What a terrific group of friends, who are taking time out of their busy schedules to help me celebrate the release of Bad Pick tomorrow (April 16) at 3 p.m.

Authors Annette Riggle Dashofy, Gretchen Archer, Cynthia Kuhn, Julie Mulhern, and Wendy Young heard I’d had an accident that put me out of commission for awhile and organized this party to help promote my new book, BAD PICK, since they knew I was unable to do the usual book launch promotions. PLEASE join in the fun.

There will be lots of prizes AND you’ll get better acquainted with some talented fellow authors!

Directions to the party.

Looking for Classes on Police Procedures or Paranormal Stuff? Check out our April Classes. Now OPEN for Registration!

Yes, I’m once again teaching a fun and informative month-long COFFIN class. This one is called “Murder One: You Can’t Make This Up: Oddities in Police Procedure.” Please sign up to join in on the fun. Classes begin today and are open to the public.

Note: COFFIN is the name of the online workshop program through Kiss of Death. All classes are 100% online via an email loop and open to anyone.

Again, classes are open to the public!!

To sign up: https://rwakissofdeath.org/coffin 

To View Upcoming Classes: https://rwakissofdeath.org/coffin (signup is always open so signup early).

April Classes:

Murder One: You Can’t Make This Up: Oddities in Police Procedure (by special request)

Lee Lofland, founder of the Writers Police Academy and the 2019 special event, MurderCon, returns to the Kiss of Death Chapter to expand on his most popular articles of THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT, one of the top five of the thirty best police blogs. During this class, this renowned instructor will discuss thing writers miss or things writers get wrong in books. Come prepared to learn and ask questions about Death Investigations, Police Procedure, Police Tools and Equipment, Courts and Research, and more.

Instructor Bio:

Lee Lofland, a Medal of Valor recipient, is a veteran police investigator who began his law-enforcement career working as an officer in Virginia’s prison system. He later became a sheriff’s deputy, a patrol officer, and finally, he achieved the highly-prized gold shield of detective. Along the way, he gained a breadth of experience that’s unusual to find in the career of a single officer.

Killer Instincts: Beyond Boo!: Using Paranormal Creatures, Plots and Elements in Your Romantic Thrillers

NYT Bestselling author Megan Hart guides you through how to create your best monsters, figure out what perilous situations will horrify your characters most, and how to get them to fall in love while on the run from things that go bump in the night. You’ll learn how to decide what paranormal elements you want to incorporate in your suspense and thrillers to give it the edge you might not have expected.

Instructor Bio:

Megan Hart writes books. Some use bad words, but most of the others are okay. She can’t live without music, the internet, or the ocean. She writes a little bit of everything from horror to romance, though she’s best known for writing erotic fiction that sometimes makes you cry. Find out more atmeganhart.com, twitter.com/megan_hartand www.facebook.com/readinbed

My name is Detective I. Ketchem and I’ve been asked to step outside the pages of my current book to help the heroes of your stories, the poor characters whose writers sometimes forget how important it is to conduct even just a wee bit of research.

Those writers, bless their hearts, think they know everything about police work and crime scene investigation because, believe it or not, they’ve watched a few episodes of Law and Order, Hawaii Five-O, and Barney Miller.

Thant’s not proper research folks, and your readers deserve better. After all, they spend their hard-earned money by driving through forests and deserts and mountains and deep, dark jungles, searching for stores where they can purchase your books.

Those same fans stand in long lines at their neighborhood Piggly Wiggly stores, lines that snake through the pickled pigs feet and cottage cheeses, passing eggs, bacon, and tripe, before finally winding through the dips and chips and Cool Whips and beef lips, all to have you sign copies of those precious books.

Later, they proudly post cheesy posed pictures of you with your arm around them at those signings where everyone leaves smelling like raw clams and smoked hams.

Yes, fans adore you. So why let them down by inserting not-so-hot information into your tall tales. Besides, those inaccuracies could do us in before chapter one concludes on page twelve. And you need us to bring your tales to a satisfactory conclusion.

So I decided the best means of addressing the problem would be to dive right into the deep end of some of the books found out there today. After an exhaustive search, here are the tips I have for the characters in your books.

If you won’t help them out by conducting proper research, well, it’s up to the fictional heroes of your stories to do the things that keep them safe so that they may live on to star in the next book.

A List of Ten Traps That Could Kill Your Characters

1. No matter how hot or uncomfortable it is in a setting, always wear your vest. Bad guys carry guns in scenes where the settings are hot and humid! Don’t believe it, drive over to New Iberia, Louisiana and have a chat with Dave Robicheaux. He’ll fill you in on all the sticky, sweaty details.

2. When responding to a call in an unfamiliar area, always plan an escape route. Never drive into an ambush situation, especially deep in those crevices where the pages meet the spine. And, whatever you do, look behind every single cookie crumb down there. You never know…

3. Search every suspect thoroughly before placing them inside your police car. Officers in other books have been injured or killed because they skipped this simple step.

4. Don’t be shy when searching criminals. Weapons have been found in every imaginable place, and some have been found in places you don’t want to imagine. This is fiction, after all, so anything and everything is possible, including in those places where the “sun don’t shine!”

Shyness Can Be A Death Sentence!

5. Use the same caution when arresting women as you would when arresting male suspects. You’re just as dead when killed by a female character. Letting down your guard can be a series-ender. Female crooks in real life take advantage of the fact that male officers are a bit apprehensive about placing their hands in places where the hands of strangers shouldn’t be placed. So, where do they hide guns, handcuff keys, drugs, etc.? Yep, they often hide those thing right “there.”

