Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Guest Blogger: EE Giorgi: I Am My Mother’s Chimera. Chances Are, So Are You

For years now the concept of a “genetic chimera” has sparked the imagination of writers: from Stephen King to Michael Crichton, from CSI to The Office. The idea that an individual could harbor his/her own twin is creepy and intriguing at the same time, not to mention it offers the perfect escape from DNA testing in a police procedural plot.

But if you think that “chimeras have been done already,” think again. All fictional works written so far have exploited the concept of tetragametic chimeras, which results from combining two or more genetically distinct organisms. In humans, this happens when two fertilized eggs fuse together during the first hours of life in the womb.

Yet Mother Nature has invented many other forms of chimerism.

Some genetic defects/mutations can lead to individuals with genetically distinct cells in their body. Usually these defects involve anomalies in the number of chromosomes, but there are also asymptomatic cases, like for example animals whose coat is a patchwork of different colors, as in tortoiseshell cats. This type of chimerism is called mosaicism. Contrary to tetragametic chimeras, which originate from two or more individuals fused together, mosaics originate from a single individual. People whose eyes have different colors are also an example of genetic mosaicism.

Tortoiseshell cat (Source: Wikipedia)

Tortoiseshell cat (Source: Wikipedia)


Scientists claim that chimeras are much more common than we think. Chances are, you could be your own twin. But how surprised would you be if I told you that you are actually far more likely to be your mother’s chimera than your unborn sibling’s?

“Microchimerism refers to a small number of cells (or DNA) harbored by one individual that originated in a genetically different individual” (Gammill and Nelson, 2010).

An individual receiving a donor transplant or a blood transfusion is an example of microchimerism. Yet the most common form of microchimerism happens during pregnancy. There’s an ongoing two-way cell trafficking across the placenta, and these exchange cells can actually proliferate long term in the host’s body: fetal cells can be found in the mother years after she gave birth. In fact, because even spontaneous abortions cause fetal cells to be released into the mother’s body, women who became pregnant but never gave birth can also harbor this form of microchimerism.

Mystery writers are familiar with the “Jane Doe scenario”: an unidentified woman that lands on the medical examiner’s table. One of the many things the ME can learn about this woman with today’s technology is whether or not she was ever pregnant—even if the pregnancy ended with a spontaneous abortion. With a single test the ME can find male DNA in Jane Doe and deduce that at some point she was pregnant with a baby boy. A baby girl can also be detected, but it requires more than one test.

Just like fetal cells can be found in the mother years after she has given birth, the inverse is also true: maternal cells have been found in fetal liver, lung, heart, thymus, spleen, adrenal, kidney, pancreas, brain, and gonads. What’s surprising is that in either case (mother-to-fetus transfer, or, vice versa, fetus-to-mother transfer), the extraneous cells migrate to a certain tissue and, once there, they are able to differentiate and proliferate, acting at all effects as if they were engrafted. One paper found circulating maternal cells in 39% of the study subjects (Loubiere et al. 2006).

But even if you are not your own twin, even if you don’t harbor cells from your mother or your child, even then chimeras are closer than you think. Because we all originated from a chimera: roughly 10% of our DNA is made from viral genes, and how this came to happen is a fascinating story.

A long time ago a virus infected a sperm cell or oocyte of one of our ancestors. Once there, the genetic material from the virus fused with the genetic material of the cell —- that’s an old trick viruses play so they can replicate. Except this particular virus never replicated. The sperm or oocyte was fertilized and became a fetus, and that fetus now carried the bit of viral DNA. The viral genes were “stuck”, no longer able to replicate, and thus effectively silenced.

Finally, the last form of chimerism I would like to discuss is far less known because it belongs to a fairly new field: epigenetics.

Genes are packaged inside the nucleus, some deeply hidden inside, and some exposed so that they can be easily “translated” into proteins. This configuration can change in time, as genes can move from the inside of the nucleus and become exposed, while others previously exposed can become hidden. Life events, changes in the environment or in diet, stress, and traumas can potentially affect these mechanisms, causing some genes to turn on while turning off others.

Epigenetics is the study of all mechanisms that can affect gene silencing (turning the genes “off”) and gene expression (turning the genes “on”). In other words, it addresses the question: what causes some genes to shift from being hidden (silenced) to becoming suddenly exposed (expressed) and other genes instead to suddenly become hidden (silenced)?

The amazing thing is that these epigenetic mechanisms are not encoded in the DNA, yet there have been studies that have shown that epigenetic changes caused by stress or diet can indeed be carried over for the next two-three generations.

You’ve probably guessed it by now: an individual whose cells express distinct genes within the same tissue is called an epigenetic chimera.

From a writer’s point of view, this kind of chimerism lends itself to many more scenarios than the genetic one. For one thing, it is much more complicated to detect as the defects no longer lie in the genes themselves, but rather in which genes are expressed and which aren’t. At the same time, epigenetic disorders can give rise to any sort of dysfunctional phenotypes. And you have a wide range of “life events” that could potentially trigger the “sudden change” in your character(s): viruses can certainly mess up with the cells’ signaling and turn on forgotten genes; an accident or physical trauma can spike new sensations/symptoms (have you ever heard of someone’s sense of smell suddenly spiking after a car accident?); a change in diet/environment; etc.

