Monday, February 27, 2012

The Happiest Place On Earth

I'm at the happiest place on earth.  It is raining.   Know what?  It doesn't matter.

Sleuthfest kicks off in a couple of days in Orlando and I will be surrounded by like-minded individuals all looking to improve their craft and enjoy the company of fellow writers. The conference is hosted by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.   Charlaine Harris, Jeffery Deaver, and Chris Gabenstein are keynotes and a whole slew of presentations are slated starting Thursday.  

The benefits of a conference extend far beyond the actual agenda.  An author's job requires hours upon hours of solitary effort.  It's nice to chat with others who toil in the same isolation.  I look forward to catching up with friends I've met at prior conferences and to meeting new people here.

So, that's where I'll be this week. Well, that and Epcot--the second happiest place on earth.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fatal Errors

Most of the best crime writers have never worked in law enforcement.  What sets them apart from less skilled authors is the research they conduct and their ability to take that information and form believable characters and scenes.  Every profession is nuanced and it is often a seemingly offhand detail that brings fiction to life. Get one or more of those details wrong and your credibility as an author suffers.

Occasionally, I come across such an egregious error that it pops me out of the story altogether.

I recently encountered a novel whose hero had been recruited by the FBI straight out of high school.  Had the author merely googled "FBI job requirements" she would have been directed to the FBI home page and discovered that all agents must be at least 23 years old and possess a 4 year degree from an accredited college or university.

This same protagonist drew his knife instead of his gun when confronted by deadly force--definitely not a game plan endorsed by the FBI.   Another law enforcement officer sighted a person for a violation instead of citing him.

Authors of crime fiction tend to be a savvy lot, and their readers are even more so.  Most of the reviews of the story were scathing.  One reviewer opined that the hero should reconsider his career choice based on his stupid choices.  Another reviewer said he uploaded the book for free and still felt ripped off.  These are not the kind of comments any author wants to read.

Gaffs like these are easy to avoid.  All it takes is a little time and effort.

If you are setting your story in a real location, google the department that has jurisdiction.  If the setting is fictional, determine the level of law enforcement you want to portray then google similar real departments.  Municipal law enforcement and Federal agencies vary greatly in types of investigations and jurisdictional constraints.

Don't be afraid to contact the agency.  Most departments have someone who deals specifically with public outreach or the media.  If possible, speak to the officer in person.  Be prepared with several specific questions in order to use the officer's time appropriately.

Books and internet sites are great for static information, but try to get hands-on experience if you can.  Many departments offer Citizens' Police Academies.  Mystery writers' conferences may have field trips.

Don't give up.  The information is out there and a few snippets can go a long way in increasing the believability of your story.