How Much Research Really Goes into My Fiction

Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers. The Tulip Shirt Murders is her second novel in her Delanie Fitzgerald series.

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.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan College and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.

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Thank you so much for letting me visit and talk about my sleuth Delanie Fitzgerald from Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Fiction is made up, right? Surprisingly, I do quite a bit of research for my traditional and cozy novels and short stories. I want the story to be plausible and as accurate as possible. Readers do notice when writers don’t get it quite right.

I grew up as a “C.K.” (Cop’s Kid). Handcuffs, night vision scopes, and squawk radios were just a part of my childhood. My dad was the SWAT commander in the 1970s, and they needed practice bullets. I sacrificed a ton of crayons for practice ammunition. What other elementary school kid knew how to melt crayons and fill shell casings? I learned how to use a night scope by playing with his on summer nights in the backyard. It was fun to watch the neighbor’s dog illuminated all in green. And if you’ve ever gotten a whiff of a police car, you’ll never forget the smell. They can be clean, but they always have that distinctive scent. I was in my twenties before I realized that not everyone talked about crime and murder at the dinner table. Little did I know that all that experience would be invaluable later in my mystery writing life.

My dad, now a retired police captain, is my best law enforcement resource. I’m always asking him things like, “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like” or “how long will a body stay submerged if it is dumped under water?” And he is always willing to share tidbits from weird cases or stupid criminal stories. I think believability is key to mystery writing.

I also use a variety of blogs in my research, such as Fiona Quinn’s ThrillWriting. Her goal is to help writers write it right. She has a variety of posts on arms, tying knots, and search and rescue. And she’s always willing to share research and try things. Someone asked her once if it was possible to break a car headlight with a stiletto, so she tried it and blogged about her results.

My writers’ groups are also a great resource. The Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter hosts a variety of programs for our authors. We bring in all kinds of professionals, such as law enforcement, criminal psychologists, and K-9 trainers to talk to our writers about what they do. Recently, we have had presentations by a CSX railroad investigator, a tour of a local hospital’s forensic unit, an Alcohol Beverage and Control Board investigator, and a Conservation Officer. These are amazing contacts, and our guest speakers have been wonderful about answering our questions. I landed a lot of ideas for my PI series when we had a female private investigator talk to the group about her job and experiences.

My sassy private investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald, gets herself into all kinds of adventures. For my second novel, The Tulip Shirt Murders, Delanie gets involved with larping and roller derby. I had to do a lot of research on live-action role playing (larping) and roller derby gals to make sure my descriptions were accurate. My sleuth also lives in a Sears Catalog home, the Yates model from 1939. I did a lot of research on these for Secret Lives and Private Eyes. Beginning in the early 1900s, people were able to order homes from the Sears Catalog, and the parts were delivered by rail. These had to be assembled on the owners’ lots. Some of these homes still exist still in Virginia, and many of the boards and parts still show the parts numbers. In the first book, Delanie also attends her first ComiCon and investigates a theft at an art museum. I did interviews and online research to get my background information on her activities.

Google Maps is one of my favorite online tools for research. I can find locations where my character visits. The street view is invaluable for giving me ideas about setting and location. Since my character is a PI, I sometimes have to find locations where she can conduct a stakeout without drawing too much attention to herself. With this online tool, I can see surroundings and lots of good places to hide a body or a crime.

Research and in my case, past childhood experiences, are key for fiction writers. I tend to do quite a bit for each of my novels and short stories because I want to make sure the details are right for my readers.

Synopsis for The Tulip Shirt Murders

Private investigator Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in The Tulip Shirt Murders. When a local music producer hires the duo to find out who is bootlegging his artists’ CDs, Delanie uncovers more than just copyright thieves. And if chasing bootleggers isn’t bad enough, local strip club owner and resident sleaze, Chaz Smith, pops back into Delanie’s life with more requests. The police have their man in a gruesome murder, but the loud-mouthed strip club owner thinks there is more to the open and shut case. Delanie and Duncan link a series of killings with no common threads. And they must put the rest of the missing pieces together before someone else is murdered.

The Tulip Shirt Murders is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations such as larping and trading elbow jabs with roller derby queens.

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7 thoughts on “How Much Research Really Goes into My Fiction

  1. I know research is important, but sometimes the researcher still gets it wrong. My business is an epitome of that. I’ve read quite a few books about travel agents and tour escorts of sorts and they are all lawsuits waiting to happen. What it takes to do that job has nothing to do with destinations.


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