Writers can end up talking about and researching strange things. When I write mysteries, though, I always hope no one tracks the history of the sites I visit. For instance, my character dug a hole near a septic tank–so no one would get suspicious why he was digging a hole in the first place, and then dumped a body in it. Six months later, the house has sold and the toilets aren’t draining right, so another person digs near the septic tank and finds the body. Question is: what will it look? Answer: not at all like the body my protagonists found stashed in the attic–which was above ground and protected. Hence the working title: The Body in the Attic. But when I read the first chapter to my writers’ group, they all had different ideas of what dear Lynda’s remains would exactly be. Would the clothes still be intact? The hair? Would her skin and flesh have dissolved or mummified? Would the pillow under her head be stained from when her flesh liquefied?
How I love my writer friends! They didn’t blink an eye while they discussed how bodies decompose or dessicate–as Lisa Black explains in her book THAT DARKNESS. A fellow writer in my group is working on a much more grisly mystery than mine and needed to know how long a body can hang in woods before the neckbone gives out and the head and body drop and roll in different directions. Oh, the possibilities!
I bought Lisa Black’s book THAT DARKNESS, because she’s a forensic scientist and I thought she’d HAVE to make me start thinking about stuff I usually try to avoid. And I was right. It reminded me of when I went to a big mystery conference in Chicago and a coroner gave an hour and a half workshop on finding clues when studying dead bodies. He brought slides of entry wounds and exit wounds. A bullet goes in small, but exits big. Unless it’s a .22, and then it might just bounce around inside the skull. (Black used that in her book, but the coroner had already warned us about it).
Black’s book concentrates on crimes and forensics, so it was fun to read–unless you’re squeamish. I want my book to concentrate more on characters but with realistic clues to the murders. Black’s book has lifetime criminals and cops and forensic scientists. Her characters work with crime day after day. Professional criminals do WAY worse things than the killer in my book. He’s an amateur with amateur detectives finding clues they don’t want to. My book will have a totally different feel than hers. On purpose. But I’m so glad I read hers. Details make a difference. And she’s a professional, so her details drive the story. When she has to cut off a dessicated finger to soak it long enough that she can get prints, you believe her. And that’s awesome!