This week, I’m heading to Killer Nashville, a writers’ conference for people like me who write about murder and other crimes. If you’re going to be there, please consider this permission to approach. Here’s what I look like these days:
Yes, that is teal in my hair. It’s an easy way to recognize me. I’m very introvert friendly, so don’t be scared. And I’m great with pep talks or pitch practice (I started public speaking when I was 6, so, you know, credentials.) Or if you just want a safe place to sit quietly, that’s fine too. Have a seat next to me and tell me you need some silence. I’m down with that.
I’m also a major observer. So if I’m sitting somewhere and staring at you, I’m probably just analyzing you and plotting your murder. Nothing personal. Feel free to plot my murder as well. Could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I’ve been told I have an expressive face. Sometimes what I’m thinking shows up on my face.
That’s amusement on the left and mild concern on the right. Any time I had to take standardized tests in high school, I often ended up entertaining my teachers with my facial reactions to the questions. I tend to communicate a lot with my face, something my husband can attest to. That’s probably why I loved doing theatre.
I’m also a creative problem-solver, which makes me a fantastic brainstormer. So if you’ve hit a plot snag with your current manuscript and want to talk it out, feel free to ask for help. Or if you just want to play “Where Would You Hide a Body,” that’s good too. If you see me glancing around a room, studying the corners and ceiling, that’s probably what I’m doing.
So there you go, that’s me in a few snapshots. I look forward to meeting other creatively murderous minds and learning more about making a career of crafting twisty, suspenseful tales.
I’ll be honest: I’m one of those writers who usually has about a dozen tabs open while I’m writing. Not because I’m checking Facebook, but because I’m confirming details. Oh the details! I love them. I won’t even pretend I don’t. And over the years, I’ve developed a list of favorite resources. Because I’m such a nice person, I decided to share them in case they’re useful to any other writers.
Unless your work is fantasy/science fiction, you probably want your characters’ names (especially side characters) to echo their demographic details. SSA.gov is my go-to resource, providing the top 100 names for each state and birth year. A middle-aged man from Louisiana? Try Roy or Melvin. A 20-something woman from Vermont? How about Kayla or Alyssa? (Disclaimer: the site has been a bit wonky lately so if you get an error from your search, um, not my fault.)
If you’re looking for a name that has a specific meaning, names-of-baby.com allows you to search both by meaning and popularity. And when you’re looking for surnames, Behind the Name will let you browse by cultural ancestry or you can check out a list of the top 1,000 surnames in the U.S. And if you’re desperately seeking inspiration, they even have a Random Name Generator.
When I’m describing a character’s home, I like to know what’s realistic for the region and my character’s price range, and Realtor.com is a great tool for that. As a bonus, the sales listings usually have pictures. Obviously you can avoid describing a character’s home in detail, but since I’m a strongly visual person, I tend to picture every setting I write in detail, so I might as well try to make it as realistic as possible.
Another major setting detail is weather. But if you’re writing a contemporary genre and setting your book a couple years in the future, how’s a person to know? Well, by looking at the past, of course. WUnderground can tell you what the weather was like in past years in a certain month or week. And if your genre is historical, you can also view specific days. More weather data than you could ever possibly need, right at your fingertips.
This next tool probably won’t be useful to most of you, but since my last couple manuscripts have involved a beach, I’ve become enamored with the NOAA Tides & Currents information. Enter a date a couple years away (future or past), and boom—an exact time for the high tide and low tide. This helps me know whether my character will encounter a wide expanse speckled with shells or a narrow strip of sand becoming narrower by the moment.
So, I write murder/suspense, which means I need to know gory details sometimes (all the time). Like the specifics of firearm wounds. One of my favorite places to find a whole range of useful details is a British site called Explore Forensics. And going to a specific resource usually means I can avoid search the entire internet with mildly concerning terms like “how long to dismember a human body.” (Although, let’s be honest: disturbing Googling does still occur, on occasion.)
There you go, some of my favorite resources that help ensure the intricate details of my writing are realistic and accurate. Your turn. Do you have favorite resources that enhance your writing?