Thursday, July 18, 2013
Research for The Zealot
As we continue with our journey through the making of The Zealot, last time I covered the very beginning, the idea itself for the novel. Today I’ll cover the research for the story and something simple, like the character’s names.
As a cab driver, you meet a lot of people. You tend to see the same people over and over. When I had settled on the idea of actually doing this novel, and I had the basic story in my head, I knew I had to learn as much as I could about certain things. I needed serious help. My story involved murder and drugs and corruption. This meant I needed to talk to people in homicide, narcotics, the crime lab, the newspaper, forensics, or otherwise known around here as autopsy, the coroner’s office, and the regular police for procedures around homicide scenes, etc.
Everything began with one person who worked within the prosecutor’s office. I had been taking her to work every once in a while for quite some time. One day I told her what I was doing and she jumped all over it. She asked how she could help. She arranged a meeting with one of the assistant prosecutors, set up a ride-along with an officer for me, and set up a meeting with the crime lab. From there, everything fed on itself. The assistant prosecutor set me up with homicide. The crime lab got me in to see the folks in the coroner’s office, and therefore autopsy. I have a personal friend of mine who is an undercover narcotics officer. The last piece of the puzzle became the newspaper. I wanted to find out how a reporter’s job worked. I didn’t know anyone, so it finally came down to calling the reporter who covered the type of news I was interested in for my character.
Once I started talking to everyone, I couldn’t believe how open everyone became. Even homicide, headed at that time by Captain Robert Snow, was eager to help me with my project. Captain Snow had authored at least five books of his own, all non-fiction, so he understood how important this was to me. He, along with all the others, was very patient with all my questions.
Generally my process with them became the same. I would hit them with general procedural questions based on my idea of how the story would possibly go. Then I would begin my writing process. I stayed in touch with my contacts as I wrote. I would contact them from time to time, with various “what if” scenarios to make the science or police procedures as realistic as possible.
I doubt, up to this point, I did anything out of the ordinary. I will not go into detail, but at that time of my life I was far from normal. I have mentioned a chronic pain problem. It affected my personality greatly. It made me take chances. During the research phase of the novel, like a moron, I traveled into the neighborhood of Haughville at night and talked to drug dealers, confronted them, one-on-one. I told them what I was doing and what I wanted. In a couple cases, they really didn’t want to help. I wanted to find out how they operated. I confronted them because I didn’t care for my own safety. It was a different time for me. What a dumbass. I put myself in a great deal of danger. I came out unscathed, and I got most of what I was after, but it could have gone so much worse.
So, let’s talk characters. I need names. You need names. What name do we come up with for who? I’m sitting in my little home office one day, in front of the computer, with a legal pad. I have a list down one side, saying something like, Detective 1, Detective 2, Female reporter, etc. I need names for all these people, and since I don’t outline and I only have the beginning of the story in my head and sort of the rest of the story in my head, there may be several more characters I will add. First names are easy, right? I used relatives and friends right away. One of the detective’s first names is the name of our only grandson. On I go. Last names are tougher. I look at the spines of books and things lying on the desk, writing down what I see as last names. There is a company I used to deal with that has a name of Lange. Great last name for a person. Hey, this is fun! Soon I have it done and wishing I have more characters. How did you do it?
Next time’s subject will be the writing process. When did I write and how much?