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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Lee Goldberg Talks About Monk, Tie In Novels, and More

If you look up underachiever in the dictionary you won’t find Lee Goldberg. One of the most prolific writers I’ve ever known, Lee has published more than two dozen books and has written and produced for TV such varied shows as Spenser: For Hire, Nero Wolf, Martial Law, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, SeaQuest, and even Baywatch.

It is my pleasure to welcome my good friend to The Writer’s Forensics Blog.

DPL: You wrote the tie in novels for Diagnosis Murder and now for Monk. Many people aren’t exactly sure what a tie in novel is. How do they differ from other novels?

LG: A tie-in novel is an original book based on a pre-existing media property, like a TV series, movie or game. The books are written with the approval and authorization of the creator, studio, producer…basically, whoever actually owns the underlying characters and concept. I wrote eight original DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels and am now working on my 12th original MONK book. There are about 40 original MURDER SHE WROTE novels and there must be a couple hundred STAR TREK books out there.

DPL: How did you get started in this arena?

LG: I was an executive producer and principle writer of DIAGNOSIS MURDER. A year or two after the show was cancelled, Penguin/Putnam (the publisher) and Paramount Studios (the copyright holder) contacted me with a three-book deal to write books based on the series. It was too good of a deal to pass up. And since I was the executive producer of the show, I only had to answer to myself as far as approvals go (on most tie-ins, you need to get approval on the story, the manuscript, etc. from the rights holder). Paramount certainly wasn’t going to second-guess me on what made a good DM story…and never tried.

When Andy Breckman, the creator/showrunning of MONK, was approached about doing original novels based on his series, he immediately thought of me. That’s because he was already a fan of my DM novels and I’d written several episode of the MONK, so he knew he trusted me with the character and he knew I could write books.

DPL: What’s the hardest part of writing these types of novels?

LG: Capturing the feel of the show, and the voices of the characters, while also kicking things up a notch. You have to offer the reader something more than they are getting from simply watching the show (or the reruns). It’s also difficult, particularly with a long-running series, to come up with stuff that the writers haven’t already tackled.

DPL: You have a new Monk book coming out July 3rd. What can you tell us about it?

LG: The book is MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT and it’s the last book set before the finale of the TV series. This one is set in the midst of the current national economic crisis. The SFPD has to make draconian cutbacks to save money… so they fire Monk as a consultant. Monk figures he can live off his savings for a while. Then Natalie learns that Monk invested his money some time ago with Bob Sebes, the charismatic leader of Reinier Investments, who’s just been arrested on charges of orchestrating a massive $100 million fraud. All of Sebes’ clients, including Monk-are completely wiped out.  Monk is broke…he can’t even afford to pay Natalie. So they end up taking all kinds of odd jobs. Meanwhile, when the key witness in the government’s case against Sebes is killed, Monk becomes convinced that Sebes did it, even though the man has been under house arrest with a horde of paparazzi in front of his building 24/7.  I hope people have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!

DPL: You also wrote an episode for the new A&E series The Glades, a series I’m looking forward to. What’s the premise of the series? Can you give us any hints about the episode you wrote?

LG: The show is about a Chicago cop who gets fired and gets a job as a detective in a fictional town in Florida. The character has a certain Jim Rockford kind of charm and a Sherlockian gift for solving murders. It’s a light-hearted, blue-skies kind of show, very much like the sorts of stuff the USA Network has been doing so well. My episode is about women involved in “the girlfriend experience,” a new class of escort/call girl who offer more than just sex for money…they also wash your car. Okay, I made up the bit about washing cars. You’ll just have to watch the episode to learn more..

DPL: You’ve also ventured into e publishing some of your older books. How is that going?

LG: It’s going great! Almost all of my out-of-print books are now available on the Kindle and the iPad…and it’s astonishing to me how many copies I am selling. My book THE WALK has done far, far better on the Kindle than it ever did in hardcover. The Kindle is breathing new life… and generating new royalties… from stuff that I thought was dead.

