Tuesday, October 12, 2010

References Available Upon Request

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

A reference shelf. Are you suggesting I don’t have all these wonderful facts – mold forms on eyelashes of corpses left in wet climates, lithium used to treat bipolar disorder causes tremors with long-term use, the 9mm handgun has an effective range of 100 m – on the tip of my tongue? Okay, you caught me. I am not a forensic savant. Nor do I always have the literary or political cultural reference available to me without outside assistance. Just don’t tell my Mom. She thinks I’m wicked smart.

So sometimes, I’ve got to go to the experts. My first stop, since I’m almost always writing on my computer when my ‘little grey cells’ fail me, is the internet. It is the most useful research tool even if it isn’t actually sitting on my shelf. You have to be careful, though, because lots of those internet “experts” are drunk guys in bars thinking they know the answers to the pub quiz. It pays to verify with the … drum roll, please… actual reference book. Pages and binding and the smell of print. Okay, I know I’m a little nuts about the fondle-ability of the true reference manual.

I actually have a shelf dedicated to writing books. Not all of them are references for factual elements in my work. Some of them are references for the writer’s life. Let’s start with the factual ones. So I’ve gone to my shelf and brought all my books to this table and separated them into categories: mystery reference; writer’s life; writing business; and writer’s block.

For mystery reference, I favor the Howdunit series. I have several in the series all of which I’ve used to plot against friends and family. Rip-Off: A Writer’s guide to Crimes of Deception helped me with the con game in Horsewhipped. Forensics, by D.P. Lyle, provides me with the grisly details surrounding my corpses including mold, maggots and other gross bodily fluids. Dr. Lyle has been at several of the conferences I’ve attended. He’s worth seeing in person in you get the chance. Like me, he’s not at all squeamish. I am using Lee Lofland’s Police Procedure & Investigation in my newest book (called ‘the book’). I’ve never written a police procedural before and I want it to be accurate. I have read and reread Bill Blass’ Death’s Acre about the body farm. It’s fascinating how bodies reveal things during the entire decomposition process. I used Death’s Acre to put a body behind a wall in Catnapped. I also use the DSM-IV to diagnose and explain the actions of my bad guys. For Sara and my good guys, I rely on Daniel Coleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence. It helps explain Sara’s intuitive leaps. I also use Joe Navarro’s What Every Body is Saying for body language clues for Sara to find. And, when in doubt, the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, it’s my native language but I don’t always speak it, or write it, if you know what I mean.

For the writer’s life, or how to be a writer, I started with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Now, I rely on just a couple of books. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron pushes me to write every day and open my mind to creating. Joyce Carol Oates’ The Faith of a Writer reminds me to keep plugging, that good days and bad days don’t matter so much as having days as a writer. My most recent addition is Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison. It’s about manic-depressive illness and the artistic temperament but it plays beyond that scope. It reminds me that workaholics and other high performing professionals can and should seek balance with their creative side. I need to work on that.

For the business of writing, I have current editions of three Writer’s Market volumes: Novel and Short Story, Screenwriter’s and Playwriter’s and the regular WM. I’m actively seeking more outlets for my work. I want to play with different genres and try new things. I’m trying to be more Josh-like. To that end, I also have a copy of the Gosford Park screenplay. I struggle with the screenplay format and I loved the dialogue of Gosford. On the money side, I have Six Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger and the Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. I’ll admit I don’t use these two as much as I should but it would be nice if writing lead to eating at some point.

Finally, I have one book that I go to when I am feeling uninspired. Now, I will reread a favorite, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Winnie the Pooh, to soothe a bad day but they don’t generally work as a kick in the pants. When I need that, I turn to Freedom by Leonard Roy Frank. It is a series of quotes and passages from historical freethinkers. Basically, it’s people who worked hard or played hard in the pursuit of something bigger than themselves. That’s what the reference shelf is supposed to lead to. That’s why we write. To be beyond ourselves. To push past our nerves and our daily commitments and our fear of rejection to create something beautiful or ugly or amazing. The reference materials are the building blocks that help us get there.

Thanks for reading.



Shane Gericke said...

Excellent bookshelf, Gabi!

I'd also recommend "How to Write the Bestselling Novel" by Ken Follett's agent, the uber-successful and powerful Al Zuckerman of Writers House. Terrific analysis on how to do just what the title says. Not in bookstores, but you can get it from Writers House.

And, Dr. Seuss books. Like your Winnie the Pooh, I love reading Dr. Seuss work when I want my screamin' monkey brain to calm down.

Anonymous said...

Lyle's Forensics is a godsend. My mom (a forensic pathologist) gave it to me at Christmas, presumably so I'd stop bouncing ideas and theories off of her.

I found David Simon's "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" to be pretty invaluable as far as the basics of police procedure. It provides a spectacularly detailed portrait of a homicide department and it's a great read to boot.

Also Stephen King's "On Writing" for inspiration and a little bit of hand-holding.

TracyK said...

Hey! Sorry to be just posting now - we were gone this weekend. But a few years back I had to buy a reference book on poisons for one of my books. I think I scared the crap out of the sales clerk.

Gabi said...

Dr. Seuss is always good. I tried to write a political piece a la Green Eggs and Pork a couple of years ago. The guy was just plain better than me.

Gabi said...

Your mom is a good mom to arm you that way. Even better, she hears your passion and buys you a gift that feeds it. Very cool.

Gabi said...

If you really want to unnerve people at the checkout, flip through the pages and say, "hmm, this one looks good' then casually eye some poor stranger standing near you. Five bucks if you get her to call the cops.