Researching Romantic Suspense –Make It Real

Contemporary suspense gets more difficult to write every day because of technology.  Readers are tech savvy. They expect authors to get it right. You have to make it real and do your research.

I literally put in days of research on helicopters for my first book. The heroine is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. I felt it was worth it when my agent, editor, and readers asked if I was a helicopter pilot. The second book’s research on jungle survival wasn’t as intense. But, paid off the same way.  

When researching go to the source. Asking questions on loops can be dangerous. I mean because some chick on the net says she dated a SEAL for two months in 1978 does not make her an expert on the teams. Because you second cousin’s next-door neighbor dated a guy who used to drive by the FBI building every day doesn’t make him an expert.  Get the right scoop and make it real. To that point, I’m offering places to research and some writing ideas.

First, I’d like to give you the names of a chapter and group that specialize in mystery suspense and offer great support to authors.

Kiss of Death RWA chapter

Sisters in Crime

Next, are blogs and websites I’ve found helpful.  

Lee Lofland’s, The Graveyard Shift is brilliant for police procedure.  In the right hand menu is a wealth of topics. Also, check out the info on The Writers’ Police Academy that is held every year.

Firearms Tutorial  This tutorial is designed to give you a working knowledge of the types of firearms, the types of ammunition used, the nature of injuries that can be produced in the body, and the investigative techniques employed by the forensic pathologist in assessing firearms injuries. Has pictures. Gross.

DP Lyle is an author and consultant for TV shows.  People, he knows his stuff.  His Forensics blog is brilliant and creepy

Go to the source for questions. Most Sheriff and Police Departments have a media contact to email or call. Take advantage. Remember, no two departments operate the same.

Many RS books have a hero or heroine in one of the alphabet agencies or military. If this is what you are writing, research and make it real. A friend’s husband is retired FBI. She loves RS and asked me why all the agents in the books are rogues. She says all their friends are so straight laced it’s silly. A guy I know who will only say he is in Intelligence asks the same thing. I can only shrug because heck if I know. At RWA National, a group of veterans gave a workshop titled “Not Every Man in Uniform is A Navy SEAL.”  So true. Gives you some things to think about. Any who, all the alphabet and military agencies have splendifious web sites with never ending information.

To search for any government agency put the name in with .gov after. I’m going to list a few links.

FBI.  On the blue menu check status and services then Resources for Researchers –you can request your FBI record.

CIA.  The new page has a virtual photo trip and a special page for Kyrptos . If you are writing about the CIA and don’t know what Kyrptos is, you definitely need to do more CIA research.  

 DEA. Their new page lets you know all the current projects. On the home page, bottom right, you can sign up for their newsletter and get weekly updates.

JSOC  Joint Special Operations Command can also be call United States Special Operation command USSCOM. Lots of different pages none official. Based at McDill AFB Tampa Fl where all the global planning for military operations takes place.

NSA CSS  National Security Agency Central Security Service  Cryptologic  info here.

Secret Service  Now, if you want to write about rogue agents this might be the place. Shaking my head here.  

US Department of State  Just a wow! So much info.

Once again for specific information about any branch of the military simply put in the name then .gov.

I am going to give you some of the lesser know branches you could consider writing about. 

Coast Guard Special Operations.  Maritime Security Response Team Maritime Safety and Security Teams. You really have to dig to get their info. Makes them all the more intriguing to me.

Navy SWCC Another group totally ignored.   Watch the video. That is live ammo they use.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Some think of them as H&H on horseback but, know they defend ALL our borders.

U.S. Marshalls  So much don’t know where to start.

U.S. Postal Inspectors. Tough dudes.  You can even report spam email to them.

Giving away some of my secrets here.

ESI  Executive  Security International.   Intelligence based training academy for executive protection, protective operations and corporate security.  In other words highly trained body guards.

Joe Navarro. If you want to know about body language and learn how to decode human behavior. 

John Douglas.  For profiling serial killers  

His site is currently being updated and says it should be open by the end of October. The old site was well worth a visit. I’m guessing the new one should be brilliant.

If you have questions about the ins and outs of government ask you state and federal representatives directly.

Library of Congress  YOUR national library. Use them. They can help with research

Marine Speak. Odd phrases a Marine will use.


The last tip is, YouTube.  OMG! I don’t think there is anything you can’t find. FBI Academy Training.  Coast Guard boat and helicopters.  Special Forces. Real combat vids. Tours of the White House and other government buildings in DC. What any weapon looks and sounds like.    

