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Elements of Crime


Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter Spring Event: Part V

Susan Cummins Miller has degrees in history, anthropology and geology and uses all that information and what she learned along the way to write her Frankie MacFarlane series. Of course, Frankie is a geologist and you can learn more about this character and the author here.  Her sixth book in the series is set along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon of Arizona.

Susan spoke mainly about the tools of research for writers; one of my favorite subjects. She affirmed that you don’t have to know everything – you just have to know where to look it up. She suggests looking at the lists of authors at the back of papers and following those “breadcrumbs” to more information. She uses the internet and numerous libraries. She also suggests establishing as many professional and knowledgeable contacts as possibly. Through them you learn the terminology, gear and other inside information about the subject.

She prefers to go to the place to do hands-on research and as a geologist she has had many chances to do this.

Susan loves garnets and gold and while researching one of her books she came across the legend of a lost treasure of just those things. It became a tantalizing thread throughout the book.

To develop characters she suggests a ride-along with the local police, lab tours and the use of firearms. Anything that gets you interacting with the people who do the job.

Draw a map of the fictional area to help the story stay on course and consistent. Study history, migrations, stars, streets, blooming times of trees and plants; in other words, everything about your area.

She said that plot comes from two or more characters in conflict. Ask  questions such as why did they die and what was so important that they had to die. THe answers help the plot evolve.

Be aware of who is writing books in your area so you don’t release a book similar to another one at the same time.

I’ve been asked many times how much research do you need to do and how much do you use. Susan said she uses about 1% of her research directly in a book but it all builds to the book in general. She is another “pantser” and finds that once she gets the characters moving the plot evolves on its own.

To be continued.

grand canyon 072

Grand Canyon photo by Doug Ackerman, April 2014.



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