Posted On July 5, 2017 by Print This Post

Write What You Want to Know by Vicki Delany

Message from Becke: I met Vicki Delany, who also writes as Eva Gates, at the fabulous MALICE DOMESTIC mystery conference a few years ago. There was a big gap in my knowledge of Canadian authors, which I have since tried to correct. Several of Vicki’s books are now on my keeper shelves and I’m making room for more!

There is an old adage: Write what you know.

I’ve never agreed with that. Frankly, what most of us know (and thus what we do in our lives) isn’t very interesting. I know all about designing computer systems for the banking industry, growing (and eating) tomatoes, driving long distances, and reading crime novels.

All of which hardly makes for fascinating fiction.

So let’s change the adage to: Write what you want to know.

When my agent, the wonderful Kim Lionetti from Bookends, asked me if I’d be interesting in writing a cozy mystery series set in the Outer Banks, I didn’t say, “But I’ve never been to the Outer Banks. I don’t know anything about it”, I said, “Sure!”

I set about learning. I packed up my car and headed south.

The Lighthouse Library series is set in real place, Bodie Island Lighthouse on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, south of Nags Head, North Carolina.  The lighthouse is real, but it is not a library (nor big enough to house one of the size in my books) but we thought it would be fun to pretend it is a library.

Because the lighthouse and the area around it are real places, it was important to me to get it as right as possible. (Except for the actual library in the lighthouse bit!).

I set off on a trip of discovery the first week of October, 2013.  Does that date ring any bells?

With great expectation I drove up to the lighthouse grounds the morning after my arrival.  The lighthouse itself is set very far back from the road, and a long winding driveway leads up to the parking lot for not only the lighthouse but trails into the marshes as well.

I was greeted by a man in a brown uniform lowering a barrier. I had heard something about a shut down of the US government, but surely it’s not going to affect me!  I’m a Canadian tourist!

I said to the nice man in the brown uniform, “I have literally driven all the way from Canada to see this lighthouse.”

“Sorry. Closed.”

And so I drove sadly away. The lighthouse is set so far back that all you can see from the road is the top. The beaches of the National Seashore were also closed, so I didn’t even get to see them.

But it was by no means a wasted trip. I visited the sites that were open, such as the Elizabethan Gardens, walked the beaches in Nags Head, drove up and down the main streets and side roads to check out the town. I took pictures of houses and shops, ate local foods (my dedication to research is impressive, isn’t it?). I went to a couple of branches of the library and to several bookstores to introduce myself and my series, and got names to use as contacts for any information I needed to know.

Because I couldn’t get into the Bodie Island Lighthouse I went to see the Currituck Lighthouse, which was built from the same design. The Currituck light is not owned by the national park service so it was open.

There I discovered a beautiful saying written on the wall.  I used it in By Book or By Crook.

“At the Currituck Light they have a saying on the wall I always remember, ‘to Illuminate the dark space.’ That doesn’t seem so important in today’s world, where there are so few truly dark spaces. Particularly along most of the coast of North America. Lights on the eastern seaboard are so bright some cities scarcely have night any more.  But in the old days, the days before electricity? Imagine being out to sea, in a warship powered only by wind or a small fishing boat on a cloudy night, no radio, no satellite guidance, a storm raging all around. And then, in the distance, that flash of light. And you would know you were not alone.”

I learned what I wanted to write about.

I am now writing cozy mysteries, but I am also the author of a series featuring Canadian police officers.

I took the same approach to those books: Write What You Want to Know.

I have no background in law enforcement whatsoever. But when I decided I wanted to write a police procedural series set in Canada, I knew I had to learn. Nothing annoys me more than reading a book supposedly set in Canada where the cops are called DCI or carry their guns off-duty.

So I set about learning about how Canadian police work. All I had to do was ask, and I’ve had a lot of help from working cops. I’ve asked lots of questions, and been on walk-alongs, ride-alongs, observed in-service training classes, and been to the firing range.  And I learned enough that there are now eight novels in the Constable Molly Smith series set in a small town in the Interior of B.C.

Write what you want to know” and you’ll meet some wonderful people, and learn some marvellous things along the way.