DPL: What’s next for the always prolific Lee Goldberg?

LG: I am writing my 12th MONK novel, a western movie, and it looks like my feature adaptation of Victor Gischler’s GUN MONKEYS may soon be going into production with an Oscar-winning Star in the lead role. But I can’t say more about that just yet.

Lee, thanks for being with us.

Visit Lee’s Website at: http://www.leegoldberg.com

And his blog A Writer’s Life at: http://leegoldberg.typepad.com

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 28, 2010 in Interviews, Writing

 

Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong-Guest Blogger

In Greek mythology, a chimera is a strange, monstrous creature having the body of a lion, the head of a goat arising from the spine, and a tail that ends with a snake’s head. Such a creature would perhaps be the only apt moniker of an anomaly that exists in real life. Chimeras are animals that have at least two different groupings of varying genetic cells. These groupings have their source in the different zygotes present during reproduction. More common among animals, human chimeras, however, do exist, albeit they are phenomena that is extremely rare.

Most human chimeras will never know that they are chimeras, unless, that is, a DNA test is involved. Only 35 Americans have been identified as having chimerism, and in only two cases involving DNA testing did chimerism become a head-scratching problem for scientists. Still, chimerism has caught our imagination, as it has been featured in CSI and other popular TV crime shows.

There exists two different types of human chimerism–microchimerism and tetragametic chimerism. In microchimerism, only a small part of the body has a different cell line, while the rest of the body is uniform. With tetragametic chimerism, there may result several patches of inconsistent sets of DNA. Human chimeras at times, but not always, manifest themselves as hermaphrodites.

The two cases in which chimerism became problematic involved DNA testing. In one case, a woman named Lydia Fairchild became pregnant with her third child. During a routine DNA test to determine the receipt of welfare funding, the results revealed that every relative was related to the newborn except the mother herself. Fairchild became involved in a suit that both denied her social support and accused her of fraud. Eventually, Fairchild’s lawyer discovered an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, in which a similar case was documented involving a chimera and a DNA test for a kidney transplant.

While human chimerism is a phenomenon that is so rare it’s almost negligible, the fact still remains that DNA testing, while extremely accurate in the crime lab, is not infallible. To learn more about chimerism, read Vivienne Lam’s article in the Science Creative Quarterly.

This guest post is contributed by Jessica Cortez, who writes on the topics of online degree programs.  She welcomes your comments at her email: cortez.jessi23@gmail.com.

Note from DP Lyle: Want to know more about Chimerism?

Suite 101 article

Bright Hub article

 
10 Comments

Posted by on June 24, 2010 in DNA, Guest Blogger, Medical Issues

 

On This Day: Josef Mengele Identified

Few names in history evoke a more visceral response than that of Josef Mengele. If there can be such a thing, Mengele would easily win the award as “Worst Nazi.” After World War II, he escaped to South America where he disappeared for decades despite many ongoing searches for his identity and location. But on this day in 1992 all speculation regarding his rumored death were put to rest as his remains were conclusively identified.

Josef Mengele was born in Germany on March 16, 1911. A member of the military for many years, he was finally discharged in 1934 because of chronic kidney problems. Unfortunately this didn’t suppress his rise to power. In 1937 he was appointed as a research assistant at the Third Reich Institute for Heredity, Biology, and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfurt. I think the name of this Institute pretty much says it all.

In 1938 he received his medical degree from the University of Frankfurt and then reentered the Wehrmacht. He became very outspoken about his beliefs on Aryan superiority. He rose quickly up the ranks of the National Socialists and became a member of the elite Waffen SS. But it wasn’t until he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 that he became the “Angel of Death.”

His experiments at Auschwitz became the stuff of nightmares. He immersed prisoners in the freezing waters until they died so that he could learn about the effects of hypothermia, presumably to help German pilots who were shot down in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea. He experimented with eye color, to of course produce blue-eyed Aryans, by operating on and injecting various materials into the eyes of the children. His work on twins was equally atrocious.

