Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
It’s January 19th and I’m extremely apprehensive about viewing any news or social media sites. I’m certain this sense of foreboding arose because I’m not sure how much more of the “bad” I can take. Sure, there’s good news floating about today—the Edgar nominations were announced (congratulations to each of the nominees).
I especially follow the publications of Seventh Street Books. Actually, I have one entire shelf filled from end to end with books published by Seventh Street, so it’s especially nice to see a nod to their authors.
This year, three Seventh Street writers were nominated for Edgar Awards. Lori Rader-Day for Little Pretty Things (The Simon and Schuster – Mary Higgins Clark Award). Gordon McAlpine – Woman with a Blue Pencil (Best Paperback Original). And Adrian McKinley – Gun Street Girl (Best Paperback Original).
So yes, congratulations to all three of these wonderful authors.
But, for me, the joy of the Edgar nominations is a bit overshadowed this morning.
The day began with deep gray skies and steady rain here in our little corner of California. The air is still and void of the usual chirps and whistles of the multitude of birds that visit our backyard for their morning and evening meals. Many of the surrounding trees are bare and nothing more than fat trunks with gangly and gnarled limbs that click and tick against each other when the evening winds push them about. Grapevines have also lost their foliage, leaving behind seas of carefully placed sticks standing in perfectly aligned rows that follow the contours of the hills and valleys.
And Glenn Frey is dead. Glenn Frey of the Eagles is gone. THE Glenn Frey.
David Bowie also left us. Alan Rickman died a few days ago, as did René Angélil (Rene’ is Celine Dion’s husband. Dion’s brother also died within the past few days), Mott the Hoople drummer, Dale Griffin, died Sunday at the age of 67 (he’d been suffering from Alzheimers for quite a while), and Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams) succumbed to cancer. Natalie Cole passed away on New Years Eve. Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead’s frontman died a month ago. And Mic Gillette, founder of the group Tower of Power, died last weekend. I met and played music/jammed with Gillette and a small gathering of Bay Area musicians several years ago. What a tragic loss to the music world and to his family and friends.
And, sadly, Joey Feek (Joey and Rory) is soon to leave this world. She has maybe a month left before her body gives in to the cancer she’s been fighting for so long. Joey’s husband Rory has been chronicling Joey’s day-to-day life on his blog, This Life I Live. The story is amazing, but I caution you to have a box of tissues handy before settling in to read and watch the videos.
So yeah, it’s still raining here and, while the emotions are a mixture of both sad and happy, the day somehow has a feeling that’s a bit peaceful and easy because I know we’ll all be okay. There’ll be more Edgar Awards to celebrate, and, sadly, we’ll lose more of the folks who bring joy to our lives.
But we’ll move on, life will go on, and, well, I’ve stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and it made me smile when I did. Couldn’t help it. It just felt good. And, while standing there with Denene at my side, I could hear that Eagles song playing inside my head. Today, others will stand on that same corner, and many more will do the same for many years to come, and each time someone does I’m sure they’ll experience the “peaceful easy feeling” I felt.
Life is good so live it. And to those of you who were nominated for Edgar Awards, well, The Heat Is On!
