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Finding Subject Matter Experts

Can false teeth fly in a tornado? Finding The Experts
By Kathryn Lay

I had a great idea for a cave story. In actuality, the story was about a boy with claustrophobia and the creative way he dealt with it while spelunking. Considering that I'm afraid of all things creepy and crawly, I've been in few caves and knew little about caving.

But the father of one of my daughter's friends did. He'd traipsed through nearly every cave in and around Texas. He was more than willing to answer my "what if" and "how" questions. I wrote the short story and it sold to SPIDER with few changes.

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When working on a short story about a girl who decided to runaway from the circus, I went back to an interview I'd done with a circus family years ago. Their information helped me to delve into the feelings of my character and the realities of circus life. The story sold to HOPSCOTCH.

Unlike some writers, I don't enjoy spending hours of time researching for one fact that I need to put believability in a 900 word story. When an idea comes, I just want to get it down on the computer.

In an effort to 'think ahead', I began creating an expert file a few years ago. My Expert Box has helped me many times in both fiction and nonfiction writing.

Do you know any experts? Sure you do. My experts have come from various sources and are easily found when I need them.

First, I made lists of experts I knew. Family, friends, co-workers, family of my friends, friends of my family, my husband's co-workers, parents of my daughter's friends. I was surprised at how many different 'experts' I came up with and the variety of information they could provide.

On 3X5 cards I wrote down their names and contact information, and what they were experts at; whether it was their job, hobby, or interest. Sometimes, they became multi-experts. A computer technician who is a close friend is also a storm-chaser. He has come in handy with tornado information and loves to talk about storms. My brother is a mail carrier. My sister-in-law a travel agent. A friend of a friend raises horses.
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My next resource is the newspaper. I watch for stories on local people who are profiled because of their specific hobby, ability, interest, job, or area of expertise. Lastly, as a writer of adult nonfiction, I am often in need of an expert for a quote or source of information. Once I've interviewed them, I ask if I can use them or their information again. If they agree, they also become a part of my Expert Box. A safety expert from the Red Cross or National Safety Council will be a big help for information that involves bicycle, swimming, or other safety issues children encounter.

Try having an expert party with your writer's group. Bring information on your experts to share with your friends. Make a note on the card where you got the information, and if it's through a friend or another expert, make sure to mention their name when contacting the expert.

Don't become a pest with your experts. When you have a question on a topic, plan the questions ahead so that you won't take much of their time. If you're not in a hurry, they may prefer to have the questions mailed or emailed so they can have time to think about the answers.

My Expert Box full of 3X5 cards is on my desk, within easy reach. By creating an expert file, you don't always have to spend hours searching through stacks of dusty tomes to find your information. Just pick a card.

The End

Kathryn has had over 1000 articles, stories and essays published in magazines and anthologies. Her first children's novel, CROWN ME! was published in 2004 with Holiday House books. You can learn more about her writing, her online classes, and her writing book "The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer" at her website at www.kathrynlay.com or email her at rlay15@aol.com.


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