You’re Who? You Want to Do What?


150 Welcome the author of THE PAST CAME HUNTING and DEADLY RECALL to our ride today!  Here’s  Donnell Ann Bell

One meets the most interesting people when writing romantic suspense and mysteries. Like it or not, writers are forced to leave Google every once in a while, walk out the door or pick up the phone to do research. There’s many a raised eyebrow and snicker aimed at writers who perpetrate their fictional situations and crime scenes. And I’m certainly no different.

My plot is elaborate—and complicated.  I’ve devised a devious way for a hit man to frame my heroine.  She’s a furniture maker and in her shop, she has a wood press.  And in her back yard, there conveniently stands a peach tree.  I want the killer to pick a peach, remove the peach pits and pulverize said peach pits in the wood press.  Then, of course, I want my hit man to poison heroine’s husband, effectively framing my protagonist for murder. But in case he doesn’t have time to smash several peach pits to smithereens, he probably should have some actual arsenic on his person.  How to get it?

I ever so politely contact my pharmacist to ask about arsenic, and learn it’s a controlled substance?  That’s certainly not helping my plot any.

Darned pharmacist and his controlled substance. 

I’m committed, however, and unstoppable. I contact my neighbor who works in a Cripple Creek silver mine. One of the side effects of mining silver is … voila … Arsenic. That’s how I’ll get my hands on the poison! Neighbor listens politely, then says, “Sorry, Donnell, EPA regs make us account for every ounce of arsenic that’s produced.”

Seriously? Are the writing gods out to get me?

Very sure this plot is going to launch my career, I call up my county sheriff’s office and arrange an appointment. I sit down with a sergeant and a lieutenant, stutter around my plot, all the while the lieutenant’s eyes are narrowing, he’s tapping his pencil and memorizing my name and address. “Where does your story take place?” he asks.

“El Paso,” I reply.

He scratches his chin and looks to the sergeant—again with that raised eyebrow thing. “Well, why don’t you have your hit man go across the border into Mexico where he can buy the arsenic without any problem?”

I blush to my hairline. “Or I could do that,” I reply.

It may sound glamorous to the non-writers out there when we authors interview professionals, but as you can see, for me it’s been an intensely humbling process. I mean, Google’s amazing and convenient, but the information is often skewed, outdated and all over the place. I want my research as accurate as possible.

I’ll leave you with one final anecdote on what one writer (ahem, yours truly) has had to go through.

Stalled on another story, I pick up the phone and place a call to the coroner’s office. When a woman answers, the confident, professional voice I’ve practiced comes out nothing short of a croak and a squeak. “Hello. . .” I say. “I’m this writer, and I’m working on a mystery… and I wonder if you could tell me what kind of rigor a body will be in, say . . . twelve hours.”

You’re who?” she booms. “You want to do what?”

Luckily this booming woman is entirely generous, and today my very good friend. She’s spoken to numerous writing groups at my begging, we wrote a mock coroner’s inquest together, which was so much fun, and often we find ourselves alone in restaurants when people either move far away from us or we find it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the lunch hour well over.

Here’s one of my writers’ groups, Sisters in Crime, acting out our mock inquest.

Here’s our Mock Inquest cast.
Our jury debates the cause of death.
And here I am, dusting off my long-retired stenograph machine, taking down hysterical testimony.

To get over my discomfort in asking the professionals for advice, I’ve volunteered, taken citizens academies, and finally joined Crimescenewriters, a Yahoo group started by retired veteran police officer Wally Lind, and now in its tenth year! Numerous experts are on Crimescenewriters, and this is a fantastic, giving group.

Take it from one who learned the hard way―If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Sure beats having someone say, You’re who? You want to do what?”

Deadly Recall - screen

Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist.  Her debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high as #6 on the paid overall list and finaling in 2012 Gayle Wilson Award for Excellence, RWA’s® Greater Detroit Bookseller’s Best, and the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Deadly Recall, also brought to you by Bell Bridge Books, is her second published novel.


