The details make a difference. The Authors Collection.
July 10, 2014
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.
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.
Please click the book cover image to read more about Robert B. Lowe’s Megan’s Cure.