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Penguin Random House – Dutton)
Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Night Life by David C. Taylor (Forge Books)
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Penguin Random House – Viking)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
The Daughter by Jane Shemilt (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
BEST FACT CRIME
Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the American Genocide by Eric Bogosian (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)
Where The Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him by T.J. English (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)
Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
American Pain: How a Young Felon and his Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic by John Temple (Rowman & Littlefield – Lyons Press)
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperCollins)
The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan (Arcade Publishing)
Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker (Pegasus Books)
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward (Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury USA)
BEST SHORT STORY
“The Little Men” – Mysterious Bookshop by Megan Abbott (Mysterious Bookshop)
“On Borrowed Time” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Mat Coward (Dell Magazines)
“The Saturday Night Before Easter Sunday” – Providence Noir by Peter Farrelly (Akashic Books)
“Family Treasures” – Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson (Random House)
“Obits” – Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)
“Every Seven Years” – Mysterious Bookshop by Denise Mina (Mysterious Bookshop)
Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi (Algonquin Young Readers – Workman)
If You Find This by Matthew Baker (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C.Chester (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
Footer Davis Probably is Crazy by Susan Vaught (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)
BEST YOUNG ADULT
Endangered by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Children’s Books – HarperTeen)
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis (HarperCollins Publishers – Katherine Tegen Books)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers – Workman)
Ask the Dark by Henry Turner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Clarion Books)
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
“Episode 7,” – Broadchurch, Teleplay by Chris Chibnall (BBC America)
“Gently with the Women” – George Gently, Teleplay by Peter Flannery (Acorn TV)
“Elise – The Final Mystery” – Foyle’s War, Teleplay by Anthony Horowitz (Acorn TV)
“Terra Incognita” – Person of Interest, Teleplay by Erik Mountain & Melissa Scrivner Love (CBS/Warner Brothers)
“The Beating of her Wings” – Ripper Street, Teleplay by Richard Warlow (BBC America)
ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
“Chung Ling Soo’s Greatest Trick” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by Russell W. Johnson (Dell Magazines)
Sisters in Crime
ELLERY QUEEN AWARD
Janet Rudolph, Founder of Mystery Readers International
* * * * * *
THE SIMON & SCHUSTER – MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody (Minotaur Books – A Thomas Dunne Book)
The Masque of a Murderer by Suzanne Calkins (Minotaur Books)
Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson (Llewellyn Worldwide – Midnight Ink)
Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
The EDGAR (and logo) are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
Attention Writers! If you’ve written a tale that prominently features cops, PI’s, bad guys, etc., then the centerpiece of your story most likely revolved around a murder or two, or three or four. Therefore, solving the murder was probably THE investigation that drove the book. In fact, most people think of major investigations—rape, robbery, B&E, murder, etc.—as the only investigations conducted by police. You know, the big stuff. Of course, those types of cases are a major reason readers continue to turn pages.
However, and please do make a mental note of this, every interaction an officer has with other people is an investigation. If you’ve ever been stopped for a traffic offense, for example, you were the subject of an investigation (if the officer was following his training). Part of these investigations include the art of understanding and interpreting the actions of humans, and sometimes animals.
People “leak” whatever it is they’re feeling and/or thinking when interacting with others. By leaking I mean they showcase their feelings with their face and/or body (body language). Police officers are trained to observe and interpret those signals.
It doesn’t take a flashing neon sign to give away an intention. Not at all. Sweating profusely, or a constant looking to the side (searching for an escape route?) are good examples of anxiety leaks. Constant hand-wringing, placing hands in and out of pockets, picking at clothing, and hair-twirling are others, to name only a scant few.
Of course, some people are naturally nervous when encountering police, but it’s the totality of the situation that could indicate a problem. Therefore, for the safety of the officer and for potentially uncovering a crime-in-progress, he/she absolutely must remain vigilant during every single stop. As part of that vigilance, officers should run through a mental checklist/mini investigation that includes not only asking questions, but observing eye movement, their hands, what they’re saying and how they say it (does pitch change, sudden stammering, etc.) does what they’ve said make sense, are they overly nervous, are you asking the right questions, why are they constantly glancing at your weapon, Why are they looking back at their car/trunk/side of the road/house, etc.
Above all, officers absolutely MUST look up from their notepads and ticket books and make eye contact. Otherwise, they’re missing one of the most important clues out there—body language. After all, nervous people act nervously, and those actions are typically not without reason.
So, when writing about cops keep these points about anxiety leaks and mini investigations in mind. Doing so could add some interesting detail to an already interesting story. Also, never forget about an officer’s “gut feelings.” It it doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably wrong. Those little hairs standing at attention on the back of his neck are trying to tell him something and he’d better listen, and so should the investigators in your stories. And, hopefully, that “feeling” will transfer off the pages and into the minds of your readers. If you can make the hairs stand up on the back of your readers’ necks, well, that’s a job done well.
