Gathering the Facts

Please help me welcome Carl Brookins as today’s Wednesday’s Guest as he shares how we writers gather information for our books. His favorite method happens to be my favorite method, as well. People watching. Grab a piece of coffee cake and read on. Enjoy….


cbrookins-outsideI write commercial fiction. My aim is to explain, entertain others, and enjoy myself.

Sometimes that works.

I hope that, in the bargain, my writing entertains readers. I even make a little income from my writing. Most authors of commercial fiction want to make money from their writing. I do too, but it isn’t my main focus. While this may seem a little casual, attitude-wise, make no mistake, I’m serious about my writing. I strive to make my plots logical and understandable, and I try to arrive at reasonable solutions, brought on by characters with some depth and understandable motivations. I hope that my descriptions of scenes are evocative and sometimes emotional.

I hope my readers are pleased.

To keep a plot together means an author has to have some knowledge of the subject, or she must do some research. That’s because we want the facts to be accurate. Doing research on a topic is just like being back in school. Now, some of us enjoyed going to the library or looking up subjects in home encyclopedias. We had one, although I don’t recall the name. I know a salesman came to the door in Goodwell, Oklahoma, where we lived then and persuaded my mother we needed an encyclopedia.

I think there are two kinds of research, the individual kind wherein the author figures out his or her needs and then goes off and gets it, using Internet, library and personal resources.

Then there’s random research.

This kind is sloppy, inefficient sometimes surprising and usually fun. It involves interacting with other human beings. Sometimes you can do that in a formal way, such as interviewing people with known experience or expertise. Sometimes the interaction is casual. One thing most authors are good at is observation. Wherever we are, whomever we are with, we are almost always paying attention to our surroundings, and in particular to the people around us.

We watch and listen.

We listen to vocal rhythms, the jargon, to the slang and to all the special languages that people in various professions use to express actions and needs. We authors employ our listening and memory skills almost all the time.

Here’s an example. Recently an organization in a small town in a neighboring state invited me and a fellow author to be on the program. They were raising money for the local library. How could we refuse? Plus, they were going to feed us. So we went and the crowd of people fed us delicious chili.

I discovered, quite by chance, that they lived in an area with the sweetest, most delicious and pure drinking water I’d had in a very long while. There were over 100 people in that town hall that evening, mostly what the media calls middle class. There were farmers and tradespeople, several good cooks, because the chili and the side dishes and desserts were all delicious. Men and women and youngsters.

We observed a lot of people enthusiastically helping. They had cooked and baked all day. They brought the results and served and laughed and chatted and cleaned up afterward. There was very little direction. People saw what needed doing and just did the task.

During the presentation they asked a lot of questions. The questions were thoughtful, obviously useful for more than just the questioner. The audience laughed at our bad jokes and told a couple of their own. We traded names of books and authors we were interested in.

During the other parts of the program, we sat at tables displaying our books. A gentleman came in at the back of the hall. He wore a red and black checked work shirt, dark work pants held up by suspenders. He couldn’t seem to stand upright and he walked very slowly down the aisle toward us, using his cane. When he reached us he nodded hello and asked to sit down. He didn’t look young, nor did his face seem aged. Walking was obviously an effort but he seemed to prefer it to a wheel chair.

So he sat down, carefully placed his cane between his knees and picked up one of Ellen’s books. While they talked, I observed his intricately carved cane of some kind of dark, almost black wood. It was shiny and the head was inlaid with an intricate pattern made of a silvery polished metal. It looked like silver to me. I was looking at a unique cane that likely was worth several hundred dollars.

By now, dear reader, you get my point. And you wouldn’t lose if you bet that gentleman and that cane will appear in some future story.

insidepassageBook Blurb

The Inside Passage is an adventure thriller set primarily on the waters between Campbell River, British Columbia, and Seattle, Washington. It is the story of one man’s successful effort to find justice and peace after the murder of his wife and her friend by ruthless gun runners. It offers moving descriptions of magnificent mountain scenery and the sea, storms, explosive action, murder, loss, love, and redemption.

About The Author

Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.


The Case of the Yellow Diamond

2 thoughts on “Gathering the Facts”

  1. Thanks for hosting Carl, Maryann! Carl, for most of my stories, my research has been very random. Only when I decided to write a historical novel set in central Illinois in the 1830s did I have to do serious research on the setting and the events occurring on the Illinois Frontier at that time. Quite a different experience.

    1. I love doing that kind of research as well, Patricia. I’m quite a history buff and enjoyed the research I did for my historical mystery, Boxes For Beds> Now that I am working on a story about my mother’s life, I have had to do some research about the 1920s onward. I can get lost in the research and have to make myself stop to write.

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