A serendipitous discovery in writers research

I don’t outline a novel before I start. For some reason, if I worked everything out in advance, I would have trouble figuring it all out. I would get lost wondering about the whole thing. It also takes a lot of time and I would rather use the time to actually create something, and an outline is not creative to me. I find it far more fun-and inspiring to me-to have a beginning with my main characters, but not know what is going to happen, and in the case of my work in progress, not knowing who the murderer will be.

I don’t know where the murder takes place-not yet-but the head of a woman was found on a grave in a cemetery in a small town in southwest Washington in 1927. The cousin of my amateur detective works in a bank. I looked through the city directory of the time and found her a nice bank to work in. I also found that two lawyers worked in the same two story building and jotted down their names in case one of my suspects needed one.

And here is where my serendipitous research landed a wonderful surprise. I decided that the grave of Hugh Pemberton, on whose grave the head was found, was murdered by an unknown killer in 1926, and that he had been a World War one veteran. Eight years before in 1919 this small town had a large parade on the anniversary of the Armistice and this fictional Pemberton was in the parade. It became a national story when Wobblies opened fire on the veterans  and killed four young men, one of whom was an All-American football player at the University of Washington. And low and behold, he had the same last name of the lawyers that worked in the bank.

It turns out the murdered young man was the son of one of the lawyers, one that was the city attorney at the time, who said, despite his son being murdered by Wobblies, there was no legal reason to run the Wobblies out of town. A very brave stance to take in a town that was divided for decades by what happened.

It was a wonderful thread to weave into the story about the parade-I had a reason to write the scene when a barber talks about it to my lead character who is from Los Angeles-and about the son and father, and about what my fictional Hugh Pemberton did during the parade with another true character who met an unfortunate end.

This is the kind of discovery during research that drives the story forward and perhaps, if not creating a red herring, leads to a surprise twist at the end of the story. Of course I don’t know what that is or where everything is going.  But my characters and my research will provide more moments of serendipity, I am sure of it.

It is this type of lucky connection that spurs me on and that is why I don’t outline. I love discovery.

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