Vampires and zombies may have been done already. But there’s still a lot of room for chimeras of all kinds.





E.E. Giorgi is a scientist, a writer and a photographer. She loves to blog about science for the curious mind, especially the kind that sparks fantastic premises and engaging stories. She has done scientific consultations for writers such as Autumn Kalquist (Legacy Code) and bestselling author Carol Cassella (Oxygen). E.E.’s detective thriller CHIMERAS, a hard-boiled police procedural with a genetic twist, is now available on Amazon.

Link to Blog:

Link to book on Amazon:

Chimeras Cover

Previous Posts on Chimerism:


Q&A: How Could My Sleuth Recognize a Chimera?:

Organ Creation and Harvesting: Reality Imitating Art:

Guest Blogger: Elena Giorgi: Deep DNA Sequencing:

Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong-Guest Blogger:


Guest Blogger: Ronnie Custer: Cyber Crime: Time To Update International Laws?




Universal Law against Cyber Crime Is What We Need

How are cyber crimes perpetuated?

There are many ways in which cyber crimes are perpetrated and technologically savvy attackers are indeed inventing newer ones to outwit law enforcement too. However, the main kind is as follows:

1. Unauthorized or unsolicited access to computer systems or networks with malicious intentions     or motives also termed hacking

2. Data theft of electronically stored information

3. Stratified e-mail bombardment

4. Manipulating electronic data before and after processing

5. Salami attacks mostly on financial and economic data

6. Denial of Service Attacks

7. Virus or worm attacks

8. Trojan Horse or data infiltration to cause damages, or suspension of services

How are they detected? 

Usually, cyber crimes are detected when the individual or institution notices large sums of money are unreasonably withdrawn from their accounts, or their system has become corrupted or malfunctioning. Complaints filed with the relevant Cyber Cell Departments or law enforcement are also ways of detection such genre of crimes. Many new anti cyber crime technology, tools and softwares are now being provided and installed which are able to detect cyber crimes sometimes even before the real damage sets in. Anti Virus Software (AVS) and other lingering software in computer systems are able to detect and resolve many instances of illegal entry.

Universal laws and not country- specific laws are the need of hour for addressing cyber crimes: 

Another major reason why there needs to be universal laws against cyber crimes is that there may be some different sets of cyber laws enacted and enforced by different countries of the world. While the EU may have one set of laws, the Middle East may have another and the Far East yet another, with the Americas, distinguishing itself with the fourth set of different regulatory regimes regarding cybercrimes and its treatment. Thus, enforcement of laws and bringing culprits or perpetrators before the due process of law would be a very difficult proposition, especially if this is of trans border kind with many conflicting enactment, laws and procedures. With country specific laws, it is also difficult to agree on which laws the violators could be tried and punished- the laws of the cyber crime perpetrating country, the laws of the victim’s country or the preponderance of global laws since the crimes were committed  on global internet highway.

There is every possibility that with nebulous laws, the perpetrators could stand good chance of going scot free, due to lack of evidence and even lack of law enforcement techniques.

But if there is preponderance of global set of cyber security laws and their enforcement, there is every likelihood that perpetrators would be made to stand trial and pay for their crimes.

Reasons for apparent need for globally enforceable, universal anti cyber crime 

¬ Changes in global, regional and domestic demographics have indeed warranted the need and urgency for universal laws to combat cyber crimes. Governments of various nations of the world, even involving the Interpol needs to be placed at the disposal of cyber crime fighters, wherever and whenever necessary to do so.

¬ Dramatic and major developments in online communications have indeed aided and abetted cyber criminals, some of whom may be masters of the cyber crime business. They regularly outwit law enforcing agencies and many global cyber crimes remain unsolved to this day due to lack of needed evidence and enforcement laws

¬ Since cyber crimes are now not bound to one country or state, encompassing, as it were, several States and nations through globalization, it has become imperative for States to act together and work in much closer manner to control menace of cyber crime and its after effects, on individuals, cohorts, agencies, institutions and governments. This could indeed be greater advantageous if there is a consistent, cohesive and solid set of Universal laws to which all signing countries need to adhere, abide and to enforce in a consistent, comparable and cohesive manner.

¬ Criminals do take advantage of weak and inconsistent laws to wreck havoc with apparent impunity. They know that current laws are insufficient to indict or even charge them. Global law enforcement with strong legal armory could indeed stop many varieties of online crimes dead on their tracks

Conclusion: Global cyber crime can only be effectively apprehended, prosecuted and eradicated if all nations of the world join together in a determined manner to try and wipe out this scourge from the face of the earth through Universal laws, that act and impact on every nation on earth which is in dire need of robust anti cyber crime fighting mechanism.

Author Bio: I am Ronnie Custer and I am intended on writing academic cases for the past several years that are assisted me to gain knowledge in writing grading assignments for all sorts of students. I have worked in different companies in writing industry.

