Follow me Down centers on Mia Haas, who has built a life for herself far from the small town where she grew up, but when she receives word that her twin brother is missing, she’s forced to return home. Once hailed as the golden boy of their small town, Lucas Haas disappeared the same day the body of one of his high school students is pulled from the river. Trying to wrap her head around the rumors of Lucas’s affair with the teen, and unable to reconcile the media’ portrayal of Lucas as a murderer with her own memories, Mia is desperate to find another suspect. All the while, she wonders, "if he’s innocent, why did he run?" As Mia reevaluates their difficult, shared history and launches her own investigation into the grisly murder, she uncovers secrets that could exonerate Lucas—or seal his fate. In a small town where everyone’s history is intertwined, Mia will be forced to confront her own demons, placing her right in the killer’s crosshairs.
Sherri stops by In Reference to Murder today to take some Author R&R on how she went about researching and writing the book:
When I started writing Follow Me Down, the last thing I wanted to do was research. I was completely research-fatigued (if that’s a thing?) I had previously written two historical fiction novels for Simon and Schuster UK and both required a grueling amount of investigation into the customs, daily life and politics of the two very different periods they were set in. My methods were the same for each. I read from the era, about the era, I’d make contact with PhD professors who specialized in some aspect of said era. This part was fairly enjoyable because I do love history, specifically those everyday life details, but when I got to the writing part I’d seize up. I became nearly paralyzed at the thought of getting something wrong and undoing the research I’d done. Or ruining the believability of the time period because I’d inadvertently included something that shouldn’t be there (and it happened anyway.) Very quickly, writing in this genre became too stifling and clinical for me. I was too panicky about all the wrong things.
So for Follow Me Down, I was practically going out of my way to do as little research as possible. But of course I wasn’t off the hook completely. My main character, Mia Haas has a pill addiction and because I am not personally a pill-popper, I had to do some reading.
Straight off, there’s the Internet of course. I looked up everything Mia takes in the novel there first, poring over the fine print (AKA dire warning labels) and this gave me an initial feel for whatever medication Mia tosses back. The sort of side effects she might get, or what meds might not mix well.
That of course wasn’t enough. I wanted to get a better sense of what she was actually experiencing when those pills fizzed away in her stomach and let loose in her blood stream. So from there I turned to forums where people freely discussed their drug use. How it made them feel, what they recommended to one another and what one might want more of and why. I lurked around those forums a lot. Probably way too much.
The Internet is a dangerous place to do your research though, it drags you in and next thing you know, you’ve lost countless hours chasing after some bit of information that didn’t matter anyway. I remember spending way too much time one afternoon reading all about Viagra’s origin story, which didn’t show up in my book at all.
Because my main character is also a pharmacist, I followed a few grumbling blogs by pharmacists. These gave me amazing insight into what these particular people felt like working in a chain pharmacy. What their hours were like, what made them mad, how overworked they felt. How they got along with co-workers in a relatively closed space. It definitely helped me get inside Mia’s head.
I’d also call my local Safeway pharmacy a lot. A LOT. I struck up a great friendship with a certain lovely pharmacist (let’s just call her Phyllis the pharmacist because it sounds suitably fake) who patiently answered all my very sketchy questions. Of course not before establishing I didn’t need an ambulance or poison control. I really can’t extoll the virtues of pharmacists enough. They really pick up serious slack in the health care system.
And while I can’t say Mia is what you’d call a shining example of the pharmaceutical profession, she definitely epitomizes the smarts it takes to be in that line of work. She’s got meds and she knows how to use them (and yes, I am typing this with the tune of She’s Got Legs going off in my head.) This is where my research actually became fun. It was like being in a druggie’s candy-shop, getting to choose whatever I wanted but without any of the risk. I got to pump my character full of pills that would enhance her best (and sometimes worst) qualities. She gets to stay up longer, numb herself to mounting dread and keep herself sharp on stimulates so she can eventually get to the truth. It was a bit like writing a super-hero, but one who gets hangovers.
Unlike my earlier dealings with research, I now know when to stop and how to better dodge getting too embroiled in it. But still, going forward I will continue to avoid it as much as possible.