Here’s a video about this topic presented by Lt. Dave Smith of Officer.com. As someone who taught officer survival for many years at a police academy, I wholeheartedly agree with his presentation.
Does the hero of your story have a real need to drive an invisible car? How about clothing that protects against a mustard gas attack? Is she an expert in facial recognition? Well…
1. Forensic Facial Examiners (yes, they do exist) have been tested to determine the accuracy of their identification/recognition skills. The results? Darn near perfect (99.7%, to be exact). The high mark indicates that when comparing the accuracy of trained facial examiners to non-experts, well, the trained experts were far better at recognizing, comparing, identifying and matching faces to photos than people who are not trained to do so. Therefore, it’s safe to say the experts are indeed believable and reliable when it comes to courtroom testimony.
2. Scientists have developed a new compound that neutralizes chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. The compound, a hydrogel coating, can be applied to clothing to help safeguard against the deadly chemicals. Adding the hydrogel to paint can also protect the interior of homes/rooms from chemical hazards.
3. Researchers interviewed 99 inmates, asking where they obtained the firearms used when committing their crimes. They found that very few guns, if any, were obtained by theft. Instead, the bad guys said they obtained their guns through:
a) purchase or trade from friends and family.
b) travel to states with slack gun laws for legal purchases (gun shows, online connections, etc.), but not via traditional gun stores.
c) gangs make bulk purchases from traffickers and then distribute to members.
d) 15% of weapons recovered from the criminals interviewed were purchased for them by women. Third party gun deals are called straw purchases. It is illegal to purchase a gun for someone who cannot legally posses a firearm.
It was discovered that most guns purchased and carried by criminals are older weapons—11 years or older. The inmates also stated that proactive policing once put a damper on carrying weapons they believed to be “hot,” fearing police would connect them to other crimes. Now, however, the move away from police stop and frisk practically eliminates the crooks’ worry about carrying illegal firearms.
4. Engineers have successfully developed a cloaking device that works even on very large objects, including military drones. The new Teflon substrate and ceramic studs scatters electromagnetic waves (light and radar), causing light to bypass the target object…making it “invisible” to detection. The process is basically an alteration of our perceptions.
5. According to Alabama professor and study researcher, Adam Lankford, five percent of the world’s population lives in the U.S. Within that 5% are 31% of world’s mass shooters (based upon 1966-2012 stats). Lankford also found that mass shooters from countries other than the U.S. typically use only one firearm. In the U.S. however, over half of the mass shooters have used at least two firearms when killing.
6. A University of Illinois Chicago study shows that 92% of all police officer line of duty deaths (murders) are by gunfire. 3/4 of those deaths are by handgun. From 1996 – 2010, 782 officers were killed. 716 were killed by gunfire (515 were handguns).
The study produced an unexpected result. The states with the highest numbers of officers murdered were not states with the highest rates of violent crime. Instead, the areas where officers were murdered most frequently were the states with the highest numbers of public-owned firearms, such as Montana, Alabama, Alaska, and Mississippi.
*This post is not an open invitation to express opinions about gun control. Instead, the list above is a collection of facts that could add an extra element to a work in progress.
Not all murderers choose to do their dirty work in the comfort of someone’s warm and cozy brick rancher on So Sweet Lane in Lovelytown, USA. Sometimes assassins are a bit creative when it comes to disposing of the fruits of their labor. In fact, victims have been found in really odd places, like old, rat-infested, abandoned factories, dilapidated houses, inside rusty farm machinery, lying miles-deep in the woods, a railroad car, inside discarded barrels, inside water towers and tanks, under water, a chimney, and hanging from the rafters in a barn.
So why not be creative when writing your murder scenes? The real killers sure are.
* Some of the photos in today’s blog are from the collection of Maryland photographer, Sunday Kaminski. The others are mine, one of which was once an actual murder scene.
Today, when your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the world from total devastation, pause for just a moment and consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless, superheroes? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are your action scenes believable?
I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book, including tons of stories written by readers of this blog. Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite, uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, revolvers, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get my ideas? Well…mostly from the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).
