I’ve been selected to a panel discussing research to produce better mystery novels at the Left Coast Crime conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The conference runs from March 24 to March 27. My panel will be on the last day at 10 am.
Research is important to my mysteries because I bring a historical background to the novel. The history has to be as accurate as possible to make it real for the reader with knowledge of the history.
In my case dealing with Abraham Lincoln’s tomb, I visited Lincoln’s hometown in Springfield, Illinois. I had been there before and taken some of the tours through the tomb and the historical part of Springfield, but coming to town with a book in mind, I looked at the surroundings with a different eye. I took notes on a small tape recorder as I was driving around and transcribed them when I got back to my hotel. I looked not only at the historical sites, but at the current landscape knowing that different scenes in my book would be placed around town. I didn’t know where some scenes would take place until I had spent a few days looking around.
Other locations that appear in the book, such as the town of Lincoln 35 miles to the north with its fabulous historical courthouse, appear in the book only because I stumbled upon it driving around. I was not aware of the town or its history. However, once I saw the courthouse, I knew I had to make it part of the story and did so, adding other descriptions of Lincoln, Illinois and its history in the process.
Library work also came in handy. At the Springfield Municipal Library, I found a great photograph reprinted in a 1967 newspaper of those who viewed Lincoln’s body during the 1901 reburial. It was in a file in the Sangamon Valley Collection research room. The picture not only made it into the novel as a key clue to the mystery, I carry copies of the picture with me and show it off at my talks.
Research is so important to what I do, that, in fact, it helped me solve the mystery. The resolution of a key part of the mystery in Lincoln’s Hand occurred to me after reading a book on Lincoln’s tomb that I found in my research trip to Illinois. No more about that because I don’t want to give anything away. Safe to say, research helps you create a realistic setting and can help create important plot points for your story.
For those who cannot be at the Left Coast Crime conference, I’ll report what happened on my panel and other events associated at the conference.