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Doing Research For a Book

June 13, 2016

You’re probably wondering why I have pictures of actors who’ve played police or sheriffs as the header here. Simple, really. I want to give a shout out to police who have recently taken time to help me get details right.

But first, a seque down memory lane. When I was a small child living in suburban Los Angeles, I was taught that policemen were my friends. If I needed anything, I could walk up to one and ask. That said, I realize growing up white in the ‘burbs, not a minority in an inner city or the ghetto or the ‘hood, have shaded belief in the police. Can’t help it. That’s the way I was raised.

Over the years, I have been arrested and tossed in the slammer more than once. But, that is the subject of another post. Maybe.

I’ve asked police for directions, turned in rapists, and stood up for human rights. I’ve protested and occupied buildings. I lay down in the middle of the freeway to stop traffic. I did all sorts of silly things, just short of breaking the law. Well, occupying Federal buildings was technically breaking the law. All we received were nights in the drunk tank and release with no charges. Trust me. I never want to be in the drunk tank again, but the memory gave me a powerful scene in a book. Alas, the scene met the Delete key when I changed points of view. Still…

When police officers began playing secondary roles in my books. I needed primary research. Sure, growing up with Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke or Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show or today’s Blue Bloods gave me a distorted view of what a policeman’s life is today. To those men and women I pestered in line at Starbucks, thank you for telling me how much your belt weighs. Thanks to the policeman directing traffic at Saratoga Race track for telling me how much is bullet-proof vest weighed and how hot it was in August. Thanks also to the Maryland State Deputy who let me hold his Taser. I’ll never reveal his name, and I’ll never forget how the weapon felt in my hand.

To the police information officers in rural Mississippi, you were an invaluable source of deep background on what life was like in post-Katrina Mississippi. And to the State Police public information officer who not only answered my questions about jurisdiction at the same time and place, but who invited me to call back with any more questions, I hope I have the facts right in Uncharted Territory. You gave me more information than I could use. I will never forget your kindness.

And to agents from the FBI, CDC, and DEA, as well as the Secret Service, for helping me understand jurisdictions once again, you have my sincere gratitude.

These men and women are my heroes. They do their jobs every day, most with no fanfare. So I’m whipping out my trumpet and blowing a salute to you.

Mom was right. If you need help, ask a cop.

Have you had positive interactions with police officers?

 

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Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NoblePlease follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

Featured, Uncategorized, Writing a Series, Writing Inspiration, Writing Life, Writing Style

How I Found Mad Max

March 14, 2016

Perhaps the title should be “How Mad Max Found Me.” I’m often asked by book clubs how I come up with my ideas. That’s both an easy and difficult question, because inspiration can come from a shopping list dropped at Kroger’s or a single child’s clean sock lost in a gutter in Blowing Rock, NC. But Mad Max has a distinct path to her literary birth.

Originally,  Unintended Consequences was about a husband and wife who undergo horrible changes when the wife is hit by a car and suffers an traumatic brain injury. It completely changes her personality. Written from both his and her points of view, I though I was so clever in depicting the wife’s descent into drug addiction and psychosis, and the man’s as he became more and more troubled by his wife’s behavior. Yawn.

I struggled through multiple (try at least 10) revisions, but I was never satisfied with the way the story shaped up. I fought to keep the twin perspectives, even though they weren’t working. And then one morning about 3am, I woke to a voice shouting in my head: “This is MY story, damnit. Tell it my way.” Well, yes ma’am.

Max had a way of grabbing my attention. At the beginning, she was a minor character. As soon as I took her “advice” and began writing from her point of view, the story sprang to life. She gave me latitude to let her be snarky when necessary, soft and tender when necessary, vulnerable at times. No spoiler alert necessary for the next sentence, because it’s revealed on the back cover. When her daughter is murdered, she comes into her own, buries her grief to be a strong grandparent and help solve the crime.

Max took hold of me. By the time I began Uncharted Territory, or as I call it, Max 2, I knew her inside and out. She still hasn’t revealed her complete personality. She reveals only what is necessary for the current narrative.

I live with her every day. Beginning a new Mad Max book is like inviting a good friend in for coffee. She blows my mind by what she is willing to do to protect her family. I wish I were like her, but only a little bit of Betsy is in Mad Max. I think a lot of Mad Max has made her way into me.

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