I think you get the point. Look and you can find it. Make it real. 

If you have any site to share please do.

Learn more about Rita and her books, Under Fire and Under Fire: The Admiral,  at her web home





50 responses to “Researching Romantic Suspense –Make It Real”

  1. Amanda Brice says:

    GREAT resources, Rita. This is fabulous!

    And I have to say, not only is there so much more to get right, but it’s also so much harder to keep the hero/heroine in the dark about whodunnit. In the old skool mysteries, when they learned a clue, they might have to wait until they could get somewhere to do some research, or they couldn’t make a call to the police until they found a phone, etc. Now readers will assume they have a cell phone, and they’re stupid if they’re not using it to their advantage.


    • Rita Henuber says:

      You are soooo right. I write thrillers so it’s a tad easier. You know who the bad guys is. It’s a matter of bringing him down. I’ve been contemplating doing something based in the 1930s or 40s. No technology. Fingerprints were just being used widely. We shall see.


    • Diana Layne says:

      Seriously. In going back and reworking my older novels, having access to cell phones now really screwed up my plot. Forces a lot more creativity. 🙂


  2. Rita, this is brilliant! Hours of fun ahead for me as I check out all your links. First stop? YouTube for the FBI academy training vids. Not that the FBI even remotely features in my WIP. I just find it all fascinating. 🙂


  3. Jenn! says:

    Wow, Rita!
    Great resources. Should the FBI be worried about you? More importantly, Should *I* be worried for my involvement through association? HAHA!

    Seriously, great links. I know I’ll be hitting a few of these sites.



  4. Diana Layne says:

    Great! Gotta bookmark this post. As soon as I figure out how to bookmark…actually I think I’ll just email the link to myself. Thanks!


  5. Thanks for this Rita! What a great stop for research. I have used Youtube for firearms tutorials a lot. And I took Dr. Lyle’s Toxin Forensic class through KOD. No surprise that my second mystery is a poisoning incident!

    I think we like the rogue agents b/c of the bad boy, alpha male thing, but that’s my opinion which isn’t worth much;)


    • Rita Henuber says:

      Hi Larissa. I know you from KOD. I’ve heard such great things about Dr. Lyle’s classes. I don’t do police stories so I haven’t taken any. YouTube is the best. Seeing and hearing a weapon can really help when writing a scene. Your opinion is worth plenty BTW


  6. Kate Parker says:

    Great post, Rita. I’ll have to check out these sites, although some of these organizations weren’t around pre-1900, which is my writing time period. I won’t be able to chock up my time to research, but they look fascinating. Thanks for bringing us this in one package.


  7. Kelley Bowen says:

    Holy catfish, Rita, these links are amazing. Thank you for sharing.


  8. As usual, a fabulous post, Rita! And, man, I feel like every other scene I write involves a cell phone in some way. It’s so tough to find creative ways around that.

    My son is taking a Cub Scout trip to tour our local U.S. Marshal’s office and the jail – I’m so excited to go!

    And I’ve been wanting to try the Writer’s Police Academy. Haven’t been able to make one yet, but have enjoyed the Kiss of Death tours every year at RWA Nationals. This last one was FABULOUS. Got to ride in police cars with a simulated chase. Awesome.

    Oh, and love the Writers Forensics blog. He gives so much GREAT information!! Did a lot of research on John Douglas for my Mindhunters series, too.

    Love all the links – thanks!!


    • Rita Henuber says:

      Thanks. The KOD tours of the LAPD facilities was amazing. I LOVED the car chase thing also. John Douglas will cause you to look at people and the world differently. No wonder your books are so scary.


  9. Wow! This is amazing! I know who to go to if I ever need help figuring something out. 😉 I both love and hate research, because while it’s interesting, it is also a huge time sink, and sometimes even after doing all the research, I still have this “I don’t know enough to write the book” feeling.


    • Rita Henuber says:

      Eggzackerly- I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be a pilot, weapons expert, or bad guy – just have to know enough to pull a reader in a story. Where to draw the line is hard to figure.


      • Tamara Hogan says:

        Great resources here, Rita!

        In my Underbelly Chronicles world, any digital device or service can and will be hacked by someone with motive, opportunity and skill. All data is suspect. Judicious choice of the right, specific detail is the aspect of research that’s toughest for me.

