Most professionals don't bite. If they do, you can have them arrested and that's more story fodder! :) So this was written to help the shy folk among us (of which I am not one....) to reach out and ask those questions. For us to "get it right", we need to make sure we're on the right page with timing, setting, career, climate, local customs and calendars. Because how something is handled here on the East Coast might be VERY different from how it's handled in Washington or Oregon or Idaho... All states I've set books in. So here is that blog post from May, 2010:
One of my standard jokes around historical authors is that I write contemporaries because no way I would ever get caught doing research. Of course that’s not true because you can usually tell a poorly researched character/setting/plot/mood/situation by its lack of affect on the whole book. I hope that’s one thing I’ll never be accused of, LOL. Others????
Well, that’s another blog post, my friends!
In this day and age poor research is pure laziness. Quote me on that. Really. I mean it. Quote me. I think we should consider t-shirts, with that as our slogan. One of ‘em, anyhow. With the advent of Internet access to almost anything and anyone, expert advice is a push of a button away…
But what about BEYOND THE INTERNET? Historical authors can blame sources for misinformation or plead lack of information, or variances of region. When you’re writing contemporaries, an expert's glimpse at your info might be one reader away. We get one chance with that doctor/nurse/computer tech/daycare provider/geologist/cop/evidence tech, etc. One chance. And if we blow it, don’t think they won’t talk. Nothing bugs people more than an author messing up their profession, so let’s examine how to get it right the first time.
When I approached a well-known agent after getting The Call from Love Inspired, I sent the opening chapter of "Winter’s End". She called me right away and asked if I was a hospice nurse. When I said no, she wondered how I’d hit it so exactly. She had gone through hospice with her mother the year before. I had no way of knowing that. I had gone through it with my mom twelve years before, but twelve years is a long time... and a lot can change in that length of time.
Enter Kathy Kennel, VNS, Rochester and Monroe County. When I decided Kayla would be a hospice nurse, I snail-mailed the VNS. I was unpublished but not afraid to laud my contest wins/places and whatever else I needed to grab the necessary help.
I used the same technique with the Philadelphia Police Department for “Neither Race nor Creed” a contemporary romance about a police captain dealing with an inter-racial romance that would set his extended family reeling and a serial killer stalking University City. Detective John Moore of the Southwest Detective Bureau got in touch with me and acted as my expert, my advisor and a cheerleader by the time we were done. I set up a time to meet with him personally in Philly (I had two boys go to school there) and I took him fresh homemade cookies and my thanks. (This book hasn't been published as yet... it's a suspense and I felt like God was leading me away from suspense...)
I used that same method this past month to procure an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist, a doctor who is probably way too busy to meet with me, but in the interest of accuracy agreed.
The cardiologist's advice became a cornerstone for "Reunited Hearts" the first book in the "Men of Allegany County" series.
Here's a sample letter:
My name is Ruth Logan Herne and I am an award-winning local author. (remember you don't have to be published to be award-winning, darlings....)
RUTHY NOTE: Do not say that if it isn’t true… sheesh… but that first line is where I sell myself. And if you don’t have all that much to sell yet, then fake it ‘til you make it. Don’t ever be afraid to respect yourself as a professional writer regardless of your current status. The office or professional you’re approaching does not know that two judges creamed you in the Genesis or that the Lonestar asked you politely to never, ever enter again. Sell yourself.)
I am currently researching a contemporary novel that pits the expertise of an off-the-cuff suspense novelist against the wiles of a somewhat jaded but totally hot police detective.
RUTHY NOTE: Get what I’m selling here? This is where I pitch that A: I know what I’m doing, and B: My work is savvy enough to hold a person’s interest beyond 2.7 seconds.)
Part of my job as a novelist is to accurately portray the chosen professions of my protagonists. To that end I need your help, or the help of someone within your department. (Unit/building/site, whatever fits the chosen profession) I have a short list of questions…
RUTHY NOTE: it doesn’t matter if it isn’t a short list, people love to talk about themselves and their jobs, at least the ones that volunteer to do this kind of thing do, so just call it a short list for brevity’s sake, okay?
…that I need answered, and would like to be able to contact my advisor by either e-mail or phone as I complete the work. Properly representing the NYPD is very important to me.
