs in Madagascar to Tennessee, and how the protagonist Kris Jensen figures it all out and solves the epidemic, will be revealed when the novel comes out next year.

    1. This sounds fascinating, Alex, and definitely a happy accident. I had no idea lemurs could be so interesting! Although I think I’d heard that their name means ‘ghosts’ before – it’s very appropriate, especially for the large white ones that dance through the forest. Perhaps you could make the virus responsible for that, as well!

      1. Two genera of lemurs (Eulemur and Hapalemur) exhibit cathemerality in the wild. I’ll have to make them adapted to the insomnia virus. Otherwise they’d be fighting and squabbling from their lack of sleep. Same principle that some African bats are adapted to Ebola virus and it doesn’t kill them. They represent what is called the reservoir host.

        Another fun fact I discovered about Madagascar is the role of the fadys in society . These are cultural taboos, often sacred that govern life and society in Madagascar. There are literally thousands of them that vary regionally but some are national in their
        observance. Some examples are to never wear red at a funeral and another is to never describe a newborn baby as ugly. There are many fadys relating to lemurs. Unfortunately sometimes to their detriment. For example: One tribe may have a fady against hunting lemurs but will eat the meat. A neighboring tribe has no fady about hunting but eating the meat is fady (the term is used as both a noun and adjective). Even though NIGHT PLAGUE does not take place in Madagascar I’ll make up some fadys relating to the cathemeral insomnia virus-carrying lemurs that my protagonist discovers.

        It’s definitely fun to discover some real life facts and be able to incorporate them into your novel.

  13. Good morning, everyone.
    To start the second day of our Roundtable off, I would like to offer for your consideration my other accidental discovery.

    “Researching a novel may not necessarily require your visiting places where you place your characters.”

    It sounds absurd, but William Shakespeare (if there was one person) had never left his town. We are in a much better situation. With the advent and a sophistication of implementation of Google Maps, Satellite and Webcam technologies, you can “virtually walk” places you are writing about. Granted that you may not get a smell of those places, and people who inhabit them, but to get a reasonably-good picture may suffice.
    Although I had visited most of the places reflected in my novels, I still compared my “live” impressions to my “virtual walking” findings. Perhaps, the modern technology could help other writers who are limited in their travel means. One just needs to learn how to use it. It certainly helps in writing espionage novels.

    1. A really interesting point and one I’ve heard other writers mention. It’s certainly much easier to set books in places you’ve never been these days with all the Google tools, Wikepedia, YouTube etc etc. For myself, though, I still prefer to set my books in my previous home city of Birmingham. I probably lack confidence in my own ability to accurately describe the accent, customs, dialect, and lifestyle of people in a place I’m unfamiliar with. But with Birmingham I lived there for over 20 years so it feels completely natural to write about it. I can ‘hear’ and ‘see’ my characters in those situations, on those streets, just as I did with real people for all those years. It’s certainly one less thing for me to worry about getting ‘right’ in my books!

  14. Dear Uri, an excellent point! I live in Toronto and my family lives in Australia and I visit them every two years. Invariably, the travel sparks an idea for a book which then leads to research about the specific area and the history and characters of the place.

    My husband and I always try to add an additional country to our trip, which also sparks ideas which I then do further research.

    So yes, to your point, with today’s technology, I’ve written about places I have never visited (or visited very briefly,) for example, I used Wiesbaden in A Glittering Chaos and the details I found online were so vivid that I feel like I have visited it!

    Another thing too, if I need to check what the weather was on a certain day or what time the sun rose or things like that, I can do that online! The internet is hugely helpful for validating facts that layer a story substantially. Google Earth too and street view.

    If I wonder about a fact – a simple thing, like what’s in a recipe, you just have to type it in instead of going to the library and finding the right cookbook. The internet has made things so much faster that way!

    And then yes, like Alex, (a great post Alex, thank you!) you discover all kinds of other fascinating facts!

  15. Dear Lisa,
    great that you mentioned weather on a certain day of a certain year, in a certain place. How else one could figure that out…, but using the Web tools.

    In my trade, and in researching of my novels, I heavily rely on financial markets conditions on a certain day going back many decades ago.

  16. Oh yes Uri! Foreign currencies, holiday dates for a certain country, tides, the moon – the list is endless – and even translating languages (although I always get those sentences checked by a speaker of the actual tongue!) because sometimes the translations are fragmented at best!

    One thing I haven’t found is a proofreading program. I’d love to be feed a pdf into a program or be able to run a script and have it annotate missing words, or words that have switched order, extra words, things like that!

    I know I have deviated off the research discussion but that’s the only thing that might still be lacking on the Internet! I know Word is supposed to highlight errors such as those, but once I’ve changed an ms for the dozenth time, Word seems to miss a lot of things.

