Friday, February 15, 2013

How Being a Detective Influenced My Writing, by Chris Karslen, author of BYZANTINE GOLD

copyright 2013, Chris Karslen

When I retired after twenty-five years in law enforcement, I thought I was pretty much done with all things police related, other than watching a couple of shows on television. I could finally write the romance story I’d had in my head for three decades. Since it was a romance and not a thriller or mystery, it never occurred to me that I’d wind up directly and indirectly applying skills I learned conducting investigations. How wrong I was.
My first two books, Heroes Live Forever, and Journey in Time, were part of my paranormal series. Heroes has a reincarnation aspect to the story. The hero and his best friend are aware of what is happening when they enter the experience. The heroine has no memory of her previous life and no connection to the hero. In order to convince her that the outrageous tale he tells is true, as I wrote the scene, I put him across the interview table from me. I mentally returned to my detective time. I asked myself what questions would I ask a victim/witness/suspect? What answers would they need to give me to convince me they were telling the truth? To convince the heroine, they had to convince me first. If I believed it, I could make it believable on the page.
By the time I started Journey in Time, I knew I wasn’t done with my police experience. This story required knowledge of evidence, along with another exchange involving an outrageous tale to convert a doubter to a believer. In this story a modern couple has been transported back to Fourteenth Century England, an England preparing for war with France. The hero in this book is the best friend from the first novel. He is a product of reincarnation. He has lived in this time and place before and retains his memories from the period. The heroine is a modern London attorney who has been caught in the time portal with the hero. This time it is his turn to sit across the interview table in my mental interrogation room. I put myself in her place and questioned him relentlessly. I searched for the answers needed to make me believe I was part of a terrible and dangerous situation, with no clue how it happened or how to return to the modern world. Unless they find a way out, he will die in battle. History cannot be changed, including his death.  
In that story, there’s a scene where the king orders the heroine to go with a wool merchant who’s a favorite of the queen. The heroine is to be his “guest” for an unspecified amount of time. Away from the palace the man is a vicious brute who attempts to sexually assault her. She fights off the initial assault, but is badly beaten in the process. The hero locates her and brings her back to court and the wool merchant back to stand trial. The merchant falsely accuses her of a crime. His testimony is nothing but lies in an effort to defend the beating he gave her. The heroine must present her side of the case before the king and entire court. I used my experience testifying in criminal trials and had the heroine ask the questions a prosecutor would’ve asked me or the defendant. I had the heroine use evidence that I’d use, if this had been my case to present to a judge or jury. Lacking the technical equipment and scientific means we have at our fingertips today, I relied on the most obvious physical evidence available that could be seen and touched. I didn’t want the trial to be easy for her. In my head, I laid out the crime scene and visualized what she could take from there to court. I went over the scene again and again, like a detective does looking for anything I might’ve missed. 
My last two books, Golden Chariot and Byzantine Gold, are from a romantic thriller series. Golden Chariot involves the murder of a Turkish government agent, artifact smuggling, and the kidnapping of the heroine, a nautical archaeologist. She has a loose connection to a private collector who purchases looted relics on the Black Market. The Turkish agent sent to investigate the first agent’s murder must also investigate the heroine. Between my detective background and my research, I was able to put together enough of the foreign legal process to make the investigation relatively accurate. It should be noted that much is different with regards to due process and the judiciary system. I was also able to use the heroine’s ignorance of how a foreign agency employs due process to create a great deal of fear in her. 
Toward the end of the story, she is kidnapped and taken to a contract killer’s compound. I had a very basic, I stress very basic, idea of the tactics needed to extract her. Here my background came in handy but not as a result of my personal experience but from someone I knew. A friend of mine who heads up a SWAT team for a major city was also in the Marine Corps Reserves. After the invasion of Iraq, he was deployed to both Baghdad and Fallujah. His job was to teach young Marines urban crisis entry. He had retired from both the police department and the military when I was writing Golden Chariot. I called upon him to help me with the tactics, including the use of explosives and how the extraction team would deploy once they gained entrance to the compound. Phone calls, emails, and drafts went back and forth. He was a great help, and I was, and am, incredibly grateful for his patience and assistance. 
Byzantine Gold involves the contract killer from Golden Chariot, in addition to a terrorist cell. Bent on revenge, the killer is hunting the hero. In a scene early in the story, he plans to shoot the hero. I fired several different types of weapons over my career. I was able to use my knowledge of range capacity, in addition to types of weapons the killer might employ, to build that scene. I also used my experience in a later scene involving a sniper type attack. 
In the end of Byzantine Gold, there’s a tactical operation which involves the terrorists. As I mentioned, my tactical knowledge is limited. But once again, I was able to call upon a friend who is more than a friend, I asked my wonderful husband. He spent three years in the military and thirty-one in law enforcement. While we sat in a hotel bar in Chicago, he helped me lay out the schematics for the operation on cocktail napkins. While I was talking about terrorists and how they’d approach, I noticed the man next to me giving me a rather strange look—wary and more than a little suspicious. I half-expected the FBI or DHS or someone from one of the alphabet agencies to rush into the bar and drag me off for questioning. My husband and I quickly inserted a code word for terrorist. 
In conclusion, when I began writing I was convinced I would never relive my career through my characters. I did not want to write cop stories. I love to read them and have several favorite authors who write fantastic ones. They weren’t for me. I laugh now as I see in every story a part of the last twenty-five years coming through my characters’ lives. Fortunately, it has been to our mutual benefit.  
A native of Chicago, former police detective and now romantic suspense author Chris Karslen grew up with a love of history and books. Her parents loved traveling, a passion they passed on to her. She’s had the good fortune to travel extensively throughout Europe, the Near East, and North Africa.
Though her desire to write began in her teens, Chris spent twenty-five years in law enforcement with two different agencies before she decided to pursue her dreams. Chris is the author of the romantic thrillers Golden ChariotByzantine Gold and numerous other romance novels.
Now a full time writer, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, four rescue dogs and a rescue horse.
Learn more about Chris and her work on her website and blog.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Folks - if you leave a comment for Chris, please be patient. Apparently there are Blogger issues and she (and others) can't see the guest blog today. We are working on this - stay tuned!

