Today we are happy to be hosting April Henry and her book The Body in the Woods Blog Tour! She wrote a guest post for us on one of my parts of writing the book: The research.
April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. There was one detour on April’s path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he arranged to have it published in an international children’s magazine. By the time she was in her 30s, April had started writing about hit men, kidnappers, and drug dealers. She has published more than a dozen mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults, with five more under contract.
About the book:
“In this new series told from multiple perspectives, teen members of a search and rescue team discover a dead body in the woods.
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.
This first book in April Henry’s Point Last Seen YA mystery series is full of riveting suspense, putting readers in the middle of harrowing rescues and crime scene investigations.” –Goodreads
And now for April!
I love research. Love, love, love it.
Except when I scared by it. Which I am, at least part of the time.
When you write mysteries and thrillers, it helps to have a strong stomach. I’ve seen crime scene photographs I’ve wished I could un-see. Cops have told me stories I wish I could un-hear. For a recent book, I spent a memorable day looking at autopsy photos of knife wounds. I tried not to spend too much time thinking about how these people with black bars printed over their eyes used to be alive, and certainly never expected to end up in an article or textbook on homicides.
I usually start my research by reading: books, blog posts, newspaper articles, and professional journals. When I wrote my first book, it was before the Internet (a now-hazy time in my memory). Now you can find all kinds of things online, like those photos of knife wounds which were in an article in a professional journal for medical examiners.
After I know enough to ask good questions, I turn to experts. Last year, the keynote speaker at the Writers Police Academy (which is like a summer camp for mystery writers held at a real-life police and fire academy) was one of the world’s top experts in DNA analysis. A future book involves DNA, including how some jurisdictions are not only looking for DNA matches but DNA familial matches. (Whether it’s nature or nurture or some combination, crime tends to run in families.) And whenever I have a question about search and rescue procedures, I turn to a SAR guy who will answer my question within 24 hours.
I also think it’s important to have real life experiences. Again thanks to the Writers Police Academy, I know that when you use a presumptive blood test, it smells like vinegar. I know what it feels like to be handcuffed and how to search a building.
A few months ago, I spent a day with a CSI – here they use the term criminalist – in the Portland Police Forensics Division. I got to see and play with fingerprinting equipment, the AFIS system for comparing fingerprints, bulletproof vests, and a special camera that shoots 360-degree photos of crime scenes. I even spent two hours in the jail, standing six feet away from prisoners being booked, as I watched the fingerprint tech do her job.
When I decided to write a book inspired by the teens from Multnomah County Sheriffs Office Search and Rescue, I
began attending some of their classes. I remember the first weekend training outing I went to. It was held in early October at the top of Larch Mountain, which you get to by driving 14 miles straight up, with no turnoffs and trees pressed up to the edges of the road. It was starting to snow. Since I didn’t have my winter tires on yet, it was bit dicey. But watching the kids kneeling in the forest and then crawling forward shoulder to shoulder in the sleet was a lot different experience than reading about it.
Other classes I’ve taken with SAR include one taught by a medical examiner where she showed photos of dead people found in the woods, and another that introduced the basics of man-tracking, such as finding and following footprints.
With every new book, I follow that same path for research: read everything I can get my hands on, talk to experts, and then, if possible, have a real-life experience.
For every sale made in person or online at Powells.com the first week The Body in the Woods is on sale, I will donate $1.69 to MCSO SAR.
Thanks April! We loved hosting you!