Laura: Micki and I met a few years back when we were both in Florida for one of Don Maass' week-long novel writing courses. I was working on my 15th novel, The Reckoning Stones, and Micki was polishing her first which featured a female cop. (Did I mention that Micki was a cop?) We bonded over red wine, having retired from professions dominated by men (she was a cop and I was an Air Force intel officer), and a shared sense of humor. I am delighted to welcome her to Femmes today to talk about her first published book, Adrift, which has already won awards and debuted earlier this month. She and her books are both totally AWESOME!
It’s Not What You Know, But What You Omit That Matters
Micki: I like to joke that I became a professional writer the day I graduated from the police academy. A career in law enforcement isn’t just about fighting crime; it’s about documenting it. By the time I retired twenty-two years later, I’d written thousands of reports. I knew how to construct a factual narrative and I thought transitioning to fiction would be easy. After all, how hard could it be to make stuff up? Turns out, it’s pretty tough.
I was recently asked how my law enforcement background informs my writing. The short answer is that it lends authenticity to my stories. But that’s only half the answer.
As an officer, I’ve participated in a staggering amount of training. It started with 852 hours in the academy and ended with graduate-level coursework at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Everything I’ve ever written has somehow drawn upon these experiences. I’ve been privy to horrific violence and inspiring heroics. I know my way around a crime scene. That said, sometimes the depth of my training has impeded my storytelling. I know too much.
My early attempts at writing were mired in the minutia. Like a researcher who wants to share every detail, I over-explained. Take handcuffs. Every officer has a set of matching bracelets, but did you know the Peerless Handcuff Company has been the major manufacturer of restraints since 1914 and that their swing-through handcuff design continues to be the industry standard? Do you care? Drop terms like single strand, pawl pin, and key post, and what every reader could once visual is now obscured behind a curtain of technical specificity.
Or how about the fact that each set of handcuffs has a serial number? Writers may be interested to learn that serial numbers are traceable. Perhaps the handcuffs were part of a bulk purchase by a law enforcement agency or a military surplus store. While the store may not record who bought the cuffs, if the equipment was shipped to a police agency, the quartermaster would know to whom the cuffs were issued. But here is my point: readers only care about handcuff serial numbers if they are relevant to the story.
Writing realistic crime fiction is difficult. If a character plays Russian roulette with an automatic handgun and lives to tell the tale, the author loses credibility. Why? Russian roulette only works with a revolver. I’m lucky. I have a foundation of valuable experience to draw upon to ensure the scenes and characters are realistic. In fact, I usually have more than enough material, which makes it easy to delete extraneous information from the page. (And let me assure you, in the past, I wrote a lot of useless words before I realized which details to include in my stories.)
Fiction demands realism without being constrained by facts. With practice, writers can learn which details are most important to the storyline. Ultimately, readers will appreciate what you omit as much as what you include.
Author Micki Browning worked in law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander. Her debut mystery, Adrift, set in the Florida Keys, was published by Alibi-Random House in January 2017. It won both the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award. Learn more at www.MickiBrowning.com
Marine biologist-turned divemaster Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after the regimented schedule of an Arctic research vessel, but when she rescues a diver who claims to have seen a ghost, she’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue.
News of the rescue goes viral—not welcome notoriety for a researcher trying to obtain a new position. A team of ghost hunters descends on the Keys and Mer is pressured into serving as a safety diver for a documentary crew in search of paranormal activity. When Ishmael, the crew’s charismatic leader, vanishes during a midnight dive on the Spiegel Grove shipwreck everyone but Mer is convinced that things really do go bump in the night.
Determined to find a rational explanation, Mer launches her own investigation, but how to find a dead man wasn’t covered in grad school and the local law enforcement consider her involvement in both diving incidents criminally curious. Relying on skepticism, discipline, and logic gets her nowhere. The victim’s life is as shrouded in mystery as his disappearance. Insurance fraud, business debts and illicit love further muddy the waters. Reluctantly, she considers employing less scientific means. When someone tries to kill her, she knows the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men tell tales after all.