The same is true at the Writers’ Police Academy. We present workshops based on questions we hear from writers. We also develop sessions that stem from the inaccuracies found in various books, TV shows, and film. Several of the activities at the WPA are based upon actual events that occurred during the year , such as the Boston bombings, school shooters, etc.
Just this past weekend I was poring over the pages of a wonderfully written book when a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. So I backed up to re-read the last few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes. Nope, there it was as plain as day, one of the most impossible, unbelievable ways to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail because the book is very new). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to realism.
This is a problem for me. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll pick up another book written by this particular author. Why? Because he/she didn’t bother to check facts. The author didn’t even make an effort to use common sense. I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.
One of the best thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes some pretty over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes you believe it, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life. I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books. His answer was, “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before. I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk. But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg – 90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”
So how does Lee make all that wacky action work? He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.
* * *
In response to the question posted below, here’s a sample of what could be found in the trunk of a patrol car.
The trunk of a patrol car is for the storage of evidence collection material, a defibrillator (not all departments issue defibrillators), extra ammunition, rain gear, flares, emergency signage, accident and crime scene investigation equipment, extra paperwork, riot gear, etc. Again, department regulations may determine the contents of the trunk.
Is your writers’ toolbox looking a bit tired and used up these days? Do you find yourself recycling stale material no matter how deep you dig for it? Well, if you’ve noticed it, it’s likely your readers are starting to grumble, wishing you’d move on past cordite and terms like flatfoot and gumshoe.
So, here are six brand new and still-shiny facts and ideas you can toss into your toolbox for use in your current work-in-progress. After all, National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner so something new might be just the thing to brighten up a hard to write scene.
Six Facts for Your Writers’ Toolbox
1. Thermal On Demand (TOD) is a new device that allows firefighters to see detailed images—doors, light switches, furniture, victims, etc.—in smoke-filled, pitch-black places.
2. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University have developed a personality profiling technique to assist in identifying potential school shooters. The process uses vector semantics (constructing vectors that represent a variety of known personality disorders and traits) to analyze and gauge the similarities with writings of a suspect/subject. The data analysis is completed automatically via computer.
3. Scientists have discovered a method for dating fingerprints. Using a cumbersome and lab-stationary, imaging mass spectrometer (the device is not a mobile/transportable device), they’ve been able to correctly age prints up to four days. However, the prints tested were single prints deposited on polished silicon surfaces—perfect prints on perfectly-suited surfaces for testing. Experts say their next move is to test over longer periods of time, and to test on more real-life surfaces. But it’s a start. Imagine being able to rule out a suspect because his prints were left at the crime scene two weeks prior to the murder. Or, to arrest a guy because his prints were the only fingerprints left at the scene on the exact day of the homicide.
4. A new device allows the military to better hear incoming radio messages by using bone conduction of vibrations to transport sound, instead of relying on a sound that’s traditionally emitted by speakers. The device is super small, the size of a dime, which is far lighter and less cumbersome than a radio. It’s attached to a wearer’s helmut and transmits messages by turning them into vibrations. The wearer’s skull bones then send those vibrations straight to the inner ear/cochlea, bypassing the ear canal and eardrum entirely. This is an added bonus because the wearer is then free to wear hearing protection and, at the same time, receive important messages.
5. Vienna, Austria is the home of the IMS (International Monitoring System, a first-alert station that monitors nuclear transgressions throughout the world. Receiving daily real-time data from stations in 89 countries, the IMS is able to detect nuclear testing anywhere on the planet. To identify nuclear activity, the IMS analyzes atmospheric gases as well as sensitive seismometers to detect earth movement. Eleven stations monitor underwater sounds and acoustic waveforms. Since sound travels so well underwater, eleven stations are enough to cover the entire world.
6. Smart watches are a source of hacking/mining personal data. For example, a hacker using a camouflaged app could be used to steal information from emails, banking details, passwords, etc. In fact, researchers used motion sensors on smart watches to accurately guess what a user was typing. It was through the use of a homegrown app that caused the data “leaks” produced by the motion sensors.