Some years ago, I really wanted to know how to kill someone without fear of detection. No, no, I wasn’t planning a murder. I was writing an episode of Murder She Wrote. So I did the only sensible thing: I called my doctor. He couldn’t come up with a sure-fire, undetectable method right off the bat, so he called together several of his colleagues and they worked out my plot for me.
Now, I want to go on record as saying I do not recommend this method of research. Not only can it be irritating to busy professionals, but you might end up with unexpected doctor bills. Over the years, I have worked out a far more efficient—and professional—approach. I keep an in-depth address directory of professionals.
My directory goes from airline pilots to zoologists. In between are attorneys, doctors, psychologists, teachers, academicians, mathematicians, economists, politicians, ministers, policemen, missionaries, writers, artists, scientists of various stripes, and much more.
My professionals come from around the country, and around the world. For instance, I have doctors from 11 states (all regions of theU.S.are represented) and 5 countries.
Why do I want all these contacts? Well…
- I sometimes need help plugging a plotline hole. (Think Murder She Wrote)
- I may know what I want to say, but it’s far better coming from a pro—or substantiated by one
- Even when I “write about what I know about,” I can still use help pro support
- Quotes give validity to one’s writing
- People who have been there and done that know better than those who check the internet
- For obscure questions, I may need to ask various pros before I find an answer
When I ask someone for assistance, I:
- Have my question prepared ahead of time.
- Keep my question short and to the point (i.e.: How can I kill someone without it showing up as murder?)
- Do my best not to waste the expert’s time. (Not: I was going to just have her fall off the pier and drown, but that seems boring, don’t you think? And for a character like Steph, who is modeled after this real quickly girl I knew in college…really! You wouldn’t believe it, but one time I…)
- Do not offer payment, but I do send a thank you note.
Every couple of years I review my listings, check contact info, and thank people for being on my list.
Last month, when I finished a presentation on research at a writer’s conference, a forensic pathologist slipped me his card and asked to be in my bank of professionals. Murder She Wrote might be off the air, but there’s always another plot lurking around the corner.
“You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door.”
~Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887