As with many Nazis at the end of World War II, he escaped from Europe as Germany fell to the Russians and the Allies and found his way to South America, where he lived in several countries but predominantly in Brazil. He then disappeared. Many people, in particular the famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, spent a great deal of time and effort tracking him. Sightings would occasionally pop up but each would evaporate almost as quickly as they appeared.

The big break came in 1985 when Lisolette Bossert confessed that Wolfgang Gerhard had drowned and that she had buried him in 1979. She also confessed that Wolfgang was actually Josef Mengele. The remains were exhumed and examined by forensic anthropologist in order to determine if this was indeed the skeletal remains of the infamous Angel of Death.

The initial investigations included x-rays, anthropological examinations, and reconstruction of the shattered skull. Using known dental records and photos of Mengele it was concluded that the remains were likely him but this could not be proven beyond a doubt. That all changed in 1992. Using DNA obtained from Mengele’s son and DNA obtained from the remains, forensic scientist proved once and for all that Wolfgang Gerhard was indeed Josef Mengele.

Adios Mother…….well you know the rest.

 

Religion and Exsanguination

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions and other blood products on religious grounds. It is within their right to do so, of course, but it does lead to some tricky medical situations. I’ve had many patients who were Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years and indeed their refusal to accept transfusions have led to problems, even deaths.

Many surgeons will not deal with people of this faith for that very reason. It ties their hands. It puts them in a very difficult situation in that if excessive bleeding occurs during surgery, the patient can easily die. Liability aside, it is a tragedy to see someone die before your eyes when you know saving them is simple. I know. Been there.

When I trained in cardiology at the Texas heart Institute in Houston, Texas I had the great pleasure of working with perhaps the most technically skilled surgeon ever–––Dr. Denton Cooley. He truly had magic in his fingers. He perform procedures that no one else would have touched. He took the most difficult cases in the world and often made them look simple. He did not hesitate to perform surgery on Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I remember one such case quite vividly. A young woman, just 21 years old, who came in for a repair of Tetralogy of Fallot, a complex continental heart problem that is typically partially relieved at a very early age and then the definitive correction waits until growth is complete. That was the case in this young woman. Tetralogy is in the group of congenital cardiac problems that we call cyanotic heart disease. Complex physiology and I won’t go into it here but what is relevant is that sufferers of these types of heart problems invariably bleed a great deal when surgery is performed. That was the case with this young lady.

I remember the night that the nurses and I spent circling around this young woman’s bed while she basically bled to death. It took several hours. It took long and repeated consultations with the family in which I explained over and over that saving her life was easy but watching her die was hard. They stuck to their beliefs. Until it was too late. It was probably around two in the morning when she finally passed. Not a dry eye in the house.

As I was writing my final notes and preparing to go tell the family that the worst had happened, one of the nurses came to me and said the family wanted to talk to me. I went out to the waiting room. The family said that they had talked it over and had decided that if a blood transfusion would save her life then that would be okay.

Anger does not do justice to the emotions that I felt. I think I broke a molar trying not to show it. It’s one thing to have devout religious beliefs. It is another thing to allow those to interfere with the health and well-being of another person. And it is indeed another thing entirely when those beliefs are not as rock solid as one would have you believe. Had they stuck to their religion, had they stuck to their beliefs, then this would’ve simply been a very sad situation, but the fact that their beliefs wavered at the 13th hour was infuriating.

And now a similar situation has arisen in a legal case. Harry Morales was stabbed and died from his wounds when he refused a blood transfusion because he was a Jehovah’s Witness. The person who stabbed him, Isead Galva, was brought to trial for the murder. The defense argued that even though their client had stabbed the victim, it was his refusal to accept standard medical care in the form of a life-saving blood transfusion that ultimately led to his death. Mr. Galva was acquitted at least in part on this basis.

