Book Research Gone Bonkers
By Jacqueline Vick
One of the questions I’m asked most often is how do you research your characters?
This is not a question asked loudly by the lady in the back row at a bookstore signing. Rather, the whispered query is most often made in a quiet spot far from witnesses, with the questioner wearing a distinctly uncomfortable expression—a combination of an honest desire to know backed up by the thought that there are things that, once known, might intrude on otherwise peaceful thoughts.
That’s because my characters include an exorcist and a pet psychic. I have to research their jobs so that I can make the character realistic. If he or she does something out of character, the reader must understand that this isn’t the usual behavior for a pet psychic or a priest.
And so must I.
So, I’ll answer the question here for those too embarrassed to ask.
There’s no substitute for hands-on experience
Let’s start with the pet psychic. Since I’m not an animal, I couldn’t be on the receiving end of a pet psychic’s reading, so I scheduled a couple of appointments for my dog and observed.
The first psychic, a woman, did her communicating over the phone. She told me that my dog would overcome his nervousness if he wore a scarf in his favorite color—forest-green.
The second animal communicator came in person and “listened” to my dog. Buster responded to him well, stretching out at his feet and periodically woofing. This man also consented to an interview, and it is from this interview that much of my information comes.
I also attended a pet fair that featured a psychic, and it’s my belief she was doing the same “cold reading” Frankie Chandler does in the same situation in Barking Mad at Murder…at least until Frankie begins hearing from her furry friends.
When all else fails, read.
It should come as no surprise that I did not experience or observe an exorcism. Instead, I turned to the many books out there written by experienced exorcists. One of the most fascinating is Possessed, which is taken from the diary of a Jesuit priest who assisted in an exorcism beginning in 1949. For those interested in the book, be prepared. It is dry reading, as its purpose is not to entertain.
I also listened to recordings of talks given by exorcists and deliverance teams. Not surprisingly, people who asked what I was working on tended to back away with frozen smiles when I told them.
My Harlow Brothers mysteries feature an etiquette author who writes under the pseudonym Aunt Civility. The archives of the Miss Manners column were a good place to start.
Remember the pet psychic who said my dog favored forest-green? I researched and found that dogs are essentially colorblind. As far as the spooky details about possessions, obsessions, infestations and attachments? I’ll have to just take the priests’ word for it. And I wouldn’t dream of questioning Miss Manners.
When you get down to it, pet psychics, exorcists, etiquette authors and readers are all human and experience the same joy, fear, and guilt. Only the circumstances differ.
Why don’t you judge for yourself? Leave a comment and I will draw a random winner to receive eBook copies of An Unhealthy Attachment, Barking Mad at Murder, and the latest Harlow Brothers mystery, Bad Behavior, which will be released on April 1. The winner will be announced on my website, jacquelinevick.com on Saturday, March 21.
Jacqueline Vick spent her childhood plotting ways to murder her Barbie doll. Writing provided a more productive outlet. She is the author of over twenty humorous novels and short stories. You can find out more at www.jacquelinevick.com or join her Mystery Buffs here.