    Apologies Folks for the segue!

  17. Another happy accidental find for my Frankenstein-retelling MONSTER was reading the fantasy and Gothic horror German writer ETA Hoffmann and working a grossly exaggerated version of one of his tales into the book. Since MONSTER is also plays on Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, quite a bit of my research on him, as well as flourishes from his writing, also made it into the book, but that was more on design.

      1. Thanks, Lisa. It was one year of solid research–far more than all my other books combined. Reading The 120 Days of Sodom and other of de Sade’s works was an utterly soul-deadening experience, and I can understand several serial killers blaming his writing for their actions. But de Sade as a person was interesting and in many ways a contradiction to his writing–for example, he was a judge during the terror, and his refusal to send people to the guillotine, including his in-laws, who he did not get along with, got him sentenced for the guillotine, and only a clerical error saved hm.

  18. A question for other writers here–did researching a book give you an idea that led to another book? That happened to me with my south Boston mobster book PARIAH. Reading about how hit man Johnny Martorano was able to kill 20 people but still get a reduced 12-year prison sentence for offering evidence against Bulger led to the 3rd book in my ‘man out of prison’ noir series KILLER.

    1. Indeed, Dave. Great question.
      In my case, I had conceived “The American Deluge” (published in 2014) as a single espionage novel that had its ending in 2012.

      However, while researching it, I had uncovered that illegally making money on Wall Street was just a tip of the iceberg. Putting those ill-gotten fortunes to work to change many millions of peoples’ lives was entirely different subject. “The American Dossier” (released two weeks ago) continues newly-born series.

    2. Great question, Dave! In my own case it probably hasn’t led to a whole new idea, but I have discovered new nooks and crannies of Birmingham that I’m hoping to use in future books. For instance, on my last visit I found the footings of a huge and otherwise vanished tropical glasshouse in one of the city parks. I’m sure I can work that in as a suitable setting for something nasty!

  19. Dear Dave, not directly another book but I have gathered a lot of ideas and facts that I used in subsequent books! I file them in an ideas folder and sometimes if I am stuck, or something I thought would work doesn’t, I flip through my idea folder and it’s hugely helpful to have that resource.

    I save images, links, facts and all kinds of things that I come across. Sometimes I think oh, that’d make for a great book in and of itself, but then it just turns out to be a character actor instead of the leading star!

    Sometimes the whole book seems to come from nowhere and the research just fleshes It out. Which makes it rather nerve wracking since I can’t ‘make’ books happen when I want them too, from ideas that should work!

  20. I often find a title while doing research. Like when I needed a title for my Hickey family crime novel set in the 1920s, I read about a sermon Aimee Semple McPherson gave around election time. She called it “The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles.” She advertised and it drew quite a crowd. So that became my book title. And titles are important to me. They point me in a direction and help keep me on track.

    1. I agree about the title, it works the same for me. I don’t feel really comfortable writing without one or one I know isn’t right. In my April 2019 release I had a ho hum title most of the way through until my hero gave it to me in dialogue near the end–The Secrets That Lie Within.

      1. A friend once told me she would not start a story until she had the title. But then, she is a short story writer. I have changed titles often while writing and revising a novel.

        A the risk of seeing too literary — the right title can be a unifying device. I mean, if we ask whether we should leave a part in or cut it, we can ask how does it relate to the title.

    2. Actually yes, Ken – I stumbled across the idea for my book titles while listening to my favourite band Pink Floyd. Turns out the lyrics to several of their well-known tracks fit my books perfectly, which gave me the titles for both ‘Raise the Blade’ (Brain Damage) and ‘Gravy Train’ (Have a Cigar). I was also able to scatter hidden references to the tracks, and the band in general, throughout the books, which might give readers something fun to chase down! So that was definitely a happy accident.

      And I love your title!

  21. Hey gang–

    Uri, you’re so right about the mind-blowing info available thru internet research. YouTube offered up someone’s video of driving the highway in Mexico that my character followed.

    Alex, working the Mad-TN should be fun. Readers like a new world and a few Malagasi words might go a long way in your narrative.

    [And Lisa, there’s supposed to be a function in Word that lets your computer read aloud the ms–you can hear all sorts of missed words and repetitions that you can’t see. And there are programs that do this–I use Natural Reader.]

    -TOL (The Other Lisa)

    1. LOL Dear TOL 🙂 I tried that and my brain filled in the gaps and fixed the errors! And I every time I read from my book after that, I heard British Emily’s voice talking! 🙂

      Yes, I’ve recently discovered the gems on YouTube! There’s some weird stuff out there! But I guess that’s the Internet for you! I have to temper myself and say no look, that’s too weird for the readers out there! But maybe one day I’ll gather all the crazy stuff and publish it under another name!