And, to make things far worse for the male detective who’s searching a female for weapons, she often pretends to enjoy the hands-on search and even quite loudly vocalizes her feigned pleasure so that bystanders hear every blush-inducing comment.

Shoot, I once stopped a dress-wearing shoplifter who’d concealed a plastic garbage pail between her legs. And when I removed it found that it contained several packages of steaks, CDs, a small umbrella, and a cantaloupe.

So yeah, search EVERYWHERE!. Do. Not. Be. Shy.

6. When engaged in a vehicle pursuit never fixate on the suspect’s tail lights. If he runs off the page or hits a dog eared corner and crashes, you’ll likely follow straight into death. (Yeah, we dislike dog-eared pages too. Drive us nuts).

Instead, of following taillights, watch the entire vehicle and where it’s headed. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Also, all bright lights are not oncoming cars and trucks. Instead, it’s possible they’re merely reading lights. Still, use caution when heading “into the light”.

7. Always double-lock handcuffs. This is not the time to rush to the next page. Doing so before it’s time can have disastrous results. You don’t want to spend the next three chapters in some fictional hospital.

20140807_112130

To double-lock, insert the pointed end of a handcuff key into the tiny hole on the side of the cuffs.

Remember, the writer of your tale can be pretty darn devious, so don’t put it past her to give her crooks some serious brainpower. Even make-believe thugs sometimes practice escaping cuffs with only one lock (the ratchet) secured. A paperclip or bobby pin will do the job. Besides, double-locking prevents the cuffs from becoming too tight on your suspect’s wrists.

8. Never allow tunnel vision to run your investigation. The deadly blow could come from any character and from any scene. Your writer is actively dreaming up hurdles for you, and this one could be a doozy.

9. Never let your guard down. The well-dressed man with the flashy smile on page 67 just might be another Dr. Lector.

10. Don’t let your job come before family. Every story needs a dose of personality. Readers want to know and like you. So make it happen. Smile. Love your wife or girlfriend. Take the kids to the park. And definitely get an ugly dog. Readers gush over this stuff. Without it, you may as well be tromping through the nonfiction aisles of a B&N.

And, the dour detective has been done to death. You’re writers, so use your imaginations.

Finally, please, please, please stop having us smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes. It can’t happen. It doesn’t happen. They stopped making it back at the end of WWII. The stuff we smell is smokeless gunpowder, and it smells a bit like the odor of 4th of July fireworks.

 

As a police detective whose job was to solve murders, I found it especially helpful to immerse myself into the lives of the victims rather than merely going through the motions of filling in the blanks of police reports. I had to make it personal, to try my absolute best to see the case through the eyes of the victims. I needed to know them and everything about them. I practically had to BE them until the point where they exhaled for the final time.

I needed to know a victim’s family and friends. I walked the paths they traveled. I learned their routines. I spoke with and interviewed their friends and family and neighbors, yes, but I also made the effort see those friends and relatives from the victim’s perspective, not in reverse, as those people thinking about their loved one occupying a table space in the state morgue.

It’s Personal

To know the family and friends and acquaintances from the point of view of the victim is a telling and sometimes eye-opening experience. Getting to know people on a personal level is a key that unlocks many “doors,” and doing so, more often than not, helps to crack those hardened exteriors people often develop toward police officers. Showing that you do indeed care about them and their loved one as people and not as items on a checklist goes a long way.

Above all, I listened. And I listened and I listened and I listened.

Caring About the Victim

I cared about the victims, each of them. I learned their habits. Their likes, hopes, and dreams. I grew to know their coworkers and their bosses and the people in the stores where they shopped for food and clothing, and the places where they purchased gas for their cars. I knew what they liked to read and to watch on TV. I held their dogs and cats and their babies. I hugged their parents, their spouses, and their young children. I played ball with their kids. I sat with the family, again listening to stories about the past and of lost futures.

I had to know the victim, personally.

If a victim once stopped by a donut shop in the mornings, well, I sometimes retraced the route and did the same. Along the way, I saw joggers, dog-walkers, letter carriers, delivery people, children on their way to school, bus drivers, cab drivers, and I saw the grumpy old men and women who spend their days peering at the street through gaps in dingy lace curtains. I saw garbage collectors, street sweepers, patrol officers, ambulance drivers, FED EX and UPS drivers, animal control officers, the man who waters his lawn at precisely 9 A.M., and the woman who wore a big floppy hat while tending to her roses each day at the crack of dawn. I spoke with each of those people. People see the little things and those “things” no matter how small, could lead to the killer.

Clues

Tiny clues are often the ones that bring a case to a close. And those leads are sometimes offered by ordinary people not associated with the crime in question—the lawn waterer, neighborhood street sweepers, etc.—who each have an opportunity to see something, and often times they did. But had I not taken the time to to stop and say hi and to ask a few simple questions, well, those little tidbits and tips may have gone forever unspoken.

I visited the homes of murder victims. I examined the rooms where they slept. I saw where they cooked and ate their meals. I looked into the refrigerators to see their contents, searching for anything that could help me better understand the unfortunate and poor soul whose heart no longer beat with metronome precision.

Research

I even used this method when researching and writing a true crime tale published by Prometheus books. The story was about the extremely brutal murder of a young woman named Tina Mott.

While conducting the research for the book , a process that lasted over a year, I found myself delving deeper and deeper in Tina’s life until I felt as if I’d known her. I learned so much detail about her short time on the planet that I knew her likes and dislikes, her hobbies, and even her emotions.

