The Importance of Research in Fiction Writing

This article first appeared on Anne J. Fotheringham’s site, Book Editor Plus.


 
Although fiction is a product of the imagination, if it’s set in the real world at least partially, there will be some real-life things you must get right. This means being accurate with your facts. In a contemporary story, if you’ve got a seasoned outdoorsman who drinks water directly from a still pool in a stream, you haven’t done your research.

Water can be contaminated with a variety of things risky to health and isn’t safe to drink without some kind of treatment, including filtration, chemical disinfection, or boiling. Boiling is best. If this isn’t possible in your story, you’ll get points for realism and accuracy if your character knows the dangers and does his best to mitigate them. If you don’t know your outdoor lore, readers who do will detect your gaffe and call you on it. (They may also quit reading or complain in a review.)

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen HowardSo it pays to know your facts when you write. And that’s where research comes in.

For instance, in DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural crime thriller, protagonist Kennet Singleton runs the crematory at a local funeral home. When I first got the idea about a young man who can discern the cause of death of those he cremates by toasting marshmallows over their ashes, I knew nothing about funeral homes or cremation.

One of the first things I did was conduct a general Internet search to acquaint myself with the processes of cremation and embalming. Then I went to visit a funeral home with a crematorium. A friend arranged for me to meet the funeral director, and I spent an hour there one afternoon learning about their process.

Being a technical writer, I took copious notes and made sketches. I even tape-recorded the session so I could go back to it if I later couldn’t make sense of my notes. Back home I typed up the document, making computer diagrams from my sketches, and ended up with a 15-page document that I later referred to when I wrote scenes in which cremation took place.

I also read a lot of books on the subject of death, funerary tradition and processes, and cremation. I still have a carton containing these titles:

  • Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America by Stephen Prothero
  • Cremation in America by Fred Rosen
  • Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial by Penny Colman
  • Round-Trip to Deadsville: A Year in the Funeral Underground by Tim Matson
  • What Happens When You Die: From Your Last Breath to the First Spadeful by Robert T. Hatch
  • I Died Laughing: Funeral Education with a Light Touch by Lisa Carlson
  • One Foot in the Grave: The Strange But True Adventures of a Cemetery Sexton by Chad Daybell
  • Cemetery Stories: Haunted Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death by Katherine Ramsland
  • Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? by Kenneth V. Iserson, MD

Some of these books were more useful than others, but I gleaned something from all of them. I used this knowledge to build a foundational structure based on facts about death, embalming, cremation, funeral homes, and cemeteries.

I likewise did research on personal care homes. And more on marijuana growing, poisons, prescription drugs, sexual fetishes, crime, guns, and police procedure. (Yes, all of these are in DEATH PERCEPTION.)

Did I get it all right? I suppose if an expert in any of these areas reads my book, she might find a flaw. But I performed due diligence and did my best to accurately ground my fiction in fact. Even much of the Spiritualism and Kennet’s psychic abilities are based on research and experience.

All this said, must you know everything about everything? No. You can’t. Other funeral directors may do things differently in their places of business, and that’s okay. But my facts are accurate according to how one funeral director operates his crematorium.

Although you can’t know everything, it pays to do your research in as many areas as possible. Then have knowledgeable beta readers check your work for accuracy. Sound research lends authority and realism to your writing, and these are what loyal readers enjoy.

DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi) and Nook (.epub) at https://leeallenhoward.com/death-perception/.


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Using Your Day Job in Your Writing

This article first appeared on Sally Bosco’s site.

Sally Bosco

I’m very happy to post this guest blog from the fabulous Lee Allen Howard!

Using Your Day Job in Your Writing

LeeAllenHowardVery few fiction writers earn enough from their creative efforts to support themselves. I don’t—yet. So we have day jobs (or night jobs). Anthony Trollope, one of the most prolific English novelists of the Victorian era worked as a clerk at the General Post Office. Stephen King once labored in an industrial laundry and later taught school while he wrote.

I’ve got a day job, too. Since 1985 I’ve been a technical writer, primarily for the software industry. Although I’ve made a good living at it, writing user manuals and help systems ain’t the most exciting work, let me tell you. But my day job has:

  • Taught me advanced use of writing and publishing tools
  • Enabled me to work with huge amounts of text (one of my many user…

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Fleshing Out Your Villains

This article was first posted at Mary DeSantis’ Out of the Lockbox.


