Writers hunt secrets as their buried treasure

As an adult, I walked by an old cedar tree where I played as a girl and saw a small glass bottle peeking from the dirt. I remembered that bottle. I had played with it as a little girl — it was one of my Bookcollogo3-2014doctor grandfather’s old medicine bottles. I dug it up carefully, washed it, and I cherish it today as I look at it on a shelf nearby. It holds happy memories of playing in the dirt under a shady spot in summer. It’s value to me is like buried treasure, though it would mean nothing to someone else.

Digging up buried treasure is fun. Probably dangerous, hot and dirty in the desert or wet and cold if you’re in the depths of the ocean. Digging up treasured facts for an investigative story is just as thrilling, though you may not have a pile of gold coins to show for it later.

Finding gold from your royalty checks depends on whether you are writing a blockbuster crime novel about why a man was found shot in bed next to his wife and she heard nothing. Not only that, she was acquitted by a jury of her peers. Well, that book is coming. We’re working on it now.

What if you discover that a judge some years ago in an old case who set a bond for an accused killer was close friends with the killer’s mother many years previously? What if you know a file that traced the judge back to the family has suddenly gone missing at the courthouse?

Oh, the mysteries you’ll uncover if you become a researcher who digs and digs and follows threads that lead to another thread that will eventually unravel the secrets hidden away?

Investigative journalism was a large part of what I did for 30 years. There is nothing quite as exciting as uncovering that little bit of evidence that proves everything your gut is telling you!

You also end up thanking your mentors who teach you how to search and how to find and document. Sometimes, they give you the best tips worth more than all the gold in piles everywhere.

On my first day covering the legislature, I had been sitting in a committee meeting for hours, when an editor and friend from another paper came up and said, “What are you doing?” “I’m taking notes,” I said. “Don’t waste your time,” he said. “This bill has already been decided. The vote was taken by the ones on the committee who are not in this room, who have been meeting with the lieutenant governor. It’s done. Look. Who is missing? Those are the ones in power. The others don’t count. ”

He took me outside into the hallway and said,  “Stand here in the hall, and when you see the procession out the back door in the back hall, you will know that the meeting with the lieutenant governor is over. If so-and-so is smiling, it went his way.”

He also insured that I sat through final budget hearings at midnight in the balcony. I heard one mysterious law being passed that referenced liquor being sold at a certain latitude and longitude. I looked at my mentor quizzically? “Oh,” he grinned, “they just said that liquor can be sold near a Baptist Church, but if they only give the latitude and longitude, the general public won’t get it.” It passed. I also heard one bill that was so convoluted no one really knew what it said, but the lobbyist near me jumped up, jerked her fist in to her waist, whispered, “Yeah, baby!” And took off to celebrate.

Not long ago, I was researching and tripped over a master’s thesis, now missing from the Internet, which explained the Bohemian Grove in Sonoma County. Now there is an article on wikipedia, of course. Supposedly, for two weeks every July, some of the most powerful men in the world gather there at this 2,500 acre “summer camp” with their security forces and make decisions that run our planet.

Can you imagine being a fly on the wall on a hot July day, just listening in?

The excitement of writing is not only the characters who populate my essay, story, or fiction novel, but it is the hunt for the plot, surrounded by all the reality you can create from facts. And if I’m reading or writing a nonfiction novel, I expect it to be all the buried treasure that tells the tale.

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