Inner critic got involved before I started this story. There was a place where it did have a job, which was scheduling. I’m finishing up an all-day weekend class on the Annual Review, so I knew ahead of time I would lose that as writing time.
So inner critic thought the story should be kept simple, another sword and sorcery with the same characters, had an idea for one (marsh monster).
Muse went “Nope. I’m bored. Mystery.”
I panicked a little with the idea of a mystery. I love reading mysteries, it was the first type of story I ever wrote. But after Desert Storm, dark places moved into me and my stories for many years. I pushed those out, but now when I think about writing about a murder, I get an immediate reaction to showing that violence.
But mystery it was, and I jumped into the deep end of an off-screen murder. The story was part of my Al Travers’ series, set in 1940s Hollywood. It was called “Last Gamble,” weighing in at 3,600 words.
Inspiration: Rainy night in Los Angeles.
Until 2018, I never thought I would be able to do a historical mystery like the book that spawned this character, Golden Lies. Every blog around talks about spending a year researching in laborious detail, documenting sources, checking everything three times…
Ugh! Even inner critic wanted nothing to do with that.
I took a class on researching for fiction. The main focus was on making sure the story “feels right.” I read a historical mystery last year, set in the same era, where the writer’s nod to making it historical was to have the character wear a fedora. I could do better than that.
For the Al Travers’ book, I started with what I already knew:
1. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s. I reasoned out that I could probably talk 1940s about the city with on the spot research. Most of its huge change came after those years.
2. I grew up living and breathing Hollywood. I had a favorite actor and I researched every book I could find to see if he was in it. I discovered that reading about films and TV was pretty interesting. So my childhood non-fiction reading was books like Making a Monster and how movies were made. As an adult, I read Robert Wagner’s three books on Hollywood. He’s a fanboy of Hollywood and the books were a lot of fun.
What I already had:
1. The Catherine Mayfield series is set in the same era, so I had a small stockpile of research materials that I could hit for quick review. I’ve been building a curated Evernote file of information I can refer back to or use for inspiration.
The research itself:
1. During the first scene, I bounced back to Golden Lies to pick up some main character facts for the story (type of hat he wears. I did not want to follow the standard of him wearing a fedora).
2. I also dropped into Evernote for the colors women wore. Since I’d already visited this page more than once, I’d already bolded the sections on colors, patterns, and materials. So it only took a minute to find that. In this case, a search for “1940s” got me back to what I needed. If you want to do historical, visit that site for all the wonderful articles on fashion.
3. As I worked out the second scene, I visited sites on Griffith Park. This was where most of the heavy-lifting on the setting was going to be. First up was to see what mountains were around it. This was something I never would have known as a kid, so an on the spot check to find the answer. Little things like major landmarks can add instant recognition to the setting. For this, I didn’t add the articles to Evernote. They just contained basic information and nothing that stood out for future use.
I thought about putting the scene near the Griffith Park Tunnel (which you’ve seen in many TV shows and films), but I couldn’t pin down when it was built. I probably could have if I spent a lot more time hunting for it, but it wasn’t worth the effort. I adjusted my thinking of the setting instead. Using my knowledge of the area, I made a landmark of a rockslide. Then some research on the plants and animals and the Hollywood sign (I needed the name of the mountain it was on). For the animals, I settled on personal experience with one of the five senses: A skunk.
4. Back for another round of on the spot research for clothes again, this time the colors for men’s dress shirts. Sure, I could have put white in there, but I wanted to make a little effort being different. That was also in Evernote. This round, I bolded the section on the shirt colors so I could reuse it later.
5. Last on the spot research for a scene near the end. I went back to the article on women’s clothing for another woman character. But I wanted to do to pick up the sense of smell again, so I checked out 1940s perfume.
I probably didn’t spend more than 30 minutes of research. I saved time because I stored some of the common information I use in Evernote, so I didn’t have to search for it again.