Tina wrote poetry and it was through her writings, works I studied, hoping to use them to provide me with insight, when I began to set her story to page.

I tacked photos of Tina on my bulletin board. I even had one of my desk. In the image on my desk, she was at a birthday celebration for her, a small event hosted by friends. In the picture, she was smiling and obviously happy.

Images like those helped to take me into her life and, together with the poems and interviews with friends and family, well, she was no longer a stranger whose remains sadly went unfound for a year.

Instead, I knew Tina even though we’d never met. She was a person. A good-hearted young woman, a brand new mother with feelings and emotions. She laughed. She cried. She hurt. And she loved life. And then she died at the hand of her boyfriend, another person I came to know during the research.

I experienced both his good and his dark side. He, too, was real person. A real and evil person.

This is the same way I approached all murder cases. I came to know the victims as people.

Locking Away Biases

While working to solve a homicide case, it is paramount that investigators leave their predispositions locked away in an imaginary safe. Actually, officers should never pre-judge anyone. Instead, they should start fresh at each and every crime scene and with each and every suspect, witness, and victim. Isn’t that exactly how the great writers of our time produce such wonderful books, over and over again? They do so by starting with a fresh story on page one, chapter one.

Starting anew, without predisposition and prejudice, and without knowing the identity of a killer is one reason why I believe Agatha Christie remains so wildly popular in the mystery world. This is so because she, like police homicide investigators, did not know the name of the killer when she started her stories.

As Christie’s characters worked through their convoluted and fictional crimes—bad and good folks alike—, they often made the same mistakes real-life officers tend to experience as they wind their ways through along the journeys leading to the ends of their cases. Christie wrote in this style because she, too, was working out resolutions to the clues and traps that she herself had planted while writing.

Human Nature

As a former detective who still thinks like an investigator as I read book after book, I sometimes see subtle things in Christie’s writing that leads me to believe she was solving her own cases with each written word.

In Five Little Pigs, Christie’s story clung tightly to the cause and effect of human nature. It’s a character-driven book where Poirot solves a cold case and he does so through his and Christie’s understanding and examinations of a person’s emotions and passion. Like Poirot, through Christie’s eyes and typewriter, a real-life police investigator who has the ability to “see” human nature is an investigator who’ll find success in their field.

Sure, DNA and fancy lights and chemicals and laboratories are nice, but they’re nothing more than icing on the cake when compared to the detective who knows and understands people, and human nature.

Are Real-Life Detectives Plotters or Pansters?

If one were to stop and ponder for a moment they’d see that homicide and other detectives are often both plotters and pansters. The former due to department guidelines and standard methods as to how a scene is approached—911 call, first responder arrives, detectives and CSI arrive, coroner is called, speak to witnesses, collect evidence using Sirchie evidence collection tools and products, yada, yada, yada.

But it is the panster detective, the cop who’s not afraid to step outside the line, who’s the investigator that people will open up to most quickly. They’re the cops who turn over all the stones, just not in any particular order. They easily adapt to fast paced and quick-changing cases.

Detectives who follow along a more plotter-type course of investigation are perhaps science-based linear thinkers and, sure, their style produces results. But even they must vary from the “plot line” in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Christie knew and understood that humans are flawed. No one, including either of her characters, is perfect. And it is this, the fallibility of human beings, that helped her characters and her tales ring so wonderfully true, and believable.

Agatha Christie was indeed the queen of writing believable make-believe, and this is so because she understood the importance of adapting real-life into her work. Poirot, for example, was based upon first World War refugees who arrived Torquay, in 1916. Miss Marple assumed characteristics of Christie’s own grandmother. Others were based upon traveling companions and co-workers from her dispensing days. She based settings on her own property, holiday locations, archaeological digs, and more. Much more.

Police detectives understand the importance of knowing each of the characters involved in the crimes they investigate. They also study setting, the crime scene, victim’s home, etc.

They know the value of stepping outside one’s comfort zone to reach a satisfactory conclusion. They’re also extremely willing to conduct research and attend training to help set them apart from the average cop. Shouldn’t you, as a writer, be willing to do the same?

Research. Research. Hands. On. Research!


There’s still time to register for this extremely rare opportunity where you will attend the same training offered to top homicide investigators from around the world! This course of instruction is typically for law enforcement eyes only, but the Writers’ Police Academy, in conjunction with Sirchie, the world leader in in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions, has made it possible for to attend this, the only event of its kind in the world!

MurderCon takes place at Sirchie’s compound located just outside of Raleigh, N.C.

Please, do your readers a huge favor and sign up today while you still can.

MurderConRegsitration

You know you have a winner when a reader says, “Wow, that book took my breath away!”

The Bee Gees offered a simple solution how writers can deliver those magical stories, and the answer is so very simple. Use the right words and the magic will happen. Because, after all …

“It’s only words,
And words are all I have,
To take your breath away.” ~ The Bee Gees


P.

Parenticide – Killing of one’s own parents.

Patent Fingerprints – Prints that are visible to the naked eye.

PCR (Polymerace Chain Reaction) – DNA testing procedure/technique that creates millions of copies of strands of tiny samples of DNA. The procedure was discovered and developed by biochemist Kary Mullis, who, by the way, is an acquaintance of my wife Dr. Denene Lofland.

PCR Thermal Cycler – Device used amplify, or copy, segments of DNA using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A sort of DNA “copy machine.” You’d likely see one of these devices in most labs used for DNA testing, including the labs where samples are tested in cases involving criminal suspects.