Kim Smith said...

Awesome story Chris. Thanks for sharing on Murder by 4

Sonya said...

Thanks for sharing all these great details about your process! I've thought for a while that "write what you know" is a rather stifling rule, but what you do with your work demonstrates that the rule doesn't have to be straightforward.

Writing "paranormal reveal" scenes, in which the not-quite-human has to convince the human that they're not human, really, is challenging, but they've been some of my favorite scenes to write. Yours sound awesome!

By the way, I've seen you around on a few other blogs lately, so your blog tour is working as intended -- I'll remember you now. :-)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, folks. Here are two responses to the above comments from Chris:

Hi Kim
Thank you for coming by to talk to me. I'm glad you liked the post. I thought it well suited to the blog. I was never a homicie detective, although I've been to a number of homicide scenes over the years (referring to "murderby4" here). We used to joke that the "Homicide Detail" was the bureau's glamorous or 'sexy' detail. They get the press and the attention. And to be honest, they have the most interesting cases compared to burglary or auto theft or financial crimes details:) Most of the rest of us were okay with that too. I know I was more than happy not to deal with press questions.

Hi Sonya,

I actually dislike the theory "write what you know." I find it very stifling also. If authors followed that rule, we'd never have had some fab books like: most by H.G. Welles, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bernard Cornwell, J.R.R. Tolkein, Diana Gabaldon etc.

I think Tabitha King (Stephen's wife) said it best in an article I read. She said and I paraphrase--you needn't write what you know but need to know what you write. With Victorian authors it's having great imagination. With Cornwell and Gabaldon and other historical fiction writers, they have done thorough research to know and understand their subject matter. I find that most acceptable. As a reader, I'm not looking to read only cop stories written by cops etc. I'm just looking for a good story.

I'm glad to hear the tour is working. It's hard to tell sometimes.

ee.melisa said...

Thank you so much for hosting Chris!

I had trouble accessing the site on the day the post went live, so sorry for my lateness.

This is such a great blog. I'm heading over to subscribe now. :-)