What it’s like to be a research assistant for Ginger Gold
Norm Strauss is the husband of Author Lee Strauss and part of the writing and marketing team at La Plume Press.
As you can imagine, writing historical mysteries can be challenging. The ‘mystery’ part of it is hard enough of course. This often requires creative brainstorming that includes lots of scratching of the chin, and lots of ‘Hmm. What if this?’ or ‘What if that?’. It’s the science of inventive thinking, albeit with a vaguely dark twist to it since every book has at least one murder in it. If anyone ever happened to overhear one of these brainstorming sessions it would probably get us both arrested. Needless to say, we don’t brainstorm about methods for murder when we go out for dinner.
The ‘historical’ part of writing can also be a bit daunting. The Ginger Gold Series is set in 1920s London, The Higgins and Hawke series is set in 1930s Boston, while The Rosa Reed series is in 1950s Southern California. Three very different decades and locations. To add to that, Ginger’s Journal takes place just before, during and after World War 1. Practically every 3rd sentence requires a deep dive into online history sites when writing the Journal.
Part of my job at La Plume Press is to engage in historical research in an effort to keep our books historically plausible. Luckily, I have always been a bit of a history buff and now, having done research for all three series, I am even more of a history enthusiast than I used to be.. I am now pretty well versed in topics I knew nothing about before. Not sure if that makes me any smarter, but I am never short of conversation starters these days.
The Ginger Gold Series is the most challenging becauseit seems to take more digging to come up with very specific facts in 1926 London for Ginger Gold than it does in say, a 1955 small town for Rosa Reed.
I have spent hours trying to answer such questions as: How many telephone booths were in existence in London during the early 20s? How did offices make copies of documents back then? What was the wage of a lift operator in Selfridge’s Department Store in 1925? What did their uniforms look like? How far could a car travel in one hour starting from London Bridge and going due north? What was playing in the movie houses in London in May of 1925? Did police use fingerprints to catch suspects? What did a Christmas Turkey sell for then?
In the ‘Lady Gold Investigates’ series Volume 2 I was tasked with diving into the world of fine French cuisine during the 1920s for the short story, ‘The Case of the Recipe Robbery’. For Volume 3 I had to figure out the baffling game of cricket for ‘The Case of the Unlucky Cricketer’.
I won’t give any spoilers here but one of the most amusing things I had to do was phone a German craftsman living in Victoria BC. This gentleman was an expert in making a certain ‘contraption’ out of wood and metal, and though I won’t say here what it is or which book I was researching for, I will say that what he makes is a rarity in the modern world but was common a century ago.
I had to explain to him that I was researching for a fictional book where someone is murdered using a component of said contraption, and I needed to know which exact component would work best, what the dimensions and weight of the thing is, would it be damaged much if it was used for violence, and how easy was it to put back in place without being noticed. Such information is surprisingly hard to find on google! There was a long silence on the phone as he no doubt tried to decide if this would somehow implicate him in some dark and violent deed.
He must have chosen to trust me though because I eventually heard him switch to German and do what many men through the ages have done when faced with a tricky question. He asked his wife.
I now know who to call should I ever want to dispatch someone with a _____.
For the Ginger Gold Series alone I have researched exotic poisons (including inventing some new ones), the history of ballistics in Scotland Yard, and Elephant behaviour, among many other topics. I have learned about WW1 carrier pigeons, famous hat designers of the Jazz Age, and snake venom. I have mapped out parts of the city of London in 1926 in detail, designed a 14th century castle in Edinburgh, and tried to accurately predict what a certain Boston terrier would do if he ever decided to impede a violent criminal who happened to be chasing his owner.
The list goes on and the books keep coming – Norm Strauss