Thermal Cycler manufactured by Bio-Rad, one of the top five life science companies in the world.

The above image of a Thermal Cycler was taken in a laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. This particular device was located in the laboratory of Dr. Stephanie Smith, a DNA expert.

I took the photo while visiting my friend Dr. Dan Krane, one of the world’s most highly-respected and renowned DNA experts. Dr. Smith’s laboratory was operated under the watchful eye of Dr. Krane.

WPA attendees may remember Dan Krane from his fascinating presentation at one of our past events. Dr. Krane is often called upon as an expert in high-profile cases, such as the OJ Simpson case, the D.C. Snipers, and even the infamous “blue dress” case involving Clinton and Lewinsky. Dr. Dan Krane and Denene (my wife) were colleagues at the time I visited his laboratories. He and Denene (also an expert) were responsible for much of the DNA information in my book on police procedure.

Pedophilia – An ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. Its recurrent sexually arousing fantasies involve strong sexual urges and/or behaviors that include sexual activity with a child or multiple children who are typically age 13 years or younger. To meet the criteria of a pedophile, the person typically must fantasize about or act on those attractions over a period of at least six months.

Perimortem – Around the actual time of death.

Petecheal Hemorrhage – Pinpoint spots that appear as a result of bleeding under the skin. Conjunctival petechiae are a sign of possible compression of the neck and jugular veins due to choking and/or strangulation. Keep in mind that petechiae do not prove strangulation and their absence does not disprove it. It’s not a definite conclusion. However, the presence of petechiae is a handy red flag for police investigators that foul play could be a cause of death.

Piquerism – Sexual gratification to stab and cut. To enjoy seeing a victim bleed as flesh is pierced, ripped, and/or torn away.

Plastic Prints – Fingerprints visible in substances such as wax, caulk, or soap.

Psychological Autopsy – Procedure where experts in the mental health field collaborate with law enforcement to determine a person’s state of mind at the time they committed a crime.

Psychopathic Killer – A person who kills simply because they enjoy the act of killing.

Psychotic Killer – A person’s who’s psychosis drives them to murder.

Pugilistic Attitude – Position assumed by a victim of a death by fire. These victims often appear in a “boxer-like” position with elbows and knees bent/flexed and fists clenched. This posture is caused when intense heat contracts muscle fiber and tissue. A rookie mistake is to assume this person was “burned in place” while attempting to fight off an attacker. Not so.

 

Dead bodies always have a lot to reveal to investigators!

Putrefaction is the destruction of the soft tissue caused by two things, bacteria and fermentation of enzymes. As the bacteria and enzymes do their jobs the body immediately begins to discolor and transform into liquids and gases. The odd thing about the bacteria that destroys tissue at death is that much of it has been living in the respiratory and intestinal tracts all along.  Of course, if the deceased had contracted a bacterial infection prior to death, that bacteria, such as septicemia (blood poisoning), would aid in increasing the body’s decomposition.

Temperature plays an important part in decomposition. 70 degrees to 100 degrees F is the optimal range for bacteria and enzymes to do what they do best, while lower temperatures slow the process. Therefore, and obviously, a body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime.

A blood-filled circulatory system acts as a super-highway for those organisms that destroy the body after death. Without blood the process of putrefaction is slowed.

Therefore, a murder victim whose body bled out will decompose at a slower rate than someone who died of natural causes.

Bodies adorned in thick, heavy clothing (the material retains heat) decompose more rapidly than the norm. Electric blankets also speed up decomposition.

A body will decompose faster during the sweltering days of summertime

A body that’s buried in warm soil may decompose faster than one that’s buried during the dead of winter. The type of soil that surrounds the body also has an effect on the rate of decomposition. For example, the soil in North Carolina is normally a reddish type of clay. The density of that clay can greatly retard the decomposition process because it reduces the circulation of air that’s found in a less dense, more sandy-type of earth.

Adult bodies buried in a well drained soil will become skeletonized in approximately 10 years. A child’s body in about five years.

People who were overweight at the time of their deaths decompose faster than skinny people. People who suffered from excessive fluid build-up decompose faster than those who were dehydrated. And people with massive infections and congestive heart failure will also decompose at a more rapid rate than those without those conditions.

The rule of thumb for the decomposition of a body is that, at the same temperature, 8 weeks in well-drained soil equals two weeks in the water, or one week exposed to the air.

Now, hold on to your breakfast …

The first sign of decomposition under average conditions is a greenish discoloration of the skin at the abdomen. This is apparent at 36-72 hours.

Next – Small vessels in the skin become visible (marbling).

Followed by, glistening skin, skin slippage, purplish skin, blisters, distended abdomen (after one week – caused by gases), blood-stained fluid oozing from body openings (nose, mouth, etc.), swelling of tissue and the presence of foul gaseous odor, greenish-purple face, swollen eyelids and pouting lips, swollen face, protruding tongue, hair pulls out easily, fingernails come off easily, skin from hands pulls off (gloving), body swells and appears greatly obese.

Internally, the body is decomposing and breaking down. The heart has become flabby and soft. The liver has honeycombed, and the kidneys are like wet sponges. The brain is nearly liquid, and the lungs may be a bit brittle.

Wrong kind of brittle, but who wants to end the post with crunchy lungs? So have some homemade peanut brittle and enjoy the rest of your day.

