Recently, I was asked, "How much research do you actually do for fiction and how much of your work is true?” There’s quite a bit of research that goes into writing mysteries. I want to make sure that my stories are plausible and as accurate as possible.
I mix quite a bit of “real” in my short stories and novels. All of my settings are actual places. I tend to put my works in Virginia cities and counties because I write what I know. If a crime occurs, I make up that location's name. I wouldn't put a horrific or violent event at a real restaurant or store. But if you've been to the cities, you'll recognize landmarks, neighborhoods, and street names.
I get ideas for crimes and capers from real cases, but I usually take liberties with the details. In my short story, "Washed up," in Virginia is for Mysteries, a beat up suitcase washes up on Chick's Beach, and it's filled with some mysterious contents. Back in the ‘80s, there was a real crime where suitcases filled with body parts did appear on beaches along the East Coast. In my story, I thought it would be interesting for beachgoers to find something old and sinister in an unexpected place.
I base some of my characters on combinations of real people. I blend characteristics of several people to make an interesting fictional person. And phrases that family and friends say frequently appear in my stories. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go, and I am always jotting down names, interesting tidbits, and snippets of dialogue that might one day make their way to a story. I have two co-workers who keep asking me to make them villains. I haven't done that yet, but I do hint from time to time that unruly team members will end up in a dumpster in a future story.
I use friends and family member's names for minor characters. In Secret Lives and Private Eyes, my sleuth, Delanie Fitzgerald, gives herself all kinds of aliases in her investigations. These are usually names of friends and family. And every once in a while, you'll find police, EMTs, or FBI agents named after my favorite authors, rock stars, or actors.
I am also very fortunate to be a “CK” (Cop’s Kid). My dad, now retired, is one of my best sources of information on crime and law enforcement. He helps me make sure that the crime scenes are described as accurately as possible. I email him all the time with questions like, “Hey, Dad. What’s a meth lab smell like?” or “If a body falls overboard, what’s it likely to look like if it washes ashore four days later?” I am also very fortunate to be a part of Sisters in Crime. Our local chapter (Central Virginia) offers a variety of programs with professionals in criminology, law enforcement, and forensics. These speakers are so knowledgeable and willing to share information. I also appreciate that they answer all my weird, author questions without giving me too many funny looks.
Even though my short stories and novel are fiction, they also contain some truth and reality. And research is important, so that the work is interesting, accurate, and close to true life.
Secret Lives and Private Eyes – Heather Weidner
Secret Lives and Private Eyes is a fast-paced mystery that will appeal to readers who like a strong, female private investigator who has a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations. Business has been slow for PI, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star, Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose life was purportedly cut short in a fiery car crash still be alive? And as if sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed strip club owner, hires Delanie to uncover information on the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out the connection between the two cases before another murder – probably her own – takes place.
Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in Virginia is for Mysteries and Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II. Currently, she is President of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, and a member of Guppies and Lethal Ladies Write. Secret Lives and Private Eyes is her debut novel.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Through the years, she has been a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Visit Heather at www.heatherweidner.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Website and Blog: www.heatherweidner.com