I don’t know about you but I find this equally infuriating. So what if Mr. Morales held religious beliefs against blood transfusions? So what if his refusal to take that form of treatment did lead to his death? He should never have been there. He should never have had to make that decision. The act that instigated the cascade of events that led to his death was the knife wound allegedly delivered by Mr. Galva.

Two cases. Same outcome. But very different.

The first was a young woman who had a medical condition that would kill her were it not repaired. She died because of the religious beliefs of others (she was unconscious due to the anesthetic of surgery early on and later because she was in shock, so consent for a transfusion could not be obtained from her directly). The change of heart that came too late was the maddening part of that situation.

The second case is a man and a family that stuck to their beliefs. But he should never have been there and they should never have had to make that decision. It was not a life-saving procedure that put Harry Morales in danger but rather the criminal act of another.

The world sometimes spins in maddening directions.

 

Dangerous DNA: The Warrior Gene

What makes criminals do what they do? Is a serial killer destined to perform his activities from birth, or did he develop his psychiatric abnormalities? Are some people just wired to be more aggressive than others? These are difficult questions and scholars have wrestled with them for decades. It’s the old nature versus nurture argument.

Most likely it’s a combination of the two. An individual might have a genetic makeup that makes him more prone to certain psychiatric or physical conditions but these might not develop unless he’s placed in an environment that nurtures that condition. For example, a child who is gifted with athletic prowess may never manifest that if he grows up where there are no athletic activities. A student blessed with a bright mind might never see that fully developed if his life conditions prevent him from achieving his academic potential.

Now comes a series of studies in which some scientists believe that the gene for aggression has been identified. It has been labeled the “Warrior Gene.” This is likely an unfortunate moniker for something that might indeed exist but not be quite as sinister as it sounds. Perhaps having a genetic makeup that promotes aggression was key to survival a few millennia ago. Of course nowadays, it can also create socially unacceptable behavior.

The gene in question has been labeled Monoamine Oxidase A, or MAOA. It has been found to exist in several variations with the MAOA-L variant being the one of concern.

First let’s look at what genes are and what they do. Our chromosomes are made up of long strands of DNA. Genes are simply sections of these chromosomes that have been coded to perform certain activities. For example, there are genes that regulate the production of insulin, others that dictate eye color, and still others that might determine whether we develop cancer or heart disease or other medical disorders.

Our DNA is simply an instruction manual. It tells certain enzymes within the cells to produce certain proteins. It is these proteins that carry out the functions. Such proteins are typically enzymes that then construct other proteins that do the work of keeping us alive. The enzyme might be responsible for constructing new liver cells, or producing antibodies to fight infections, or altering the chemistry of the brain.

It seems that MAOA is an enzyme that breaks down certain neurotransmitters within the brain: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. When a signal travels down a neural axon (the long tail of the neuron that makes up our nerve fibers) and is then passed on to the next neuron, it does so across a gap that we call a synapse. The electoral current comes down the axon and at the synaptic junction it causes the release of one of the above chemicals, which then passes through the gap and stimulates the neuron on the other side of the synapse. This neuron then sends the electrical current down its own axon where it will do the same when it reaches the next neuron in the chain. This is how electrical impulses are passed. An electrical-chemical transmission system. This is how we think. This is how we move our fingers. This is how our heart beats.

But if these chemicals are released into the synapse and they stimulate the next neuron, how do they know when to stop? That is, if the chemical is in the synapse why doesn’t it continue stimulating the neuron and cause a rapid fire sequence of electrical impulses within that neuron? The answer is, left to its own devices, that’s exactly what would happen. Here is where enzymes come into play. Enzymes like MAOA. These enzymes destroy these neurotransmitters very quickly so that only a single signal is passed along. This all happens in milliseconds. It happens every millisecond of everyday in all of us.

But what happens if the level of this destructive enzyme is low? Would the level of neurotransmitters increase within that person’s brain? Would this alter the way neural impulses travel through the brain tissue? Would this lead to alterations in the person’s behavior? They answer all of these questions is yes.

