Monday, June 6, 2016

Research: But I Don't Know Any Reporters!

Last time I gave a review of Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton. This post will be the first of what I expect to be many postings on research I've needed to do to successfully write my first murder mystery.

As I've posted previously, one of the major characters I plan to use is a crime reporter for The Denver Post. This was a challenge because I've never been a reporter, haven't taken any journalism classes, and didn't know any reporters personally. With this lack, how could I write credibly about my reporter?

Research, helped by a bit of luck.

In April, I attended an author networking function at the studios of KRMA, Denver's Channel 6, one of two PBS stations in town. My principal reason for attending was to further promote my website of Colorado authors and their books, I made the rounds of the booths at the event, which included author and publisher organizations and service providers. I handed out pens with the website URL printed on them at just about every booth and let them know I was providing a free service helpful to their members or clients.

At the booth for the Denver Women's Press Club, one of the event sponsors, I spoke to the president of the club. I mentioned in passing my challenge with writing credibly about a crime reporter for The Denver Post. Well, right there she flipped open the member directory and found an entry for former Post reporter Valerie Mass.

I emailed Ms. Mass with two of my broad questions about the character. One question was about how a reporter would handle receiving an anonymous email making a claim that the writer observed person A kill person B, where A is a current election candidate. The other question was about how a reporter would learn about someone who went to the police to make a subsequently unsubstantiated confession that she shot someone. A few days later, Mass wrote back to me.

It turned out that years ago Mass had been a crime reporter for the Post. She corrected some of my misassumptions, such as that a reporter would immediately let the police know about the email. Since I had said there was no immediate proof that B was dead or even missing, she pointed out two things: First was that since the claim was unsubstantiated, it was premature to go to the police or write about the accusation. Second was that revealing the message to the police would make the information available to other news outlets, not something a reporter hoping for an exclusive would do.

As for the other question, Mass told me that reporters sometimes get chummy with the police and might learn about things from off-hand remarks made over drinks at a local bar.

Mass also recommended that I watch the movie Spotlight. She claimed the movie gave an accurate portrayal of investigative reporting by a major newspaper (in this case, the Boston Globe). I immediately set about acquiring a DVD of the movie. Valerie Mass has earned a spot in the acknowledgments of my book.

Another lead came from crime fiction author M.L. Grider (whose debut thriller, Bitter Vintage, my company, Thursday Night Press, is publishing). Grider told me about L.A. crime reporter turned award-winning mystery writer Michael Connelly. I researched Connelly and discovered that in his 1996 novel The Poet, the sleuth is a crime reporter for the now-defunct in print Rocky Mountain News. I decided I wanted to see how a former crime reporter portrayed the activities of a crime reporter as he investigates a suspicious suicide. I am currently reading The Poet before I continue writing my mystery.

What I learned so far from this round of research was the value of trade organizations, author networking events, and reading within your intended genre.

That's it for this post. May you find it useful if you are writing your first murder mystery.

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