        One book I highly recommend to the girls and women in my life, and which I’ve found particularly useful in my writing research, is “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.


        • Rita Henuber says:

          I’m getting ready to order several books I’ll add that one in. I have a different take on fear than most. I believe it’s our early warning system. Fear is good it keeps us safe.


        • Amanda Brice says:

          Yes, I always recommend “The Gift of Fear.” I was attacked while walking alone at night in college, and the therapist I spoke with (in an effort to get out of my friend’s dorm room where I was camped out on her floor because I was terrified to go back to my off-campus apartment or to go to class) recommended that book.


  10. June Love says:

    Fantastic post, Rita, with a lot of helpful sites. These links are useful even if you don’t write RS.

    YouTube is an excellent “go to” site. The last time our rescue schnauzer went to a professional groomer, she suffered a mild stroke from nerves. Not wanting to risk or subject her to that again, my husband went to YouTube and learned how to groom a schnauzer. He does a decent job of it–now.

    Thanks for the info!


  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    What a fabulous resource, Rita!!!!

    I honestly don’t know how writers managed research before the internet, especially if they weren’t lucky enough to have access to a big library.

    And, yes, YouTube is amazing. I’ve been learning to read and speak Old English just by watching what’s posted there. Very cool!!!


    • Rita Henuber says:

      Really??? I never thought about languages. What a good idea.
      I remember Suz Brockman saying she spent days at the library with books spread around her researching the US Navy and SEALS.


  12. This is a great post Rita. I bookmarked the sites.

    I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever need them, but, as you know, I like to be prepared!


    • Rita Henuber says:

      Prepared-That would be you. LOL and thank you very much for that. No push ups for me today. Between you and hubs, don’t think you’ll need the weapons info either. Thanks for stopping by. Do you have any resourse you can tell us about?


  13. Vivi Andrews says:

    Wow! What amazing resources, Rita! I don’t write RS but I will be bookmarking this page for sure.

    Question – Yes, we have the burden to be more accurate since readers are so savvy, but do you also think we have to worry about what is being done on the TV cop shows because readers will THINK that is what is right (even if they get it wrong) and that impression will throw the reader out of the story? Like it is just as important to have readers think we are getting it right as it is to actually get it right? (Which sometimes means getting it a little wrong?)


    • Rita Henuber says:

      It’s a big problem. A couple of months back on Lee Lofland’s blog someone told him, a former police officer, that he didn’t know what he was talking about when he said officers always have a round in the tube of their service weapon because they didn’t do it on TV like that. Editors have told authors they must be incorrect on procedures because it isn’t done that way on TV. At the LAPD training facility this summer a couple of officers who spoke with us were consultants to TV shows. They asked us to please get it right and not do what the TV does. I love the characters on some crime shows but it is very difficult to get through the completely nonsensical things they are doing. Most times I can suspend belief because I know they have to get it done in the 45 minutes of air time. Sometimes not. I also believe readers are tougher than TV viewers. Readers do want the facts to be right. Bottom line when I’m writing I want it to be correct. You have to remember I also write very in you face stuff that gives no leeway.


      • Vivi Andrews says:

        Three cheers for getting it right! But it’s annoying that we have to add that extra layer off making it SEEM right too. Not enough just to be factual anymore. Ah, television, you’ve made completely non-expert experts of us all. LOL.


    • Amanda Brice says:

      I get soooooo annoyed when watching legal shows and the writers got it all wrong.


  14. Gosh, Rita. This is fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing.


  15. Liz Talley says:

    Wow, I sort of wish I wrote romantic suspense.

    Let me tell you, the one book I wrote with a suspense angle was HARD…and not in a romance good way either. I should have called Rita. If I had had this guide a year or so ago, I’d have been golden and would have had more time for leisure reading.

    Great post…off to share with my home chapter.


  16. Addison Fox says:

    What a great post, Rita!!!

    You are so right – modern technology and advancements means we must pay attention to that in the specifics of our storytelling.

    And these resources look like fun to comb through!!! 🙂


  17. Laurie Kellogg says:

    What a fabulous post, Rita. Such a wealth of resources. Thank you so much!


  18. Gwyn says:

    Wow, Rita! That’s quite a list. I’ll bet this post will be bookmarked numerous places today. Great job! (Now, to find so lovely a resource for the 15th century . . .)


  19. Great resources, Rita!! Making a note of these…thanks.


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