Imagine you are working in the lobby bar of the Ritz Carlton. Two fashionably dressed men share a table and a silver canister of salted nuts. Balancing the tray, you approach to deliver their drinks. The conversation you overhear goes like this:
“I need her to die. And die quickly,” the older man says.
“What you propose will work. But--” The younger one pauses thoughtfully. He leans forward and takes his glass of Pinot Noir from you. “The time frame is all wrong and it will be an agonizing death. Not suitable for your circumstance.”
You nearly throw the scotch rocks on the other man as you fumble to set it down.
“What else can I do?” The elder one asks. “Is there a drug I can slip her? I don’t want it noisy, and it has to appear to be a natural death—at least initially. Until the autopsy.”
“This whole thing is blown at the autopsy. No coroner could miss this.”
“That’s okay. I just need it to appear like a natural death until autopsy.”
This situation really happened. I was the one asking how to kill someone. My friend, Dr. G, was kind enough to meet me for drinks one afternoon and give me pointers on effectively ending human lives.
The horrified expression on the waitress’ face gave her away. I was able to say “don’t worry. I’m an author and I’m trying to figure out how to kill one of my characters.” The waitress looked at me like I was a purple albatross, mumbled something and stumbled away. I’m not really sure if she called the police or not.
Writers need experts.
No author should attempt to spin a gripping tale without having a group of subject matter experts. I use experts for police protocol, criminal jurisdictions, medical procedures, pharmacology, anatomy, and any topic where I have a need for deeper knowledge.
SME’s not only give my stories depth and credibility, they make them better. I rarely have a conversation with an expert that does not change a subplot or alter a character profile. Everyone wants to tell a story and everyone has an imagination. Aside from the added factual accuracy, experts, I find, are more than willing to get involved in the creative process—for free. Okay, maybe for the price of a glass of wine. I’ve never had one turn me down and never had one fail to raise a critical issue I may have overlooked.
Romantic notions of authors scribbling out a novel in a dimly lit den tucked away in a reclusive setting might apply to some writers. Not to me. I talk through my story outlines and specifics with my SME’s. I find this process even more valuable than talking with other writers or beta readers. Maybe that’s just me.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to experts I have collaborated with over the years in producing works of fiction--even if that includes enjoying cocktails and dreaming up ways to kill characters.
About the AuthorSteve O'Brien is the author of four novels: Elijah's Coin, Bullet Work, Redemption Day, and Dead Money. Elijah's Coin has been added to the reading curriculum in multiple secondary schools throughout the US and has been incorporated in a university ethics course. The e-book version of Redemption Day was an Amazon.com Bestseller. Steve is a graduate of the University of Nebraska and George Washington University Law School. He lives in Washington, DC.