 

For the past fews days I’ve been offering up the individual ingredients of a word salad. I’ve presented you with formal groupings of letters that, when used properly, could add a little something extra to a crime story. However, I’ve given you these terms merely as a catalyst, a basis to help develop your scenes into 3D visions on a page.

It’s okay to have your cop character spout off a cool-sounding term, such as “marbling,” the the mottled, greenish-black appearance caused by sulfhaemoglobin molecules present in settled blood (once the heart stops beating). But simply saying the word does nothing to help form a picture. For example:

“Her leg is marbled. That tells me the victim has been dead for three to five days.”

It’s another thing entirely to describe marbling like this.

“This one’s a stomach-churner, Lieutenant. Wonder how long she’s been out here?”

“The skin of her right leg looks like a squiggly-lined roadmap of Northern Virginia. With marbling that pronounced, I’d say she’s been dead three, maybe four days, or so,” said Lieutenant Deadlooker.

I know, the writing above was not book quality, but I overwrote it to showcase that it is the definitions and imagery associated with each of these terms that should appear in your work, not so much the actual word itself.

Help your readers see what you see inside your mind. Show them that picture.

Take your world to them.

 

N.

Narcomania – An intense desire for alcohol and drugs.

Navicular – Shaped like a boat, such as certain bones in the feet and wrists. In the wrist, this comma-shaped bone is situated in the first row of carpals. In the feet, they’re located between the talus and the metatarsals.

Graphics Resource:

“BodyParts3D, © The Database Center for Life Science licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.1 Japan.”

NCAVC– A subdivision of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime is comprised of fours separate sections of the bureau—the Consultation Program, Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), Criminal Personalty Profiling Program, and Research and Development.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR THE ANALYSIS OF VIOLENT CRIME

“The mission of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) is to combine investigative and operational support functions, research, and training in order to provide assistance, without charge, to federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies investigating unusual or repetitive violent crimes. The NCAVC also provides support through expertise and consultation in non-violent matters such as national security, corruption, and white-collar crime investigations.” ~ FBI.gov.

Necrophagia– The eating of dead corpses. As crime writers who conduct massive amount of research, I’m sure you already know that both insects and some humans partake in the consuming of dead flesh.

In the insect world, beetles and flies, for example, take advantage of the free meals offered to them when they happen upon a dead body. Human diners of freshly-killed people are typically of the serial killer breed, such as Dahmer and others who seem to enjoy appetizers and entrees made from well-seasoned fresh and/or frozen friends.

Back in 2001, well-known paleoanthropologist and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley described the three ways in which anthropologists divided and categorized cannibalism.

  • Endocannibalism–  the act of consuming someone from within a tribe or specific culture.
  • Exocannibalism– the consumption of anyone outside of a group.
  • Autocannibalism– consuming parts of their own flesh. By the way, nail biting is also included in this category.

When, or if, you decide to include this term—Necrophagia—in a twisted tale of macabre mystery or romance, please don’t confuse it with the death metal group of the same name.

The ghoulish-sounding band produced jaunty little tunes such as Ready For Death, The Divine Art of TortureDeath Is Fun, A Legacy of Horror, Gore and SicknessCannibal Holocaust, and the always soothing bedtime melody, Slit Wrists and Casket Rot.

By the way, another term for those of you writing horror, thrillers, or romance stories with a bit of the dark side, is autophagia, the consuming one’s own flesh.

Necrophilia– Erotic stimulation by a dead body. Morbid attraction to the deceased. And having sexual intercourse with a corpse.

Neonaticide– the Killing of a child within 24-hours of its birth.

 

O.

Oblique Lighting – Light source positioned at an angle to an area to be viewed and/or photographed for evidence. Sometimes called side-lightling.

Open Tail– Surveillance style in which law enforcement (or others) utilize, using no means to avoid detection, such as a single police vehicle following behind a suspect car along city streets.

 

When I crack the covers of a James Lee Burke novel, the words on the page begin to dance and sing. The odor of swamp water oozes out into the air. I feel the humidity and I smell the delicious odors of meat cooking on open fires. I see the mist on the bayou. More importantly, though, I’m there, in that book following along with Dave and Clete and Alafair as they go about their journey to the final page.

In The New Iberia Blues, Burke described a young deputy sheriff who’d grown up in a small town on the Louisiana-Arkansas line as having an accept that sound like “someone twanging a bobby pin.” Well, y’all, I instantly heard the officer’s voice ring as clear as a bell from that point forward.

The author described this fictional deputy, Sean McClain, as “slender, over six feet, his shoulders as rectangular as a coat-hanger wire inside his shirt, his stomach as flat as a plank.”

In that brief passage, readers had a mental picture of the lawman. He was fit and strong and tall.

Burke also, within just a few lines, brilliantly gives the reader a look inside the mind of Deputy McClain, describing his sincere innocence, and how he views life and approaches it from day to day. And he used his lead character, Dave Robicheaux, to introduce us to the man.

Robicheaux said to the reader, ” … I drove down to the tip of Cypremort Point with a young uniformed deputy named Sean McClain, who had seven months experience in law enforcement and still believed in the human race and woke up each day with birdsong in his head.”

Sean McClain was now a person I knew—how he walked, talked, and how he would confront criminals and witnesses. I knew his approach to investigations—reserved and with a glass half-full mindset. His lack of experience would cause him to first give the benefit of the doubt before looking at someone’s dark side. Rookie innocence. I’ve seen a hundreds of times.

So yes, words are the key to making a story come alive. But only when they’re assembled in the correct order and only if the selected words used are absolutely necessary to advance a scene. Too much is, well, too much.

