Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Research in Depth

By Chester Campbell

I suppose I've become lazy the past few years while I continued to write PI mysteries set around Nashville. They haven't required much research as I'm writing about a city I've known intimately for most of my life. If I need to refresh my memory on something, all it takes is a little drive-by "research." I've also chosen subjects I'm familiar with that needed little more than Googling.

It wasn't always like this. When I started writing mystery novels in earnest, after retiring in 1989, I chose the subgenre I'd read avidly since the end of World War II, the spy story. I wrote a trilogy of international thrillers set at the end of the Cold War. They feature a disgraced former FBI agent who gets involved in espionage. None of the three sold, far a variety of reasons (I had a different agent for each of them). I've been revising them lately with an eye to putting them up as ebooks.

During this process, I've been fascinated at recalling the amount of research I did on these books. I had read extensively about the CIA and the KGB, and I bought several newer books for background. One major challenge was the variety of locations around the globe. I spent a lot of time at the library going over travel books and memoirs by people who had lived in the areas.

Locations my characters visited in the first two books included Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Chiang Mai, Thailand. At the time I wrote the stories, I had never been to Israel. Having toured the country and seen Tel Aviv in 1998, I was quite pleased at how well I had described the setting. I only made a few tweaks based on firsthand knowledge.

I toured the Southeast Asian locations in 1987 when my wife and I joined our younger son (then with Army Special Forces) and his wife on a 30-day junket that included Korea, Okinawa, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Of course, I had also spent a year in Seoul at Fifth Air Force Headquarters in 1952-3 during the Korean War. I did additional reading on the areas while researching my spy stories.

Most of the U.S. cities in the books were ones I was familiar with. One fictional location I created was a small island off the Florida Gulf Coast. I visited the area and consulted with seamen at the Apalachicola, Florida Coast Guard Station to keep things realistic.

The last book in the trilogy has the most areas I've never seen. It includes a remote corner of Iran, parts of Ukraine, and Minsk, Belarus. It is set in the early nineties, and I did extensive research on conditions in the areas.  I also used parts of Mexico, some of which I had visited. The stories include many technical details that I researched extensively, much of it in cooperation with my "technical adviser," brother Jim, an electrical engineer.

1 comment:

Jean Henry Mead said...

Interesting post and I've enjoyed your books, Chester. Are you writing this anonymously?