Thursday, February 9, 2012

Phone a Friend


By: Daniel Palmer

So, you’re ready to write your book. You’ve got a killer idea, a “what if” question that will make any agent take notice. You know the story you’re going to tell. You’ve got a great sense for the pacing. You know your protagonist, and, of course, your villain. You’re all set to start writing when—BANG, BAM, BOOM—you hit a wall. What happened? Why can’t you write? What is this wall? Let’s call it the wall of information and the bricks comprising this structure are your missing facts and the rich details needed to teleport your readers into another world.

This exact scenario happened to me with the writing of HELPLESS. HELPLESS tells the story of a former Navy SEAL turned high school soccer coach who becomes the victim of a ruthless online reputation attack. I wrote what I knew in that the novel focuses on the hidden perils of everyday technology. But I also wrote a Navy SEAL protagonist and I’m not a Navy SEAL (not even close).

Why? I needed my hero to do something more than just dribble a soccer ball around the bad guys for 400 pages.

I also decided that my protagonist would be embroiled in a sexting scandal and pursued by an attractive FBI agent tasked with bringing him to justice. Only I didn’t know the first thing about the FBI. Who investigates crimes involving images? What do they do? How do they do it?

Naturally, I turned to Google.

Now, the Internet is great. Honestly, I don’t know how authors conducted their research before its invention (thank you Mr. Gore). But I needed to get inside the head of a Navy SEAL warrior and a doggedly determined FBI agent. So what did I do? Well, I picked up the phone. I talked to people. I asked people I knew if they knew people. I networked like I was hunting for a job.

And the results?

Daniel PalmerI was put in contact with a woman from the FBI’s Innocent Image National Initiative, who not only read my book cover to cover, but also fixed all my procedural inaccuracies. I was later introduced to Commander William C. (Bud) Taylor II, a former Navy SEAL trainer, who met with me in a coffee shop to talk about all things Navy SEAL. I would give Bud a scenario and he would tell me what a SEAL do. I discovered that people enjoy talking about their work and they’ll tell you all sorts of things that no Google search ever could.

So what’s my advice? Don’t be afraid to write about people and topics you know nothing about, as long as you don’t mind picking up the phone.

Question for ITW Debut Authors: How do you obtain your research?

Daniel Palmer is the author of HELPLESS(Kensingston Books, Jan 2012) and DELIRIOUS (Kensington Books, Jan 2011). He is also an occasional short story writer, with The Dead Club in the ITW anthology, First Thrills, and Disfigured, found in Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up At Night.  (Trivia Note: Daniels father is New York Times best-selling novelist Michael Palmer.) Learn more about Daniel at


Miranda Parker said...

Thank you for sharing this, Daniel. This past summer a friend of mine introduced me to one of her PR client who is a retired U.S. Marshal. At the time I was writing my next novel that included a manhunt led by a marshal. He was very nice. gave me a book about being a marshal that he wrote and became a good resource. I like the idea of phoning a friend. Now I wonder who else do I know that could help me on another book.

jenny milchman said...

I'm impressed that you could generate enough material for it to be tweaked and corrected by the pros, Daniel! Especially since it was about something removed from your own experience. How did you come up with the first draft material in the first place?

I am really looking forward to your books. I am one of those authors who would love to write a SEAL character...but he'd be dribbling soccer balls (or knitting) for 400 pages.

Daniel Palmer said...

Jenny, that's a good point you make. I had to imagine what I thought the procedures would be so that I could give the experts something to correct. That was a tricky part for sure, but I was never so off base that I couldn't make the corrections.

A knitting SEAL might just be a winning formula for a book! Thanks for the comment! :)

Jodie Renner Editing said...

Fascinating post, Daniel! I'll be sending my thriller writer clients here for inspiration! And I'll also be looking for your books! And if you ever need a copy editor, look me up - I specialize in editing thrillers!