Let’s Talk with Terry Odell

September 17, 2015

When Research is Too Much Fun

Terry Odell

Last time, I talked about throwing out the “Write What You Know” rule, and mentioned writing what you can learn. Sometimes, we authors get to have Too Much Fun doing just that.


I recently attended a conference devoted to helping writers get it ‘right’ with all things related to law enforcement and first responders, The Writers’ Police Academy. This year, it moved to a new venue, the Public Safety Training Center, part of the Fox Valley Technical College.


Here, authors take workshops given by the pros in the field, and often these workshops include ‘gowning and gloving up’ to learn how to do presumptive tests for blood. The big difference is that we’re not using real blood, but we get to learn how to use the field kits, and how to use blood spatter evidence to determine what really happened at a crime scene. (And did you know even if you’re wearing latex gloves, you can leave fingerprints behind?)


We get to meet K-9s and their handlers, and watch them in action. There are shooting simulations, rescuing people from “burning” (smoke-filled) buildings, breaching buildings, and this campus is adjacent to the Appleton Airport, and there’s a real 727 parked at the edge of the center, as well as an entire mockup of a small town. Workshops by a NYC undercover cop, another by a Secret Service agent – where else can you find all these experts in one place? I definitely came home with brain overload.

bank robber capture_WPA15

When we were there, it was the last day of the cadets’ training, and they were running traffic stop scenarios, all visible from the classroom windows (or, if you wanted to, you could go outside and watch from a closer vantage point). We saw a recreation of taking down a bank robber who was fleeing the scene, a fire department rescue of a man who’d had a heart attack while he was on an inaccessible trail in the mountains.

It’s one thing to read the facts, it’s another to talk to experts, but hands-on is fantastic.

Obviously, if you’re writing time-travel, it’s going to be a little harder to do your homework hands-on, but for crime novelists, this is golden.

Now, if we could just convince our readers not to assume what they watch on television is the way it happens in real life! Because now, we all know better.

WPA tote I’ve got a Writers’ Police Academy Totebag (autographed by me) for one commenter. (US only; international winners can choose a download of one of my Mapleton mysteries.) Just tell me what kind of a ‘hands on’ research trip you’d like to take, or one you’ve taken. (Doesn’t need to have anything to do with writing – just a place you’d like to go to learn something new.) This contest is now over – thanks to all who entered, and to the winner, Elaine Roberson.

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Posted in Let's Talk, with Terry Odell, zed: Former Authors • Tags: , , , , , |  26 Comments


26 thoughts on “Let’s Talk with Terry Odell

    1. Most definitely – it’s a challenge to transfer everything you see, hear, and feel so the reader can be there with you, but it’s so much more ‘alive’ than taking a trip through Google for information,

  1. Sounds like you had a great experience at the conference. I like trying all kinds of new things, so it’s hard to pin down what kind of research I would like to do. I love to travel, so it might include a trip to somewhere I haven’t been.

      1. We just came back from a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. More expensive than your typical cruise. But, only around 150 passengers.

    1. It definitely is. My husband, who is not a writer (unless you call his scientific stuff he did back in the day), has been to this one 3 times and loves it. If nothing else, he’s even more vocal when watching crime shows on tv.

    1. Oh, yeah. Most of them, although not everything they show is wrong. Just enough to cause problems for writers. And lawyers. The CSI Effect in the courtroom really messes things up.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Looking forward to reading some of your recaps in your upcoming books.

  3. You’re not going to believe this, but I’m the most chicken researcher in the whole world. I’ve put off all kinds of things rather than having to go and see it in person. I’ve changed plots too… I am definitely the “armchair traveler” and I thank goodness for the internet and writer’s conferences that bring so much of what I need write to my inbox. I love WPA, by the way, and should make arrangements to go again. Or maybe I can continue to live vicariously through your exploits!

    1. I’ve gotten better about picking up the phone. I just hope the deputy I talked to about marijuana in edibles doesn’t come check out my kitchen (no, he wouldn’t find anything).

    2. Same here, Maggie. We should go together, we absolutely should I’m like you– totally chicken — but we could brave each other up.

  4. I had a fabulous trip to Arizona to research Peril by Ponytail. I experienced all the adventures my heroine has in the story with more left over for another book. It was a memorable vacation, and I am glad to share a portion of it with readers.

  5. Very interesting, Terry! Thank you for sharing your adventure! I never really considered the amount of research an author must do in order to be accurate.

      1. You bet. I don’t move as quickly as I used to! But I’m still rarin’ to learn all I can. 🙂

  6. Amazing the research authors do! I would like to take a hands on workshop like you have described, learn the facts about solving the crime, especially that forensics isn’t instant magic.

    Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. I’m a school librarian. The BEST research trip I ever took was a behind the scenes tour of the Library of Congress. It took all day and we barely scratched the surface. It was totally cool!

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