One of the variants of the MAOA gene is called MAOA-L. The L designation means that this variant gene causes a reduced production of the enzyme that destroys these neurotransmitters and this deficit allows the transmitter chemicals to build up within the synapses of these individual’s brains. And this build up just might result in altered behavior, in this case more aggressive behavior.

A group of Dutch women came to geneticist Hans Brunner at the University Hospital in Nijmegen to seek his help in understanding why so many of the men in their family were prone to severe acts of aggression, including rape and murder. To answer this question Prof. Brunner launched into a series of scientific experiments that ultimately led to the identification of the variant gene.

Of course, all is not that simple. There is no way to explain aggressive behavior by looking at a single gene anymore that it is possible to understand a symphony from a single note. Both are entirely too complex. However, this does raise some interesting questions, particularly to those writers who are interested in what makes our characters tick.

A few interesting articles:

PNAS.org article

Brainethics Post

New Scientist article

Violence and the Brain

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 15, 2010 in DNA, Medical Issues

 

Kenyan Serial Killer Cult?

Okay, I’m not sure I buy this one but you’ve got to admit it’s a wild story.

It seems that Kenya has a serial killer. 32-year-old Philip Onyancha has confessed to killing 17, or maybe 19, people, mainly women. He told the police that his goal was to kill 100 people and that he was instructed to do so by middle-school Elizabeth Wambui. According to Onyancha she is a member of a cult and she told him that if he killed 100 people and drank their blood he would have good fortune. The police are suspicious of his story. You think?

It does give new meaning to the term “fortuneteller.”

 

The Importance of Forensic Medical Investigators in Solving Crimes-Ashley M. Jones, Guest Blogger

Thanks to the abundance of television shows that have made the crime fiction genre not only popular but also profitable, forensic science is now a well-known subject around the world.

Today, while most people who watch shows like CSI and Bones may not know the exact amount of effort and detail that go into the solving of a crime using only the clues and traces left behind at the crime scene by the perpetrator, they do understand the rudimentary principles of forensic science. And although television series that feature crime scene investigations gloss over the drudgery involved in the job and sometimes portray a skewed view of what really happens at a crime scene and how long it takes to solve a crime (most crimes on TV are solved because the lead detectives just cannot fail, while in real life, there are many crimes that remain unsolved), they are for the most part fairly accurate.

So you may know who a forensic medical investigator is from a few random shows or from crime fiction books (like the Lincoln Rhyme novels written by Jeffrey Deaver) and what they generally do, but how important is their role in solving crime and bringing the criminal to justice?

Forensic medical investigators must be qualified to “walk” crime scenes and gather evidence without contaminating the scene or compromising evidence. To do this, they must have a keen sense of observation to notice not just the extra-ordinary, but also the ordinary that may play a key role in solving the crime.

They must not only find evidence but also preserve the evidence so that it is acceptable in court. Any contamination or compromise when it comes to evidence can ruin a perfectly good case and allow criminals to be set free on a technicality.

They must be able to separate their emotions from their job because emotions pose the risk of bias and also compromise their ability to work with the maximum efficiency and concentration.

They must have exceptional analytical skills and the ability to spot inaccuracies and anomalies in evidence and witness and suspect responses.

They must know how to interpret case law, reports and analyses related to various crimes and be able to prepare accurate and unbiased reports of their investigation.

They must be experts in their domain and keep a cool head when providing testimony in court. They must be able to face of a barrage of questions from the defense attorney and be able to hold their own without getting flustered or confused, ultimately convincing the jury that they are speaking the truth based on the facts of the case. It’s no use being a brilliant forensic medical investigator if you’re not credible enough in court to bring about a conviction of the criminal.

Forensic medical investigators are important not just in solving crimes, but also in bringing the criminals responsible to justice.

This article is contributed by Ashley M. Jones, who regularly writes on the subject of Online Pharmacy Technician Certification. She invites your questions, comments at her email address: ashleym.jones643@gmail.com

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 10, 2010 in General Forensics, Guest Blogger

 
 
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