So, without further ado, here are your …

Crime Writers’ Words of the Day

 

Incised Wound – A wound caused by a sharp weapon and is typically longer than it is deep. These types of wounds usually bleed quite readily.

Infanticide – The killing of an infant shortly after the child is born.

Infarct – An area of dead tissue (necrosis) caused by a lack of blood supply. A Myocardial infarction (MI) refers to the myocardium, the heart muscle itself, and the changes that occur in it when the muscle is suddenly deprived of fresh blood. When blood ceases to flow to the heart muscle it causes necrosis, the death of myocardial tissue. This is a heart attack.

 

K.

Klismaphillia – The use of enemas for sexual arousal/pleasure.

 

L.

Latent Prints – Fingerprints that are NOT visible to the human eye. (Patent prints are visible).

Ligature – Any string, rope, material that’s used to bind or tie, such as a household extension cord used by a killer to strangle his victim.

The post-autopsy photo below/right shows a deep ligature mark on the neck (upper left). Note the post-autopsy stitching of the “Y” incision.

The murder weapon was an extension cord, the typical cord (left) found in many homes.

Thanging autopsyo help orient – the head is to the left, just outside the upper edge of the photo. The Y-stitching begins at the bottom left  (upper right shoulder area) and continues to the mid chest area where it’s met by a like incision that began at the upper left shoulder area (upper area of the image) and continued to the chest center. The incision continued down to the area below the navel (bypassing the bellybutton).

 

Livor Mortis (lividity) can help investigators determine the time of death. The staining of tissue normally begins within the first two hours after death. The process reaches it’s full peak in eight to twelve hours.

If the victim is moved during the first six hours after death the purplish discoloration can shift, causing the new, lowest portion of the body to exhibit lividity.

After a period of six to eight hours after death, lividity becomes totally fixed. Moving the body after eight hours will not change the patterns of discoloration. Therefore, investigators know a body found lying face down with lividity on the back, has been moved.

Rookie officers have often confused lividity with bruising caused by fighting.

Remember, ambient air temperature is always a factor in determining the TOD (time of death). A hot climate can accelerate lividity, while a colder air temperature can slow it down considerably.

 

M.

Marbling – Not to be confused with the desirable tenderness caused by the intermixing of fat and muscle fibers in good beef, marbling, as it relates to a dead body, is the result of damaged blood cells that leak from deteriorating vessels. Bacteria converts haemoglobin molecules, the molecules that once carried oxygen around the body, into sulfhaemoglobin.

When the sulfhaemoglobin molecules present in settled blood (once the heart stops beating) it causes the skin to display a marbled, greenish-black appearance. this is a characteristic of a body that undergoing decomposition. These vessels, mostly the veins, often have the appearance of the squiggly lines of a roadmap. Marbling generally appears on the skin in early stages of decomposition, approximately 3 to 5 days, or so.

Marbling

Midline – The center of the head, chest, and abdomen, as if an imaginary line is drawn from top to bottom.

Midline

Mysophilia – Sexual attraction to filthy, dirty people, animals, clothing, etc.

 

Words – Tools writers use to tell a tale. They’re important to readers. Here are some logical groupings of letters you may find helpful when concocting a crime story.

D.

Degeneration – As a postmortem term it’s the deterioration of a body part, such as the decomposition of tissue and organs.

Dentition – The number and kind of teeth, and their arrangement in the mouth. Pertaining to teeth.

Depersonalization – The manner and actions a killer takes to conceal a victim’s identity. Removing the head and hands, for example.

Disarticulation – The separation of two joints, either by surgical or criminal amputation/dismemberment.

Joe Choppemup disarticulated his wife of twenty years and then scattered her remains in a field behind her lover’s home. 

 

E.

Engram – A lasting trace left in the human mind, both conscious and unconscious, by anything a person has experienced phsycally. Like a latent fingerprint, one that’s not readily seen by the naked eye, an engram is latent image that’s stored in the mind.

Eukaryocyte – Simply put … a cell with a nucleus. Eucaryotae cells (eukaryotic cells) have a true nucleus and within contain membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria. Eukrayocyte is found in all organisms except bacteria.

Exculpatory Evidence – Evidence that proves a person is innocent of a crime.

 

F.

Fillicide – The Murdering of one’s own child.

Fratricide – The killing one’s own brother or sister.

 

G.

Gorilla – Prison term for an extremely tough male who is the aggressor during a sexual act. A giver, not a taker …

 

H.

Homicide – A homicide is any killing of one person by another, and it can be a legal act in certain circumstances—self-defense or in defense of others, homicide by misfortune (an accident), state or federal executions, etc.

New Picture

Homicide per infortunium – Accidental homicide where a person performing a legal act without any intention of harm, accidentally kills another. This is a legally excusable homicide. It is not a crime. Sad, heartbreaking, and unfortunate, yes. But not a crime.

 

 

Sometimes it’s the tiniest detail that makes a setting pop, zing, and sizzle. They’re the little things that cause readers to sit up and take notice. They evoke emotion and stir memories of real life experiences. They’re the things that make readers leave everything behind and step into the worlds you’ve created. After all, a well-written and well-crafted setting can be a character in its own right, and it’s equally as important as the fictional people who live within the covers of your books.

A great example of a writer who’s mastered the art of setting is superstar author James Lee Burke. Burke, whose settings are incredibly detailed, are written from the heart and the details he creates shine through in every letter of every word. His scenes and characters are deeply layered and this is so because he often relies on personal life experiences.