 
As readers, we’ve come to expect the fully developed protagonist. After all, if the main character is a pasteboard creature, who wants to read the story? So writers spend a lot of time developing their protagonists, and, perhaps, their “helper” characters.

Snidely Whiplash, Celluloid VillainBut one thing I’ve learned to do is to give my antagonist equal treatment. Early in my writing career, I created antagonists—what I called “villains”—for the sole purpose of frustrating my hero and his goals. This led to “cardboard villain syndrome.”

Your protagonist and plot are only as strong as your antagonist. He or she (or it or they) must also have a backstory that has led to the development of certain weaknesses, strengths, fears, desires, and goals. He might be an evil bastard, hell-bent on destroying your protagonist, but he also might be a decent guy who just wants the same thing your hero/ine wants, and has the gumption to compete for it. Or he wants the exact opposite of what your hero/ine is striving for, and is willing to fight for it.

Your villain cannot be a skeleton (unless we’re talking about that story I wrote in second grade). He/she/it/they must be fully fleshed using the same development tools you used for your protagonist.

The best information I’ve encountered in 20 years of reading and writing fiction—and reading about writing fiction—I discovered recently in Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist, in the sections “Weekend 1” and “Weekend 2.” (If you buy this book, be sure to get the original 1994 version, not the revised version.)

Ray leads you through the process of writing a brief character sketch (the broad strokes), plotting a timeline for life and story events, developing a backstory by asking “what if?” to probe motivation, and building a wants list—for your protagonist, your helper, and your antagonist, exploring where desires mesh and clash.

I followed such a process in DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor. My tag team of antagonists turned out to be well-developed and interesting characters equal to (well, not quite) the hero, Kennet Singleton.

By devoting as much effort to your antagonist as you do to your protagonist, you will have a stronger story, one that readers will love. Flesh out your villains, and you’ll flesh out your fiction.

DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi), and Nook (.epub) at https://leeallenhoward.com/death-perception/.


My Path to Publication

This post first appeared on the site of horror writer Joseph A. Pinto.


 
As a creative exercise in second grade, Teacher had her pupils write a story. “Be as creative as you can be, children.” I penned—penciled, rather—my debut horror fiction on a ruled school tablet. Teacher, ostensibly pleased with her prodigy’s genius (more likely concerned with a tow-headed eight-year-old’s mental health), passed my work to the elementary school principal. (“Children, ‘principal’ ends with P-A-L—the principal is your PAL.” Keep reading, and then decide…)

Unknown to me, Principal Sprunger, also the president of the local Lions Club chapter in Berne, Indiana, read my story to the men of our little Swiss community and then in good humor fined my father a dime because the preacher’s son had written such an “awful tale full of skeletons, witches, and blood.”

That is the story of money first changing hands in relation to my fiction. (That dime never found its way into my pocket. If it had, I would have biked down to the White Cottage and bought myself a small soft serve cone, for sure.)

Two PathsI continued to write through elementary and high school. The Brookville, Pennsylvania, Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper printed our school newsletter, for which I’d written a grisly Halloween story. They decided to reprint my story in the town newspaper. This should have overjoyed me, but they printed it anonymously and didn’t pay me for it, either. Bastards.

I placed a short story and some poetry in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s New Growth Arts Revue. I stopped writing for a few years, but started again when I envisioned a scene about a young man who had been shot in the stomach and stumbled into an alley to die. I developed this into my first suspense novel for the Christian market, WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS, long out of print.

After completing my master of arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, I entered the publishing arena and compiled a trade paperback anthology of shorts based on the Ten Commandments. THOU SHALT NOT came out in 2006. It’s a great collection of horror and dark crime. Check it out.

I’ve placed a few short stories for pay in the past decade, but after hundreds of rejections, two years ago I decided to take a different route.

One of the reasons I’ve had trouble in placing my work, especially novels, is because they don’t cleanly fit into a genre slot. Why is this important? Because brick-and-mortar bookstores need to know where to shelve a book. So part of the writing-for-print-publication process is writing for a shelf spot. (And length requirements in genre fiction in part are based on how many books will conveniently fit in a cardboard carton for shipping.) I think that’s just ridiculous.

I had been working on a novel proposal for Dorchester Publishing/Leisure Books. But after the debacle with their selling ebooks without remunerating authors, I stuffed that idea down the disposal.

In a nutshell, since second grade, I’ve learned that publishing by the traditional route is inorganically restricted and highly improbable. The royalties paid (if they pay)… well, suck.