      And Ken and Elizabeth, re titles – I agree!! It’s so important to me too, from the start. Sometimes all I have is the title and I take it from there!

  22. While researching my current book I had the reverse of a happy accident and had to completely rethink the basic premise. What I’d planned was based on a pretty inept horse racing scam from about thirty years ago. It wouldn’t work in these days of microchips. Luckily the horse breeder I’d gone to for information helped me adapt my idea and it’s much stronger now, I think, so it was a happy ending. If my editor likes it!

    1. Good for you for checking on the feasibility of the old scam. In modern endurance racing, they don’t rescan microchips during an event and there has been a case of a person man swapping horses during the event. Hope your editor loves your improved story.

  23. Good morning everyone.

    Today, I would like to offer for your consideration another accidental discovery.

    “Most things are rigged!”

    You may ask, “Why would I consider it as the happy accidental find?”
    – Knowing it, and acting accordingly, let me to avoid many costly mistakes in life.
    – It is great for the Thriller writing genre.
    You also may ask “Why am I so sure about it?”

    Based on years of working in financial and investment fields, I can say with certainty that all financial markets are manipulated. Anything from stock and bond trading, and all the way down to currencies, commodities and crypto-currencies are rigged. My first novel, “The American Deluge” makes a point of proving it.

    Unfortunately, the people who run for our political offices are rigged, too. Money that has been made through market manipulations is put to work in the political arena. It is the place to get the biggest return on investment. There is no need to meddle with the actual election process. This is the main theme of “The American Dossier.”
    Again, panel’s thoughts are appreciated.

  24. Dear Uri, I must admit, I try to steer clear of politics or money since I have a limited understanding of both – I keep thinking I need to get more involved and learn more about both but it’s such a minefield and so complicated.

    The closest I’ve got is with Rotten Peaches where I touch upon the era of apartheid and one of my characters is swindled out of a substantial sum of money so her Afrikaner ex-lover can blow up the Voortrekker Monument.

    One personal happy accident with Rotten Peaches was that it inspired me to find my Great South African cookbook and this Christmas I’m going to try my hand at a few desserts, primarily Melk Tert!

    1. I agree w/ you on finding current politics too fraught for fiction–you risk alienating half your readers either way. But please bring some Melk Tert to the next conference (will you be at TFest?).

      1. Hi Lisa,
        Thank you for your comment. You just proved my very first ‘accidental finding’ that served as the opening of this great Rountable.

        “A half of our society is in a state of mental disorder. One has to determine which half to belong to…”

        You got nothing to lose, but offer the opposite side’s view. Some from the other side may “convert.” I found it happening and fascinating.

  25. Dear Lisa,
    most people shy away from money matters, letting it “go with a flow.”
    Perhaps, they were burned by a financial advisor, a family member, or a friend. In most cases, people just think they are not sophisticated enough to understand complicity of the finances. That premise is wrong. It stops people from making an effort.
    Three years ago, it was discussed at a social gathering, I had attended. When my turn came, I simply quoted from my notes I had been taking since 1991 working in financial markets. Apparently, it blew the peoples’ mind off. Someone suggested to put it in the form of a advisory book.
    I had chosen espionage fiction, since the ill-gotten money are used for that purpose.

  26. Hello everyone,
    We have happily arrived to the last day of our Roundtable.
    Perhaps, engineering part of my head is talking here. I took liberty to analyze four available past months worth of Roundtable discussions. Amount of posted responses varied from 3 (at the lowest level) to 34 (at the highest).
    Most had mid-teen amount of posts.
    Our week of discussions has yielded at this point 62 responses!
    A thriller writer can draw many conclusions from those numbers.
    One of them, perhaps, we were fortunate to have either the great topic or the great panel, or both.
    Regardless, thank you, “The Big Thrill” magazine, ITW Organization, and Mr. José H. Bográn for giving us this opportunity and hosting this Roundtable.

    1. I second the thanks to ITW and the Big Thrill for hosting us, letting us witter on about the subject (and ourselves!) and for the opportunity to promote our books. It’s very much appreciated! And nice to ‘meet’ everyone who contributed on here, too. If you’re not already linked to me on social media, do come and find me. 🙂

  27. The most rewarding thing I came across while researching for a novel was when I was looking into the Black Arrow tests which was Britain’s satellite launcher program in the 1960s. On visiting the remaining rocket in the Science Museum has in London I was fortunate to talk to a fellow visitor who happened to have worked on the original programme. We had a very nice chat over a cup of coffee and I kept in touch so that I could get even more information about the tests which was invaluable to me when writing my novel.
    What were the chances of meeting a former rocket engineer at that particular moment I decide to visit the museum?

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