About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in Bell Bridge Books, mystery, poison, inquest, Sisters In Crime, research, Suspense. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to You’re Who? You Want to Do What?

  1. Liz Flaherty says:

    LOL. I loved your post!

  2. bellwriter says:

    Ha ha! Liz, thank you. Please tell me I’m not the only one this has happened to. Happy Wednesday.

  3. Good morning, Donnell!
    Ah, so many funny research moments, hard to choose one. Okay, one of my first gun experiences, back in North Dakota. I went to a shop in Mandan, where the welcome sign reads, “Where the West begins.” I explained my mission. I wasn’t there to buy a handgun. I just wanted to choose one for a fictional character, find out how it worked, hold it in my hands. The young salesman was ready, willing and able to instruct me. I did fine until I said, “What about a silencer?” I think I made his day. He chuckled, muttered something funny to some bystander, finally said, “Watch TV much?”

    • bellwriter says:

      LOL, Kathleen, so are you humble like me? No offense, but I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has had these experiences. Thanks for having me today 😉

  4. Kathleen O says:

    I for one love how you go about getting your insight for your books… Great post, I really enjoyed it. I love crime shows and books where I know that some of the detail are authentic. Makes it more believeable…

  5. bellwriter says:

    Thank you, Kathleen! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Sure was fun writing it! Happy Wednesday.

  6. loisgreiman says:

    Welcome Donnell.
    I remember years ago when I was researching raccoons. I called the DNA to ask what I would feed a baby raccoon if I found one. The gentleman on the other end of the line was quick to tell me that it is illegal in the state of Minnesota to keep raccoons. I assured him I was not. It was all fictional. Although the conversation was slow and stilted and punctuated with ten more reminders that I could NOT have a raccoon, I finally got my info. But I’m pretty sure he’s absolutely certain to this day that bI’m keeping a wild coon in my dresser drawer.

    • bellwriter says:

      Lois, oh boy, Trust me, I’ve had those conversations. Especially from government agencies. Maybe they don’t read? 🙂 That’s why I preface every phone call with… “Hello… I’m this… writer. 🙂 By the way. It’s illegal to keep racoons:)))) Thank you for sharing your experience and letting me know I’m not alone! Happy Wednesday.

  7. One of my favorite efforts at research was riding with a rodeo contractor, and having access to all of the backlot action at a rodeo. Those bull riders looked so young,small and wiry–and so vulnerable! It was interesting to see the clowns getting dressed, doing makeup and setting up the little explosive charges in their baggy pants for one of their routines. I was surprised to see the bucking stock–horses and bulls (with those big horns)–all in the same corral. When I expressed concern for the horses, the contractor laughed and said the bulls were all extremely wary of the horses–especially the big ole boss mares, who had much greater range with their teeth and back hooves than the bulls had with their horns.

  8. Lois Winston says:

    Great post, Donnell! Back when I wrote LOST IN MANHATTAN (written under my Emma Carlyle pen name), I needed information about bomb making. A Google search brought me to The Anarchist’s Cookbook. I wound up having a lengthy email discussion with the author. He even sent me diagrams of how my killer could make the bomb I had envisioned. Luckily, this was prior to 9/11. Nowadays such research can get you in trouble with the feds.

    • bellwriter says:

      Hi, Lois! What a cool research story. Yikes, I think I might be nervous talking to that author. Yes, things have definitely changed since 9/11. In book three that I’ve written for Bell Bridge Books, I research C4 explosives. Because I’m slow and couldn’t understand Google once again, I met with a retired colonel, one of the great benefits of living in Colorado Springs, a military city. Anyway, soon after I visited my daughter in Seattle, and didn’t think much when the TSA pulled me aside during a luggage check and called, “Random.” But when I was traveling “back” from Seattle and the TSA pulled me aside again and called, “Random” I sure did. Yikes! 😉 Happy Wednesday, Lois.