Burke often talks about having worked in the Texas oilfields, and as a surveyor. He taught school and was employed once as a social worker. As a reporter, he wrote for a  newspaper. Like many of us in our early years, and even later in life, money was tight back in the day for Burke and his family. They’d lived in a garage, motels, and a trailer. Thirty years ago, Burke was an alcoholic.

It is the combination of Burke’s experiences that offers inspiration for his writings. He’s also adamant that writers should be aware of the people around them.

During a 2015 interview with Publishers Weekly, Burke said, “A good writer is a good listener. The great dialog of the world is all around us, if we’ll only listen. In similar fashion, the great stories are in situations we see everyday, just as the great heroes, the real gladiators, are usually standing next to us in the grocery checkout.”

I’vr often heard writers speaking about adding to their next book a bit of information they heard while at a writers conference. Last year, for example, at the Writers’ Poilce Academy,  Tod and Lee Goldberg saw a sign featuring a unique business name. Both authors claimed “dibs” at using the name in a future book.

Lee Child once asked me about the typical items stored in the trunk of a patrol car. He needed a speck of detail for a Reacher book. J.A. Jance once asked me about driving and skidding on icy roads. The scant bit of information was vital to an opening scene of a book that, as usual with Judy, quickly turned into a bestseller.

Donald and Renee Bain used to contact me often when they needed information for their Murder She Wrote series. Stuart Kaminsky called on both Denene and me for material. Lee Golderg … more of the same—tiny details for a Monk book. James Lee Burke asked about fingerprints, a very specific but small detail and, like the others who contact various experts, much of the information was needed to “perk-up’ a scene, paragraph, sentence, or dialog. Sometimes all that’s needed is a single word … proper terminology.

So … when writing about cops and when you really want to insert something special into your twisted and thrilling tales of mystery, suspense, and/or romance, ask an expert for unique behind the scenes details that will surprise the reader.  Show your fans that you’ve done your homework. After all, your goal is to entertain and please the people who spend their hard-earned money to purchase the books you’ve labored over for the past nine months, creating something special just for them.

Unique Cop Stuff

To help out, here are a few tiny specks of information you might find intriguing.

  1. A kevlar vest typically doesn’t quite reach the waistband of the wearer, which leaves a gap of a couple of inches between the bottom of the vest and the belt area of the pants. Nothing there but shirt material and flesh. Therefore, when sliding in and out of a police car, the hard and dense material of the vest sometimes catches and pinches a bit of “love handle,” and it feels like you’d imagine. It hurts and causes the officer to wince. Although, if people are around at the time, the officer will suck it up and pretend it didn’t happen. Still, that tiny tear in the corner of the eye is a dead giveaway. OUCH!
  2. While wearing a Kevlar vest, officers typically wear an undershirt of some type. The problem, though, is that the undershirt often “rides up” with all of the climbing in-and-out of patrol cars and scuffling with bad guys that officers do all shift long. So, to avoid the uncomfortable bunching-up of material that you can’t get to without stripping down, some officers tuck the tail of their undershirt into their underwear. The elastic band of the “Fruit of the Looms” holds the t-shirt firmly in place.
  3. Officers sometimes store an extra set of cuffs on the spotlight control arm.

    While driving along, especially on bumpy and curvy roads, etc., there’s a constant “click” of metal tapping metal as the handcuffs hanging from the spotlight arm sway with the motions of the car. After a while, though, the noise is “tuned out” and simply becomes a part of the cacophony of sounds inside the patrol vehicle—constant police radio chatter, FM radio station, the drunk yelling and singing from the backseat, and even a partner going on and on about his kids or the big fish he caught, or the mangled dead body they’d discovered at a crash scene earlier in the night.

4. Police departments use many symbols of rank designation. Some department supervisors wear white shirts (some departments issue white shirts to all officers), while others issue gold badges to their higher-ranking officers. But the easiest way to tell an officer’s rank is to look at their collar insignia. Each pin is a representation of the officer’s rank.

Collar insignias, beginning with the top ranking officer (chief)

Colonel, or Chief (some chiefs prefer to be addressed as Colonel) – An eagle (birds) on each collar

Sheriffs and chiefs may also wear a series of stars to indicate their rank.

Major – Oak leaf on each collar

Captain – Two bars on each collar (the two bars are often called “railroad tracks,” a great detail to include in a story)

Lieutenant – One bar on each collar

Sergeant hree stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve (photo below)

Sometimes rank is indicated on the badge.

Corporal – Two stripes on the collar and/or the sleeve

Officer – Chevron, or single stripe

 

Hash marks on the sleeve indicate length of service.

For example, each hash mark normally represents five years on the job. Sometimes, to avoid a sleeve fully-covered in long row of hash marks, stars are often used to represent each five years served. In the case of the officer/police chief above, each star in the circle represents five years of service, plus four hash marks, each of which, in this case, indicate a single year. So, 5 stars and 4 hash marks = a total of 29 years on the job.

Other pins and medals worn by officers may include …

Copy (2) of 20150713_092344

Here’s a closer look at the bling.

(from top to bottom):

– Name tag.

– Award ribbons – Community service award, length of service, expert marksman, lifesaving award, medal of valor.

– Pistol expert (to earn this award the officer must consistently shoot an average of 95% or better on the range).

– FTO pin worn by field training officers.

– K9 pin worn by K9 officers.

– Indicates outstanding service, above and beyond.

*Remember, ribbons and pins and other do-dads will vary by individual departments and agencies.

