Our guest today is April Smith, author of the bestselling FBI Special Agent Ana Grey mystery-thrillers North of Montana, Judas Horse, and White Shotgun. She also wrote and executive-produced the TV-movie adaptation of her novel, Good Morning, Killer, for TNT’s Mystery Movie Night. But the big news is that April Smith has a forthcoming book that is entirely different from her popular mysteries, as she boldly enters the world of historical fiction with a A Star for Mrs. Blake (coming this month), based on the 1930’s Gold Star Mothers pilgrimages to visit the graves of their sons in the American military cemetery in France.
April joins us to talk about the art of research in fiction writing—for A Star for Mrs. Blake she traveled to New York City, Washington, D.C., Maine, Paris, Verdun, and the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial.
A Star for Mrs. Blake is a Booklist starred review: “… A heartfelt glimpse into a little-known episode in U.S. history, the journey taken by mothers of U.S. soldiers fallen in WWI to visit their sons’ graves in Europe… Smith deftly spotlights moments along their sojourn, from the giggling fits brought on by the French delicacies they are served on board ship to the tears they shed when confronted by the stark white lines of marble stones where their sons’ remains now lie…Smith’s foray into historical fiction is captivating and enlightening.”
A Spy in Another Country: The Art of Research in Writing Fiction
Writing fiction means creating an original world that is populated with a range of people who hopefully belong in that world and no other. Their stories may emerge from your imagination, but the elements don’t come out of air. Realities arise with which your people need to be equipped if they are to be believable. If they’re cops during Katrina, they need guns. If they’re travelers in France 1931, they need to get on a train. You sit there scratching your head. What type of weapons did police carry in New Orleans in 2005? How do you describe the interior of a pre-war European passenger train? You lean back with satisfaction — Guess I’ll have to do some research! — like a free day at the beach. Research can be a stall to put off solving a problem — but sometimes you really need to know! Here are some hints to make research more engaging and effective. (So you can get back to writing, of course.)
Google Images, Google Earth and Wikipedia are phenomenal tools. They’re good for sketching out parameters, but what they give you is essentially dead data – stuff that’s been recycled and read by everyone who is on the same trail as you.
HINT: Search for primary material. Diaries, newspaper articles, family histories, and academic papers posted on the Internet provide fresh voices with personal insights.
After a point, facts are not enough. For me this comes well into the outline stage. I’ve got the major story beats and I’ve roughed out a few chapters in something approximating prose. I’ve got the shape of the thing but not the motion; not the breath. Now it’s time to go into the field.
A Foot in the Door
A great place to start is the press or public relations office — the folks whose job it is to help. [Read more…]