Friday, September 17, 2010

author guest post: kate brady

For her guest post, I asked author Kate Brady (who is a music teacher in addition to an author) what research went into creating FBI agent Neil Sheridan.

I am a musician, teacher, mom, wife. I’ll be the first to admit that I have never had any first-hand experience either knowing killers or catching them. (And, just for the record, I hope to keep it that way.) Neither do I have any background in law enforcement.

Yes, I have a friend who’s a cop and he answers a procedural question for me now and then. Yes, I occasionally attend workshops or clinics designed for authors who write crime novels. Yes, I sometimes watch one of those reality-TV shows about solving crimes.

But mostly, I just read. I read and read and read. I’m fascinated by good guys chasing bad guys. Cops, detectives, sheriffs, FBI agents. I love them all.

From mostly reading, I’ve learned a little—and little is the key word there—about how police might go about catching a criminal. But once I learned the basics, the bad news came to light: Most police work is pretty boring, at least from a reader’s standpoint. Investigators spend hours and hours sifting through files, interviewing people who know nothing, tapping other law enforcement agencies, staring at computers, driving from one place to another only to find nothing. Rarely—rarely, I say—do they get involved in high-speed chases and shoot-outs and even more rarely do they fall in love in the course of an investigation and take a moment here and there to have wild, passionate sex. The truth is, if I wrote a story that was utterly realistic about cop work, no one would read past the first page. Same goes with crimes and criminals, by the way: Most aren’t very colorful.

So along the way, I’ve had to allow myself the freedom to admit that this is fiction. For the sake of an exciting read, I allow myself to write with acknowledged inaccuracies in police procedure and with extreme characters for criminals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent hours or days trying to make the actions in a story completely accurate and believable, only to sit down and watch a popular TV show drama where the investigators are utterly unrealistic and the criminals are larger-than-life.

That’s when it hits me that as an audience, we still buy it. If I connect with the characters and enjoy the plot, I’ll let a cop get away with doing something unprofessional or a criminal get away with doing something unbelievable—and still love the show.

This is all to say that I think research is necessary, important, and grand. Accuracy and believability are wonderful qualities in a novel. But above all, readers of suspense want the thrill-ride of a good chase, and if I sometimes have to stretch the boundaries of reality to do it, I will. After all, I’m a musician, teacher, wife, and mom. If I only wrote stories about what I truly know, I wouldn’t have many readers!

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