Building an Enthralling Thriller

Lisa Renee Jones visits the site this week to share her research process and her first-hand sources that helped her write The Poet, a new thriller that follows Detective Samantha Jazz as she vies with a serial killer.

I write romance and thrillers, but even the majority of my romances are rooted in suspense and mystery. Suspense is what makes my fingers hum, challenges my mind, and is always where I feel I’m at my best. Considering my husband is obsessed with serial killers like Michael Myers you can bet he always has his two cents to add to my thriller endeavors. However, he’d also put a zombie in everything if I’d let him. While I enjoy writing mysteries in a big way, I’m not sure my husband’s cousin, a detective in Houston, enjoys just how many times I call him to get every detail perfect! I called him a while back and asked: “What’s a unique way to kill someone?”

Yes. I’m sure we are all on the FBI watch list.

As a writer, I am also a reader. As Stephen King said in About Writing and I’m paraphrasing, you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader. To me, that struck a chord. When we read we have certain expectations. I don’t know about you, but for me, as a reader, I’ve traveled many places and learned many new things, and I’ve done so, through the eyes and words of many talented authors. I could easily say I’m quite worldly simply through the eyes of the many writers who have granted me access to their stories.

As a writer, my goal is to deliver the same things I want to enjoy as a reader. I endeavor to take the reader on a memorable journey. With any thriller, it’s also important to me to engage the reader in a guessing game, to entertain, and to deliver a believable, edgy read.

With all that said, as I dove into writing The Poet, I was quickly reminded that writing a thriller is not the same thing as writing a criminal procedure novel. For instance, I’ve written a crime series outside The Poet’s world for years now, but that character works for an FBI task force and pretty much sweeps into situations, uses local resources, and leaves. I’m able to gloss over the departmental red tape in that series.

In The Poet, Samantha Jazz works in the Austin PD. Her relationships and procedural demands within the police department were immediately front and center. Suddenly I found myself not just working toward an engaging plot and intense mystery, but I was trying to ensure that I wrote the book in a way that allows the readers to experience the real-life action inside a police department and even the medical examiner’s office. Without those first-hand experiences, I had to figure out how I could convince readers I do have first-hand experience. I had two options: the internet or real-life experts in those fields. I used both.

More: Cover Reveal and Q&A with The Poet author, Lisa Renee Jones

So who did I call on and how did I get my sources? I was bold and daring, which led to some pretty good luck.

Source number one: I needed help with the medical examiner side of things. I had a couple doctor’s appointments and I just started asking around. Turned out one of the head doctors at a place I go to for—wait for it—facials!—got tired of doing autopsies and decided to go a whole new direction. She and a doctor friend opened a highly successful cosmetic clinic. While having a mask painted on my face, we had an intense conversation about poisons and how they impact the body. You’ll see her in the dedications in my book.

Source number two: I’m a gym rat. I’m there all the time. There is a man there I see all the time. One day I overheard him talking about his work in law enforcement. I had to go up to him and turns out he is not only a detective who has worked homicide, he had just won his spot on the highly acclaimed Top 40 Under 40 IACP list, which is an international award. This means I got lucky and cornered someone who knows what he’s doing. Sometimes life works out that way. He also investigates when an officer shoots a suspect and helped me get that part of The Poet correct. In fact, I’d already written a portion of the book and ended up changing it after consulting with him.

Source number three: This is where I got really lucky. My husband’s cousin is a detective in Houston. He allowed me to call him, text him, bug him like crazy with a million procedural questions like who reports to who? How do on-call procedures work? Can I use DNA pulled from a car door without a court order? When can the FBI claim jurisdiction? The list goes on and on.

When I finished all my research, I had my final product and inside the pages of The Poet is a world of twisted mysteries, murder, sinister adversaries, and one woman who is dead set on bringing all of that danger to an end when it threatens her very existence. I absolutely love writing about two intelligent people like Samantha Jazz and The Poet (evil intelligent!), battling it out, good versus evil, for who ends up the winner. I fell in love with Sam’s sometimes dysfunctional desire to do her job and catch killers. I hope you will as well, since next year will bring The Girl Who Forgot, also starring Samantha Jazz.

In the end, I think I can say that sometimes it takes a small army to write a novel, but if it leads you to an exciting place, that in turn, leads the reader on an exciting journey, it’s worth the battle.

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