Dr. Randy Overbeck:
IT’S WHAT YOU DO before THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE
At a recent book talk, an aspiring writer asked if it’s true that authors simply sit down at their computer and type away, inventing incredible new worlds and the next best seller. While this image might be inspirational, it doesn’t square very well with reality. For me, the truth is that before I ever put pen to paper—or type words on a white screen—I have to tackle a whole host of tasks. I’m not talking about the old pantser or plotter debate; that an issue for a whole other post. I’m talking about research, preparation, and organization.
When I chose to write my new series, the Haunted Shores Mysteries, I deliberately set the bar quite high on research expectations. Since each book is set in a different resort location, that means I needed to learn what it was like to live (and die) in each of the settings. I needed to research the lingo and dialect, the customs and traditions, the foods and favorite drinks for each place. I needed to learn the geography of each, on land and sometimes on water.
My next set of challenges came with the timeframe for my narratives. My protagonist’s journey begins in 1998, more than twenty years in the past. This means I needed to research different aspects of life at the time of my tales. What music was popular and when, what did the fashions of the day look like, what particular slang was hip, what were the major news stories of the day. In addition, since I’m setting my stories in actual towns, I needed to be certain which stores and restaurants were operating then.
A third set of research demands involve particular details of the narratives. For example, in my first series entry, Blood on the Chesapeake, an important element of the story involves sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. Even though I’ve taken several “cruises” on the Bay, I’m certainly no sailor and had to learn a great deal of particulars about sailing, including a whole separate language. In my second installment, Crimson at Cape May, my protagonist takes a job coaching a summer football camp. Though I’ve coached some sports, I’ve never coached football and certainly never ran a summer camp. So I had to get expert help to provide the credible details for this part of the story. Also, both novels included essential details about health issues, i.e, falls, poisonings, hypothermia, and I sought expert medical help to get these right.
I had to collect data, review old newspapers, consult experts and go native—most of this before I wrote the first line of each novel. I never want to rain on an aspiring writer’s parade—we all need our inspiration—but the truth about being an author is much more complicated, demanding and messy than the heroic image of the guy with a laptop in his room.
Still, I tell new writers, it is all worth it in the end.
Dr. Randy Overbeck is an award-winning educator, writer and speaker who has earned recognition in the Midwest and beyond. As a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Dr. Overbeck is an active member of the literary community, contributing to a writers’ critique group, serving as a mentor to emerging writers and participating in writing conferences such as Sleuthfest, Killer Nashville and the Midwest Writers Workshop. When he’s not writing or researching his next exciting novel or sharing his presentation “Things That Go Bump in the Night,” he’s spending time with his incredible family of wife, three children (and their spouses) and seven wonderful grandchildren.
The first entry in his Haunted Shores Mystery series, BLOOD ON THE
CHESAPEAKE, was published last year by the Wild Rose Press and earned
rave reviews and even picked up two national awards.
The second installment in the series, CRIMSON AT CAPE MAY, was released
this summer and it quickly garnered two ★★★★★ reviews and a national
award, the Gold Award from Literary Titan.