  9. Jerrie Alexander says:

    Great post, Donnell. Congratulations on the new release! I have to confess to being dumb enough to type a letter listing all my questions and mailing it it the FBI. (Okay, this was a while back, but oh so true) Can you imagine my surprise when my phone rang and on the other end of the line was a Federal Agent! I just knew he was going to tell me not to write about them. I was wrong. He answered all my questions and gave me his phone number. He said the FBI loved it when stories were written about them, and they really loved it when the facts were correct.

    • bellwriter says:

      Wow, Jerrie, thanks for the tip. I imagine a lot of writers reading this are taking notes. Thanks for the congrats. Happy Wednesday!

  10. I thought I was the only one whose voice cracks when I call an expert on the phone. Doesn’t do much to add to my credibility as a professional!

  11. Britt says:

    I love it! I am so glad you do research. I think of it like a field trip. Awesome job, Donnell. Keep doing research. It proves to work well for your books. 🙂 Plus, we love to hear your stories.

  12. bellwriter says:

    Thanks, Britt: I like that … field trip… sounds better than research, doesn’t it. Thanks for the confidence boost! Happy Wednesday.

  13. marsharwest says:

    Great post, Donnell. Wow. Research. I hate doing it. I hate more to place phone calls, I’d never do what Jerrie did. But I did go spend the 8 hours to get a Concealed Carry Permit. It was a little surreal. I’m pretty much a don’t do guns person. But I had a character who was about to shoot the person attacking her and I was clueless. Still to this day when I go in to practice shooting the gun ( I have great neighbors who let me go with them), I feel like I’ve stepped onto another planet.

  14. bellwriter says:

    Hi, Marsha! I did the same thing you did. I’m a tactile, visual learner. I took the class but down own a gun. My husband hunts, so I’ll leave that stuff to him. Thanks for stopping by to share research with me.

  15. bellwriter says:

    Thanks, Kathleen and Riding with the Top Down ladies for having me!

  16. Linda Lovely says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Writers Police Academy. Taught by law enforcement professionals from almost every discipline, it offered an awesome opportunity to learn about everything from gangs and the life of an undercover cop to felony car chases and autoerotic deaths versus suicides. I’m going back. Have also had great success asking questions on Crimescenewriters, and picking up the phone to call everyone from golf maintenance superintendents (what piece of machinery would you choose to kill someone?) to my family doctor (how long would it take someone with allergies to die if imobilized on a fire ant hill?). Great post, Donnell.

    • bellwriter says:

      Linda, I am going to try like heck to get to the Writers Police Academy this year. Talk about the perfect place to do research! Thanks for stopping by and the reminder!

  17. hopeclark says:

    Love the Mexico answer to your dilemma! Yep, cops know a lot. Being married to a federal agent, he comes in mighty handy, though he often has trouble understanding how real people would ever get themselves in the messes I write. Rolls his eyes even! LOL Don’t you love what we do?

  18. Deb Stover says:

    I know from experience how meticulously researched Donnell’s books are. She will leave no room for errors in her work, and I applaud her for that. I remember when she came to visit me after surgery–bringing a casserole along for my family. She walked onto my deck and asked, “You have bees?” I knew then she would go home to research why I have bees and she didn’t. I’m still waiting for the answer. 🙂 She rocks, and her books are absolutely riveting. Don’t miss a single one.

    • bellwriter says:

      Hmmm, this will be a double reply first to Hope because WordPress won’t let me reply to her: Oh, Hope! You’re married to a federal agent? Get my guest room ready 🙂 Kidding. of course. That eye roll thing again. … What seems like a no-brainer is really troubling for authors. They want to get it right. I know you do, Hope, thanks for commenting!

      Deb, wow, you have such an excellent memory. And, yes, the bees were/are very troubling. It signaled to me that you were doing something right –maybe no pesticides, etc. I believe that everything is connected and one part of our ecosystem disappears, there goes the rest of it. You’re always so supportive and I thank you! 🙂

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