Do you agree that an author needs to go beyond what they know? What have you done to learn what you want to know?



Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than twenty-five books:  clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. Under the name of Eva Gates, she writes the Lighthouse Library cozy series for Penguin Random House. Her latest novel is Elementary, She Read, the first in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series from Crooked Lane.

Vicki is the past president of the Crime Writers of Canada.  Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards.

Visit Vicki at On Facebook at Twitter @vickidelany

Elementary She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery

Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has come to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur’s Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop–located at 222 Baker Street–specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.

The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman’s suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it’s a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes will delight in the sleuthing duo of Gemma and Jayne in Elementary, She Read, the clever and captivating series debut by nationally bestselling author Vicki Delany.

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13 Responses to “Write What You Want to Know by Vicki Delany”

  1. Vicki,
    Your writing history is amazing! I can’t wait to read your books. I agree with your statement, and I’ve loved doing research for my stories. The best one is my first stories set in Hawaii!
    I started writing it a few years before getting to go to Hawaii, and it’s a good thing I wasn’t published yet, I found that where I had set my story was in a volcano field! No one who has ever been to the big Island would ever finish reading that story, lol. Accuracy is very important!
    Thanks for your post.

    Posted by Sherrill Lee | July 5, 2017, 9:57 am
  2. Vicki – Thanks so much for this awesome post! As a struggling writer, I’ve run into this problem – and the opposite of this problem – more than once. The opposite happened when I tried to set a story in Cincinnati, where I lived at that time. I constantly felt the need to explain things that locals knew: that there’s a bridge across the Ohio River from Newport, KY to Cincinnati, that Cincinnati’s airport is actually in Kentucky, and so on. Even when I kept telling myself, “Readers don’t need to know this stuff!” I still felt like I had to explain things.

    I’ve also tried to set a story in Albuquerque, a town I love and have visited many times. With that story, I kept checking with my brother, who lives there, to make sure I had details right. I wanted to include a restaurant at the top of Sandia Crest, one that you reach by a cable car. I was plagued with worries – was the restaurant still there? Was it still reached by cable car? Is it okay to mention a real place like that restaurant in a fictional story?

    I understand why authors often invent the towns in their books. At least (shout-out to Sherrill) there are no volcano field surprises that way!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 5, 2017, 10:31 am
  3. Research is one of the best parts of writing. I write fantasy, science fiction, and historical westerns. No way I could write what I know. The keel hasn’t been laid yet for Enterprise C or the Millenium Falcon. Great post. Love the library in a lighthouse.

    Posted by HELEN HENDERSON | July 5, 2017, 10:35 am
  4. Thanks for hosting me, Becke and good luck to all the writers out there.

    Posted by Vicki Delany | July 5, 2017, 3:00 pm
  5. Vicky – Thanks for joining us today! This is kind of off-topic, but I’m curious about your alter-ego. Do you have to get into a different mindset when you write the Eva books?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 5, 2017, 6:31 pm
    • The problem I had in the past was switching from a gritter book to a lighter one, or vise versa, regardless of the name I was using. Now that Vicki Delany is also writing cozies, it’s pretty seamless.

      Posted by Vicki Delany | July 6, 2017, 6:53 am
  6. Hi Vicky,

    How much of your research made it into the book? Research is one of my favorite parts about writing.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 6, 2017, 12:09 am
    • In the Outer Banks books, quite a lot, particularly descriptions of places and food. For the police series, not much. The research there was more about facts I needed to know, not necessarily the reader, and creating a mood. But I do know the place the Constable Molly Smith books are set very well (Nelson, BC)

      Posted by Vicki Delany | July 6, 2017, 6:55 am
  7. Really enjoyed this post! While I’ve had many experiences in life, none are near as interesting as my characters. My current WIP has a character involved in street racing, and I hope to get in touch with some people in my town who do this. Given the opportunity, people are happy to share their passion, rather than see it badly represented.

    Posted by Dominique Blessing | July 9, 2017, 8:42 pm


  1. […] comes from a post by author Vicki Delany, published at Romance University. Delany echoes my own issue with write what you know: that most of us know some pretty boring stuff […]

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