So I recently published my second novel, THE SIXTH SEED for e-readers and trade paperback. It cost me nothing to post it, and I’ve been selling downloads at a 70% royalty. And I can add meta tags with no concern for a shelf spot or how I will otherwise categorize “a dark paranormal fantasy fraught with suburban Pittsburgh horror—family drama with aliens.”

I followed the same path for DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor:

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen HowardNineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.

He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, he must bring the killers to justice.

DEATH PERCEPTION is available in trade paperback, Kindle (.mobi) and Nook (.epub) at https://leeallenhoward.com/death-perception/.


Malina Roos Reviews DEATH PERCEPTION

Malina Roos, book reviewer for Hellnotes, reviews DEATH PERCEPTION. (I copied this from her Facebook post.)

Lee Allen Howard is quickly becoming a huge favourite of mine. He crafts his characters so well and gives them depth, flaws and realism that you expect from a much more seasoned writer.

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen HowardDEATH PERCEPTION is a well-thought-out story about Kennet, a troubled yet gentle young man who lives in a nursing home with his elderly mother. He has a job in a crematorium working for a profit-driven, moral-less boss, but Kennet does his job with dignity and provides a graceful ending for all the people he deals with, regardless of cost.

Then people start dying in the home where Kennet lives… and the death certificate doesn’t quite match up with what Kennet sees as the cause of death. Kennet’s gift is to see how people die, and therein lies the problem.

I loved this. What a great read. Kennet is a character that I really want to read more about [because] he was brilliant. I loved his outlook, the way he related to everyone, his spirit, everything about him.

DEATH PERCEPTION is smart, funny, engaging, and endearing. A true work of art. I love this book and I hope there will be many more Kennet stories.


Who Won the Kindle Paperwhite?

And the winner of the DEATH PERCEPTION giveaway is…

What a release party it was! On Facebook from May 15–31, 2013, I posted special offers and trivia questions for prizes, including DEATH PERCEPTION magnets, signed limited edition postcards, coffee mugs, books, and… a Kindle Paperwhite!

Winner of the Kindle is Meg M. of Michigan. Congratulations, Meg!

Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

I will be sending out prizes this week. A BIG THANK YOU to all who participated and purchased a copy of DEATH PERCEPTION! All trivia contents on the Facebook events page are closed as of May 31, 11:59 pm.

Thank you also for subscribing to my email newsletter.

I’ll be reblogging the guest posts hosted at various sites over the past two weeks. Thanks to everyone who hosted me.

I’ve gained about 50 new Twitter followers, and over 100 new followers on my Facebook author page. THANK YOU, everyone, for your growing interest!

You made the release of DEATH PERCEPTION a special and exciting time for me. I hope you enjoy the book. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear from you personally, or in a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or my book page.

Thanks again. Now I’m off to write some more!


Book Release: DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen Howard

Supernatural Thriller DEATH PERCEPTION Now On Sale!

At long last! DEATH PERCEPTION—my latest novel full of supernatural crime, horror, and grim humor—is now available for Kindle, Nook, and in trade paperback from a variety of sources. (See “Purchase Options” below.)

In celebration, I’m throwing an online release party. Want to win nifty prizes?

DEATH PERCEPTION Coffee MugJoin the ongoing release party on Facebook. From May 15-31, I’ll be posting trivia questions from the book for chances to WIN COOL PREMIUMS—refrigerator magnets, postcards, coffee mugs, and tee-shirts—so be sure to order your copy NOW and start reading!

You could win a Kindle Paperwhite

There’s a Kindle Paperwhite in store for one lucky winner—join up and read to win!

Note on June 3, 2013: The winner of the Kindle Paperwhite is announced here. All trivia contents on the Facebook events page were closed as of May 31, 11:59 pm.

How You Can Participate

Purchase Options

Choose from the following ordering options.

Format Price Delivery Buy Now
Nook (.epub) $2.79 Email* PayPal
Nook (.epub) $2.99 B&N B&N
Kindle (.mobi) $2.79 Email* PayPal
Kindle (.mobi) $2.99 Amazon Amazon
Trade Paperback $14.99 CreateSpace CreateSpace
Trade Paperback $13.49 Amazon Amazon
Trade Paperback $13.56 Barnes & Noble B&N
Trade Paperback $11.99 Direct* PayPal

*Once your PayPal order is received and payment clears, your file will be sent by email (or paperback posted) to the address that was used to purchase within 48 hours. 7% sales tax is collected for residents of Pennsylvania (6% +1% Allegheny County tax).

