The details make a difference. The Authors Collection.

Soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown in San Francisco.
Soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown in San Francisco.

MY COUSIN SPENT his career in law enforcement and was impressed when he read one of my novels by the specific information I included when it came to firearms.  I described the model of a sniper rifle, why it was the choice of a former soldier who had to worry about a short-range firefight as well as long-range accuracy.  I even included the model of the telescopic scope made by a different manufacturer.  And when it came to handguns, I not only identified the manufacturer, model and caliber of the weapon, I even included the maker of the holster that a henchman used.

I include a lot of restaurants and food in my books and some readers are impressed by the degree of detail there as well.  In one book, I lovingly describe the gently sautéed prawns in a butter-and-Pastis reduction that is the highlight of lunch at a French café.  Elsewhere, I describe the smell of grilling fresh-caught anchovies and other seafood emanating from the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach.

Robert B. Lowe
Robert B. Lowe

During my first stint of mystery-thriller writing in the early 90s, I spent almost as much time wandering the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley soaking up the sights, scenes, sounds and smells as I did in the actual writing itself.  I would spend all morning at the keyboard and then head out in the afternoon for a late lunch.  I often wandered down to Chinatown to watch the cooks in the back of a dim sum café making the next batch of food or pass through a traditional pharmacy and check out the dried scorpions and assorted bits of roots, plants and animal parts on display.

But when I picked up the pen again three years ago, the world was a different place.  As I pounded out sentences on my IBM Thinkpad, the Internet was only a click away.  If I had trouble envisioning a particular eatery, I could simply find the website. Usually, I found photographs of the interior, gorgeous reproductions of the best dishes and even menus that described the ingredients.  Once I used Google Maps and found photographs taken from one of the company photo cars through a large restaurant window that was so clear I could accurately describe the details of the interior.

If I needed inspiration for an outdoor scene of the Arizona desert or the pine forests of North Carolina, I could scroll through the landscapes on a photo site, search for someone’s public photo album of a recent trip or simply find a tourism site for the region in question.  With a good visual, it isn’t hard to imagine the sounds and smells even if it’s been a decade since I was actually in a place.

It certainly is efficient, being able to describe the microscopes and brand of beakers used in a medical lab without leaving my desk or pick just the type of Beretta a gangland killer might use for that right mix of power and concealment.

Having been a reporter for more than 10 years out of college, I talked to thousands of people from various countries, regions within the U.S. and from different ethnic and economic worlds.  I was amazed at how I could still hear their voices years later when I started writing dialogue.  I haven’t done this yet, but I know I could go to online and find examples of any accent I wanted.  There probably are videos breaking down exactly what makes a Southern accent.

Yes.  I miss the old days.  And I still like to do the research first hand when I can.  While writing my most recent book, Megan’s Cure, I spent a week wandering through the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama where much of the story takes place.

When I wrote about the French café in San Francisco that is one of my favorite lunch spots, I could almost taste the prawns that were so beautifully displayed on the restaurant website.  I got so hungry, I had to get up and make a grilled cheese sandwich.  It just wasn’t the same.

Megan's Cure_07f

Please click the book cover image to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s Megan’s Cure.       

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