by P.D. Martin
This is my first Murderati blog and I’m really excited to be part of the gang – some great authors here!
You’ll see from my ‘tag’ that I’m “The Aussie”; however, while I am an Aussie my books are actually set in the US. But more about that later. Given it’s my intro into Murderati I thought I better actually introduce myself 🙂 before I dive into the main part of my blog, which looks at writing what you know.
I grew up with a love of books, and was particularly drawn to fantasy and whodunits. I graduated from Nancy Drew and Famous Five (remember them?) to Agatha Christie at the tender age of eight and in grade five I wrote my first crime novella.
From there I went on a bit of a detour into maths and science, which led me to psychology at university. At this time I was also singing (yes, something totally different again), and through singing and songwriting I rediscovered my love of writing. But it was not an easy road!
After writing three unpublished young adult novels, I decided to try my hand at my other early love, crime fiction. The result was Body Count, my first published novel. Now I have written five novels featuring Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson and one ebook novella.
So, now that you know a bit more about the newest addition to Murderati, I thought I’d focus on something I didn’t do when starting my crime fiction series…
There’s an old adage that’s often talked about when you start writing: Write what you know. It’s great advice, however, things don’t always go to plan!
Body Count is based on a dream (well, really nightmare) I had many years ago. In that dream, I was investigating the deaths of some friends. I was me, but I was also some kind of law enforcement officer. When I decided to turn the nightmare into a book, the first decision I had to make was about my protagonist. Would she be a cop? Crime-scene tech? What I was really interested in was criminal psychology; and so I decided to follow my gut and make my heroine a profiler.
My next step was research, which revealed that profiling wasn’t used nearly as much here in Australia as it is in other countries. It also seemed that the FBI was leading the way when it came to using profiling as a law enforcement tool.
So, now I had an FBI profiler (and ex-cop), but I’ve never been a cop or a profiler. My only link to this world was that I studied psychology and criminology at university. And to top it off, I was setting my book in the US, but I live in Australia.
So much for write what you know! At least my main character is an Aussie!
In many instances research can bridge the gap, including talking to people who are working in the field. It’s an invaluable step when you’re NOT “writing what you know”. The location can be tricky too, even with the wonders of Google Earth and Google’s street view. While these are amazing tools, it’s not the same as actually being there.
I’ve been to America several times, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to visit every location I’ve written about. Body Count was set mostly in Washington DC and Quantico, with a few scenes in Arizona. I managed to get to both DC and Quantico, but not Arizona.
The directions feature of Google Maps is also a great way to add in a sense of place – you can talk about your characters driving down particular streets and highways. Of course, the risk is that while Google Maps says to take certain roads from point A to point B, the locals might say something like: “You’d never take the I-10 at that time of day. Are you crazy?”
Google’s features are certainly fantastic tools for novelists setting their books overseas, and it also helps that I’ve got a few friends who’ve married Americans. So when I need to check an expression or a suburb in LA that ‘fits’ with my character, I’ve got people to call on.
I love visiting the States, and during my last trip I had great fun scouting out different locations for abductions, body dump sites, etc. That trip was to L.A., where my third, fourth and fifth books are set. And I also took extensive photos and video footage of one of my locations for book 5, Kiss of Death. I even posted some of the pics and video footage on my website for readers, as part of my ‘case file’ for Kiss of Death. One of the videos is below – it shows where my victim was attacked and the trail she would have been running down. Please excuse my commentary!
So, while there are disadvantages of NOT “writing what you know” I think it’s still possible to make it work. And on the plus side for me, any time I visit the US it’s tax-deductible!