About DEATH PERCEPTION

DEATH PERCEPTION is a supernatural crime story corrupt with horror yet preserved by a sprinkling of dark humor like those mini marshmallows in your Lucky Charms.

DEATH PERCEPTION by Lee Allen HowardNineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.

He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.

Take a peek at chapter 1 of DEATH PERCEPTION in PDF. Enjoy, and thanks for helping me spread the word!

Praise for DEATH PERCEPTION

“Dastardly devious, cleverly conceived, and just a whole lot of fun to read, Death Perception is Lee Allen Howard on fire and at his finest. Rife with winsome weirdness, it’s like the mutant stepchild of Carl Hiaasen and Stephen King, mixing a truly unique paranormal coming-of-age story with a quirky cast of offbeat noir characters into a novel that’s simply unforgettable… and hilariously original. A supernatural crime story, blazing with creative intrigue… don’t miss it.”

—Michael Arnzen, author of Play Dead

“Lee Allen Howard’s Death Perception is a red hot union of Gothic crime thriller and grim humor that burns with supernatural tension. Beneath the sickly sweet scent of caramelized sugar lies the wildly entertaining tale of a man who delivers justice to the dead while fanning the fires of the living. Ever hear the expression, ‘laughing in a morgue’? Death Perception feels just like that. Howard has a gift for crafting eccentric characters and clever plots. This is dark fun at its best.”

—Jason Jack Miller, author of The Devil and Preston Black and Hellbender

Death Perception has officially made me envious of Lee Allen Howard. It sings like a choir of angels, yet weeps like a ghost in winter. Everyone should have this in their collection.”

—Trent Zelazny, author of To Sleep Gently and Butterfly Potion

“Part ghost story and part murder mystery, Howard’s clean prose and spot-on timing make for a compelling read. If you enjoy ghosts, revenge tales and mysteries this book is for you.”

—Jennifer Barnes, Managing Editor of Raw Dog Screaming Press

“Part crime novel, part supernatural thriller, part… funeral pyre ‘n smores (I kid you not), this is Howard at his very best—putting you in the front car of the roller coaster, careening you past memorable characters, jostling you through hairpin plot twists, and trying his darndest to scare the bejesus out of you while managing to satiate the most macabre of sweet tooths. …A really fun read!”

—Mike Mehalek, Writing is Tricky

“Lee Allen Howard has seamlessly joined the characters in this book, and you find yourself hoping that good prevails and that Kennet doesn’t meet the same fate as some of the customers he cremates. I highly recommend this book to anybody who is looking for something a little bit different and offbeat. Lee Allen Howard is definitely going on my favourite author list!”

—Pinky Pollock

“Lee Allen Howard’s Death Perception is a novel in the likes of a mellow Stephen King.”

—Bruce J. Blanchard

“This is enjoyable and dark—a real good read.”

—Sandra Scholes, SF Site

“Outstanding! … Death Perception is a brilliant twist of the paranormal. It has everything a reader would desire, suspense, twists and turns galore. I urge you to read this one.”

—Sherry Bagley

 

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Blog Tour Posts

Here are my posts in the DEATH PERCEPTION blog tour. Check them out, and peruse the hosters’ sites.

When the Dead Speak, You Should Listen – Lyndi Alexander – 5/16/2013

However Crazy, Honor the Idea – Armand Rosamilia – 5/15/2013

The Spiritualism of Death Perception – Building the Bridge – 5/16/2013

Adding the Supernatural to Crime
– Mary SanGiovanni – 5/17/2013

Release announcement – Heidi Ruby Miller – 5/18/2013

Writing Characters with Psychic Abilities – Hunter Shea – 5/20/2013

The Ghost of Backstory
– Jason Jack Miller – 5/21/2013

Using Beta Readers to Evaluate Your Fiction – Mike “Tricky” Mehalek – 5/22/2013

My Path to Publication – Joseph A. Pinto – 5/23/2013

Fleshing Out Your Villains – Mary DeSantis – 5/24/2013

Using Your Day Job in Your Writing – Sally Bosco – 5/25/2013

The Importance of Research in Your Fiction Writing – Anne Fotheringham – 5/28/2013

Death Perception’s Kennet Singleton: A Psychic Medium – Patrick Keller of Big Seance – 5/29/2013