Isn’t write what you know the advice given to every beginning writer? I certainly heard it, and sometimes even now I’m questioned about what I do know. I write crime fiction and have suffered my fair share of rejections like all writers have, some based on query letters alone, and I finally began to wonder why an agent, editor, or anyone else, for that matter, would think I know anything at all about crime and detectives with my credentials. I’m not a police woman, a prosecutor, or a medical examiner. Far from it. I’m a writer from the Deep South with a degree in Radio, TV, and Film and a minor in English. I’ve never worked a crime scene, apprehended a criminal, or performed a DNA test—although I’ve seen all of those things happen plenty of times on TV. Of course, we all know TV and movies are strictly entertainment fare and are not to be used for research. Not ever.
So I’ve learned to list how I can claim to know something about law enforcement in my query letters, and I’ve gotten more requests. Wow! Why didn’t I think of it before? I was married to a cop for eleven years and had a front row seat to watch my now-ex-husband change from a fun loving, easy-going guy into a cynical, non-trusting adrenaline junkie. As a result, I have insight many other authors don’t have. A view from the inside, if you will. I put ice on my former husband’s jaw the night he was slugged by a suspect on PCP who simply didn’t want to be arrested; listened to his tirades condemning departmental politics and fuming about who had been promoted and why; watched him clean his service weapon at the kitchen table with one eye on me and another on our small son (we only had one at the time.) Living with a man who suddenly trusts no one is trying. I soon learned I couldn’t trust him, however, which ended our marriage.
Years later, once I started writing, I had those stressful years with my ex on which to draw but knew I needed more. So I attended our local citizen’s police academy (and have recently applied to attend a new one offered by the sheriff’s department), sought out law enforcement personnel to get answers to my questions, and attended countless conference sessions given by law enforcement professionals, including the entire slate at Forensic University, sponsored by the St. Louis chapter of Sisters in Crime in 2007. Thanks to all of the above, I’ve developed quite a network of people willing to help me with law enforcement and forensic questions…folks from all over the country. And of course, the Internet is always available, if one knows where to look.
So, write what you know and do your best to keep learning. Do your research. And be sure and include your credentials in your query letters. What you leave out might be what causes you to get that rejection—and we all hate getting those %$#@ letters.
And, speaking of crime, be sure to check out my new offering at Desert Breeze Publishing here.