Today we welcome Katie Vorreiter to my blog. Katie is offering a giveaway of her book, No Turning Back, to one commenter. Please be sure to leave contact information!
Researching Behind Bars
They say to write what you know. But where’s the fun in that? How would writers ever push the envelope and bravely go where no one has gone before?
I prefer the saying that you should write what you want to read. And I wanted to read what would happen when a beautiful young Christian woman became caughtup in a riot in a notorious male prison. And of course there had to be a love interest. Or two.
Now, they do have a point—I think what they truly mean is that you must know what you write. In order to take readers on a fun ride, a writer has to help them suspend any disbelief. And in order to do that, we’ve got to make our setting, plot, and characters credible. Sure, we make stuff up, but we get away with more fiction when we are grounded in facts.
So—there my character is, in lockdown at San Quentin. Cheese whiz, I had to go and pick a setting that I couldn’t visit.
In order to bring the Q alive, at least to me, I had some research to do. Enter the Internet. (As if it were ever far away.)
I took aerial shots from Google Earth to get the layout of the prison. Then I did lots of searching—I even looked in books!*—finding the best help on sites like Flickr.
There I found a wealth of personal photos regular folks had taken. These were people who’d gone inside the walls for whatever reason: staging of a Shakespeare play got me inside the chapel; a walking tour for the then mayor of
San Francisco helped me understand how my
characters would get from the chapel to their next hiding place. And what was
that medieval-looking door, crying out to be a novel setting?
Piece by piece I put my puzzle together. I feel a curious mix of confidence and humility in my research. I daresay it holds together pretty well. I daresay I’ve missed things.
I’ve been very gratified to hear from readers who have actually been to the prison (to play softball, which was what brought in some of my characters) who found the ride convincing. Granted, they only saw parts of what I describe.
My publicist, aka Street Team Maven, aka BFF suggests that I send some books to the prison library. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to have residents and correctional officers vet the setting. Course, I did send my protagonist in and then trigger a major riot. I suppose I could suck it up and mail a few books.
*Insert gasp here.
During a riot at San Quentin, it’s every man for himself. And then there’s the soprano.
Livvy Fischer’s life has been derailed. Suffering panic attacks, the classically trained soprano works a dead-end job. Due partly to a mix-up, partly to her crush on Pastor Lucas, Livvy joins a worship team bound for the chapel at San Quentin. When a full-scale riot breaks out, she is separated from Lucas and the rest of her group.
Snatched from the San Quentin chapel by an inmate, Livvy doesn’t know who to trust. Tobin says he’s protecting her, but she’s been blindsided before. She struggles to put her trust in God, while all too aware that free will can wreak horrible consequences. Tobin wants her to hide and ride out the storm, but Livvy becomes the obsession of a serial killer. Will God protect her? Will Tobin? And it’s one thing if Tobin is turning his life around behind bars. It’s quite another to fall for him.
Award-winning writer Katie Vorreiter is also a freelance copy editor. She makes her home in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two children rapidly morphing into young adults, and an incomparably adorable cockapoo. No Turning Back is her debut novel.
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