Pins

Pins on the back of name tags, ribbons, etc. are used to attach the insignias to an officer’s uniform. A small clasp (similar to an ear ring backing) is pressed over the pin tips to hold them in place.

Unfortunately, the clasps often fall off during scuffles with rowdy bad guys and, if the officer is not wearing a bullet-resistant vest, which was typical “back in the day,” could result in the pin tips puncturing the officer’s skin.

For a quick fix in the field, lost clasps can be temporarily replaced with pencil erasers.

Okay, that’s the tip of the detail iceberg. Questions?


“The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand.” ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson

Using common sense when writing about cops

Detective I. M. Manly here, and I’ve stopped by today to tell you about a serious situation concerning today’s protagonists.

We, the heroes of your stories, have been meeting in secret, trying to figure out ways to put an end to the torture you force us to endure. For example, and this is indeed a sad, sad, case. I ran into Biff Steele a few days ago and within a matter of seconds I knew I’d caught him at a weak moment.

He’d barely spoken two sentences when his emotions came spilling out. Right there on the sidewalk in front of the Piggly Wiggly, for everyone to see, including Pastor Ben Theredunthat who went inside to purchase a tin of foot powder for his wife. On the way out he offered a quick blessing, an act Biff sorely needed at that moment. Pitiful is what he was, I’m here to tell you.

Attack of the Killer Typewriters

I. M. Manly looking especially tough on the set of his new film, “Attack of the Killer Typewriters,” a gripping thriller based on the book of the same title.

Biff is typically a tough-as-nails protagonist. He rolls with the punches and quite often delivers a few hay-makers of his own. But on this day, Biff was pretty down in the dumps. He was feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. Feeling blu … Well, you get the idea.

I asked him why he was sporting such a long face. His response was stunning.

He said he’d had about all he could take from his writer. She’d stopped conducting any real research and turned to the internet for every scrap of crappy information. Then he paused a second before delivering the really big bombshell. He said he was thinking about leaving, maybe even killing himself off in the final pages of the next book.

I couldn’t believe it. Not Biff Steele! I asked what, if anything, could be done to make things right again. That’s when he told me everything. Then he drove straight home to confront his writer. One of his co-characters was there, sitting on the typewriter, when Biff burst through the front door and started his rant.

This, she said, is what Biff told yelled at their writer.

1. Quit having me smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes. For goodness sake, I’m not that old. Actually, even my parents hadn’t been born when they stopped making that stuff. No. More. Cordite!

2. I love tense moments in stories as much as the next character, but having me kidnapped in every other book? Come on, you know me better than that. Having me abducted so often makes me look weak. And, quite frankly, a bit stupid.

3. Don’t you remember the discussion we had the last time you had me draw a chalk outline around a dead body? Oh, it’s coming back to you now … That’s right, they don’t do that anymore! Yep, doing so could destroy or alter evidence. Geez … pay attention.

4. For the last time, the FBI does not have the authority to take over my murder cases, my office, or my entire department. Stop sending them into my scenes!

5. Speaking of the FBI … NO, they don’t investigate all kidnapping incidents. So please let me solve my own cases. Your friends stopped writing that garbage years ago and their heroes are looking pretty sharp because of it.

6. So you insist upon writing me as a stupid, bumbling, idiotic clown who can barely find my way home at night, huh? Well, you’re showing a lack of knowledge there, Sunshine. You are aware that I had to pass a ton of tests and show an outstanding ability to solve crimes in order to land the promotion to detective, right? It’s not a job for dummies. Tell me, what are your qualifications that make you an expert on my career?

7. Let’s do this one more time. My sidearm is a Glock semi-automatic. It does NOT have any type of safety that I can “thumb-off.” No Way. No How.

8. Remember book three, back when I carried a revolver, a Chief’s Special? Think hard. Yes, that’s the one. Now think about the scene on page 87 where you MADE me say, “The sunlight reflected hotly from the brass casings as they automatically ejected from my revolver?” Remember that? Well, to this day I’ve never lived it down. Reacher and Bosch and the other guys bring it up all the time, and it’s embarrassing. Why, just the other day I overheard sweet little Kinsey Millhone cracking a joke about it. For the last time, revolvers do NOT automatically eject spent cartridges. I have to push them out manually, using the extractor rod.

9. While we’re on the subject of Kinsey, why can’t I have a steady girlfriend? You know, someone nice, like her? I’m pretty tired of living alone and drinking by myself in dark, dreary bars. I want to have some fun for a change. What don’t you ever let me go dancing, or to a movie? Anywhere where I don’t end up fighting or blasting someone’s brains all over the ceiling. That’s no way to live.

10. You never take me anywhere. I’m tired of living on dusty bookshelves. So I have an idea. I heard the Writers’ Police Academy is teaming up with Sirchie to host a special event called MurderCon Why don’t you do us, and your readers, a favor and sign up the second registration opens? Then you’ll see first-hand all the things you’ve been writing WRONG all these years. All the other writers will be there.

Reacher has been to the WPA. So has Bosch, D.D. Warren, Dance, Rhyme, Jordan, Longmire, Brennan, and, well, the whole gang has been. It’s where all the cool kids go to learn how to “get it right.”

So I’m going. How about you?


It’s Black Friday, so to help out, here are a few recommendations.

By the way, someone asked why I post all Amazon links for the books I recommend. The answer is that they work well for and with this site, but by all means feel free to purchase books anywhere you like. But why not here by simply clicking the links I provide?