I am exhausted. My bones don’t ache, I lost my bones somewhere in a pile of papers and notes, sitting in a chair for hours on end day into night into day, again, I left them there.

When preparing to write a novel, the role of research can’t be overstated. There are moments of panic in every writer’s life when they realize they don’t know what vermouth tastes like on its own (kind of medicinal and dry, with a hint of a tonic flavor as the result of herbs added to what is basically cheap wine), how many years it takes one to go from law school to full fledged partner (seven, if you don’t ever go home or have any connection to what one might call “a life”) or how difficult it might be to have sex in a moving vehicle while driving (still in the planning stages). Research fills the cracks between a character being anyone and being someone, making them particular, making them resonant with an audience. Even if your reader doesn’t know that the stick shift could prove a tremendous hindrance (or aid) to the mobile love scene, they must trust that you, the writer know that it would cause problems (or move things along at a nice clip). If the writing rings authentic and true then, ironically, the reader won’t even notice the writer is there; if it is inauthentic then it is as if the writer has just arrived, uninvited, and soiled the dinner napkins.

I love doing research for my novels, especially if it involves jumping on an airplane or saddling up the car and heading out into the great unknown.A good portion of my life is spent wandering around.I love the details of other people’s lives, new subjects, thorny issues.I like the coffee makers in motel rooms and cheap bars of soap.There’s nothing better than sleeping under the stars on a warm night out in the middle of the desert—just me and my taser.I love talking to strangers about intense situations and high drama.I notice that I often adapt a slight southern drawl when ordering my breakfast at truck stops.I like to arrive in a new town, read the local paper and dive right in. There’s nothing better than jumping into the middle of a crisis, transforming myself into a character, and finding out how all the elements will impact my developing story.It’s the particulars of a situation that make the moment real for me; the way things look or taste or feel, are what allow my people to breathe and function.Usually I wear cowboy boots and jeans when I’m doing research–sometimes a big belt buckle.It helps.

When I finished my new novel POINT DUME I asked all my characters to collect their things and head to the guest quarters in the back of my mind where they’d be living for the rest of their lives.There isn’t room for them in the main house anymore.Luckily, my people were very cooperative.We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.I won’t lie, there were tears but I’d warned them, right from the start, that our time together was limited.They knew that once I told their story they would have to move out to make room for my next group.

The best discoveries are made by accident.

I was in the Knox County Courthouse, researching an obscure mystery writer (Delano Ames 1906-1987) who shared my hometown. I was taking a break from surfing through the Ames family documents and perusing their births, marriages and deaths when I noticed a wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with cream colored volumes. What, I wondered, could contain so much information? Land deeds? Criminal cases? Government overthrows?