October 1 – 7: “Besides Google, what’s your most common research tool?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Sure, Google is the world’s most popular search engine, but besides Google, what’s your most common research tool? We kick off October with ITW Members Colin Campbell, Ellen Byron, Lee Murray and DiAnn Mills as they discuss what tools they use for research. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along.


Lee Murray is an award-winning writer and editor (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her latest thrillers include New Zealand military thriller INTO THE SOUNDS (Severed Press), and supernatural crime-noir, TEETH OF THE WOLF (Raw Dog Screaming Press) co-authored with Dan Rabarts. HELLHOLE, a volume of subterranean thriller stories, including novelettes from Jonathan Maberry, Michael McBride, and Sean Ellis, is forthcoming from Gryphonwood Press in December.


Ellen Byron writes the Cajun Country Mystery series. A Cajun Christmas Killing and Body on the Bayou both won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery and were nominated for Agatha awards. Plantation Shudders was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Mardi Gras Murder, just released, was deemed a “winner” by Publishers Weekly. Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents; published plays include the award-winning Graceland.


Ex-army, retired cop and former scenes of crime officer Colin Campbell is the author of British crime novels Blue Knight White Cross, and Northern Ex, and US thrillers Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, Adobe Flats and Snake Pass. His Jim Grant thrillers bring a rogue Yorkshire cop to America where culture clash and violence ensue.


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.


  1. Google is just a search engine so I guess it depends what search engine you prefer. As for research, I will find whatever websites are relevant to the subject matter. For instance, for a recent book I needed information about the Santa Clarita police and fire departments so I found their websites and the local government information site. They gave me a wealth of background information that I could filter into the narrative. I also needed information about the California wildfires to make my fictional fire feel more authentic. Other things include, local police vehicle signage and colours, firefighters uniforms, and where the nearest hospitals are. Not for me, for my central character. Then there are location maps. That’s where I find Google really comes in handy. I like to use real locations and fit the story around them so I don’t have to waste creative energy making up a street or a town or a hospital. It grounds the story. And I’ll know where the nearest hospital is if I get a paper cut.

  2. I’m taking a bit of a slant on this topic because much of my research comes from a desire to write authentic characters who step forth as heroes and heroines in suspense novels. My last several novels have been FBI solving various crimes. That means http://www.fbi.gov for correct and realistic research. Law enforcement agencies want to be viewed accurately, and I haven’t talked to any agency who wasn’t willing to help me. Oops, take that back; the CIA suggested I view various TV shows and movies. I’ve researched the Border Patrol https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/along-us-borders/overview and was able to ride the line with an agent. Interviewing the Secret Service https://www.secretservice.gov/join/careers/agents/ was a little more difficult due to the nature of their work, but the agent conducting the interview did tell me when my information was wrong. US Marshals Service -Texas https://www.usmarshals.gov/district/navigation/tx.htm proved informative and worthwhile. in my current writing project involving the CDC http://www.cdc.gov not only is the website packed with incredible resources (some scary) but the media person who working with me is engaging and helpful.

    The Library of Congress will not disappoint anyone digging into research https://www.loc.gov/.

    I invite you to take a look at not only these websites but others that represent law enforcement and your subject matter. Then pick up the phone and verify your findings. Your readers will thank you for it.

  3. I know people diss Wikipedia, but I’m not embarrassed to admit that it’s a go-to research tool for me. I generally find the information shared there useful. Plus, there are source links at the bottom of each entry that allow you drill down deeper into a research project. I find Wikipedia a great launching point. It’s like a wheel hub where all the spokes extending from it are other potential sources.

  4. I use online real estate sites when I need to describe a house or apartment typical of a certain area, or for a floor plan. The maps function is great for timing journeys and distances. I’ve downloaded train timetables, a map of Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo, airport parking access etc etc

    If the question is really asking about offline research, I sometimes dive into Shakespeare for a phrase or quote or my foreign language dictionaries for a forgotten word.

    I think my biggest and best source of info is people. eg My daughter has a law degree and works in the finance industry and can answer questions or ask people she knows more specific details about those worlds. My next door neighbour is a fireman. I know quite a few artists and a friend owns horses. I’ve asked them all for help on occasion when writing my rural romantic suspenses.

    The RWAustralia online groups are terrific sources of info about almost anything. I’ve asked about medical issues, stab wounds, dogs, rural emergency services, rural policing, roads, flowering trees and been inundated with responses. People love talking about what they know.

    I asked my local chemist what would be a good way to make someone throw up violently without actually killing them. I wanted something the baddie could put in my heroine’s food. He’s a lovely, mild, shy sort of bloke and he was quite taken aback. He said, ‘We don’t usually do that, we try to stop people being ill.’ His assistant, however, got right into it and was extremely helpful.

  5. Besides Google, my husband is my go-to for technology and science questions. We both studied sciences, but while I am now writing, he still works in applied science and can usually send me a link to an article or post which might answer my question. We share an office so if I bring him a cup of coffee I have an excuse to interrupt him and ask a question. My husband supplied to scientific solution to the HOUNDS OF THE UNDERWORLD plot, for example. But for more detailed responses, there is no better resource than an expert in the field and I recommend reaching out to people with knowledge and asking for help. I’ve always found people to be really helpful – as Elisabeth says, people love to share what they know. I have a New Zealand Defence Force weapons advisor who checks all the weapons information in my Taine McKenna series of Military thrillers, and I consult with Māori elders and readers to ensure I am relating local lore correctly. I also make extensive use the library and New Zealand’s online resource Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. And for a range of contemporary views on an issue just put up something controversial on social media. Ask how many people like Brussel sprouts, for example, and watch the responses roll in!

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