RUTHY NOTE: And it should be, no matter how small or mundane the job. If you’re giving it credence as your H/H’s profession, then take the time to comb the incidentals, even if there’s very little of it you actually USE. The background basis in knowledge is a huge part of presenting a realistic setting for the job/position and actions and reactions involved in your setting. With the exception of Tchaikovsky, each harmonic ping of a good song adds credence and depth to the listening ear. The same is true of a well-drawn novel. Tiny snips of professional background help augment the realistic nuances of your story. Remember you’re not using this to overwhelm your story with yawn-a-minute detail.You’re researching to seamlessly weave pragmatic bits of the profession into the story so that it doesn’t feel like a twelve-year-old’s paint-by- number Christmas project.
I’ve been able to find several credible sources through Internet and personal research, but true accuracy comes straight from the source.
RUTHY NOTE: This shows that you’ve already researched the job/profession and aren’t a complete dufus. No one wants to hold your hand, but most professionals are honored to be asked to act as an advisor on a project like this. And if they say no, you move on to the next prospect.
I will be happy to note the assistance of the NYPD and my advisor in the book’s acknowledgements. Looking forward to hearing from you, I am,
Ruth Logan Herne
To keep the letter to one page and not overwhelming, I put my name, address, phone, e-mail and website in the header. That leaves me a full page to play with. That sounds obvious now, but it wasn't obvious to me when I was new.
When Joan Marlow Golan, (former Executive Editor from Love Inspired) read "Waiting Out the Storm", she asked me if we owned a sheep farm.
I don’t think I’ve ever even TOUCHED a sheep. Okay. Maybe once.
Was I a vet technician, she asked?Nope.
Then how did I know so much about sheep? About sheep farming?
The answer to that is fairly simple. I like to annoy people, (HUSH, CONNEALY) only some of them aren’t annoyed. Some actually like to have gab-fests and act as my experts. (Ruthy note: Even way back here, in 2010, Connealy was making fun of me!!! What the heck????)
I found Mary Jarvis, a helpful sheep farmer and Maremma owner/breeder from Wisconsin via the Internet and used her for certain aspects of the story. I found Nancy Wood at the Marathon, NY Maple Festival, and then she introduced me (JACKPOT!!!!) to Al Ostrander (you can see Al and Rita’s B&B HERE) who ran the STAR program (an accelerated breeding program for innovative sheep farmers that I was featuring in the story) for Cornell University, information I'm using again for a series set in the hills of Idaho.
Al took me through the sheep barns, answered questions, showed me his personal sheep farm operation and helped me make sure that my heroine would be able to handle the work I attributed to her as a woman farmer, working alone most of the time, right down to the type of fencing she'd be able to use for rotational pasturing.
Ask everyone. Don't take ‘no’ personally. Ever. If that’s one thing my sales experience taught me is that ‘no’ is just a word that means you haven’t asked the right person.
Ask and ye shall receive. Eventually.
Knock and the door will be opened.
Remember, most people are honored to be asked. Those that aren’t are probably not the best advisors anyway. It’s better for both of you for you to look elsewhere.
Strong stories begin with characters who go more than skin-deep and a strong reflection of their profession and their professional setting as needed.
Getting it right the first time saves a whole lot of hassle later on!
We're closed for comments today, so everyone can catch up on their writing, but.... I'm so happy to show you what JUST RELEASED from Love Inspired:
On sale across the country, and featured at Walmart for $3.88!!! What a great deal that is!
And then we've got books 1 and 2 of the Double S Ranch on shelves across the country, too!!! Sharing space with "Their Surprise Daddy"! It's a Ruthy-party at Walmart and Winco and Krogers and wherever paperbacks are sold!
Back in the Saddle & Home on the Range are on shelves nationwide!
I am over the moon...
I'm on the shelf next to TOM CLANCY! :) And next to myself!
Oh be still my heart!
Enjoy your writing today... and every day! God bless you, my friends!
Inspirational author Ruthy Logan Herne is living her dream of writing sweet books that make people laugh... and cry. She lives on a small farm in upstate NY with lots of cute kids running in and out, dusty shelves and more than one cluttered counter. She loves to hang out with readers and writers on facebook, she's @RuthLoganHerne on twitter and you can browse her website ruthloganherne.com or find her at www.ruthysplace.com to see what's happening....