Links for further reading:

FBI Cyber Crime:

Computer Crime, Wikipedia:

Cybercrime: Is It Out of Control?:

James Lynn on TED: Everyday Cybercrime:



Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Thrillers vs. Mysteries


Writing a Killer Thriller_May '13


by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

Until the last decade or so, most readers were more familiar with mysteries than thrillers. In fact, my small neighborhood library has a section called “Mysteries” but no section called “Thrillers,” which seems weird to me! Mysteries of all sorts (cozy, hardboiled, suspenseful, etc.) are still going strong, but thrillers make up more and more of the bestsellers these days.

How exactly do thrillers differ from mysteries, anyway? Both are fiction stories involving criminal activity, catching the bad guy(s), and at least one murder.

Two main differences stand out. First, in a mystery, neither the reader nor the protagonist knows who the killer is. The whole idea is to figure out “whodunit,” then apprehend the bad guy. In a thriller, the reader often knows who the villain is early on, and sometimes the hero does too. The object is for the hero to outwit and stop the killer before he kills others, including the hero, or endangers the world. Also, in mysteries, the protagonist is not usually in danger, whereas in thrillers, the protagonist is almost always directly threatened, fighting for his life as he matches wits with a clever, determined, amoral villain.

The other main difference between mysteries and thrillers is in the delivery—how they are told. Mysteries are usually more cerebral, for readers who enjoy solving puzzles, whereas thrillers are more heart-pounding, adrenaline-raising, appealing to the emotions and a yearning for excitement, a desire to vicariously confront danger and defeat nasty villains. A mystery, especially a “cozy” one, can unfold in a leisurely fashion, but thrillers need to be much more fast-paced and suspenseful.

David Morrell, , author of about 28 thrillers, explored the difference between mysteries and thrillers several years ago. His detailed description included this: “Traditional mysteries appeal primarily to the mind and emphasize the logical solution to a puzzle. In contrast, thrillers strive for heightened emotions and emphasize the sensations of what might be called an obstacle race and a scavenger hunt.” (David Morrell,

James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Thriller and How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, among other “damn good” books on writing, describes the differences like this:

“In a mystery, the hero has a mission to find a killer.

“In a thriller, the hero has a mission to foil evil.”

Frey goes on to elaborate, “a thriller is a story of a hero who has a mission to foil evil. Not just a hero—a clever hero. Not just a mission—an ‘impossible’ mission. An ‘impossible’ mission that will put our hero into terrible trouble.”

According to International Thriller Writers, a thriller is characterized by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

ITW defines thrillers as a genre in which “tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world.”

Part of the allure of thrillers, they say, comes from not only what their stories are about, but also how they are told. “High stakes, nonstop action, plot twists that both surprise and excite, settings that are both vibrant and exotic, and an intense pace that never lets up until the adrenaline-packed climax.”

Here are some distinctions James Scott Bell makes between the two, in his book, Conflict & Suspense:

Mystery = Who did it?  Suspense = Will it happen again?

Mystery is about “figuring it out.”  Suspense is about “keeping safe.”

Mystery is a puzzle.  Suspense is a nightmare.

Mysteries ask, “What will the lead character find next?”

Suspense asks, “What will happen next to the lead character?”

I asked some friends, clients and colleagues what they thought the main differences were between these two genres. According to thriller and horror writer Allan Leverone, “In a mystery, the crime has already been committed, but the hero and the reader must figure out by whom. In a thriller, the crime (at least the biggie) hasn’t been committed yet, but the reader knows who the bad guy is; the question is whether he can be stopped.”

My friend, bestselling suspense-mystery and thriller writer LJ Sellers, tells me she recently read that in a thriller, the villain drives the story, versus mystery, in which the protagonist drives the story.

And finally, another friend and colleague, bestselling thriller and horror writer Andrew E. Kaufman says, “Here’s a less conservative, completely off-color definition, coming from a less conservative, completely off-color mind: A thriller is like mystery on Viagra. Everything’s more amped up, fast-paced, and frenetic. A good thriller should keep your heart racing, your fingers swiping at the pages, and your rear on the edge of its seat. Of course, those lines can be blurred. Many authors straddle the fence between the two. Nothing is in black and white, and gray is a beautiful color.”

True – there are those fast-paced mysteries that seem to straddle both genres. For suspense-mysteries, I love Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar stories and Robert Crais’s Joe Pike and Elvis Cole stories, among others.

Which do you prefer, mysteries or thrillers?

It probably depends on your mood, but personally, I usually prefer the adrenaline rush and pulse-pounding suspense of thrillers!

Who are some of your favorite contemporary thriller or mystery writers?

What about your favorite thriller characters?

For series, I love Robert Crais’ Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar, Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch, and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and the two men in her life — both hunks!

For more on this topic, check out Tom Sawyer’s recent post over at The Thrill Begins blog: “Mysteries & Thrillers – The Differences”:

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.


 Jodie blogs


Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing


Guest Blogger: Win Blevins: The Last Five Things To Do Before Submitting Your Book

Power of Words


Okay, you’ve gone to the mat with your manuscript for months or years, and you’ve finally won the match with yourself.  Your book gleams like a Rolls Royce.  You’re throbbing with desire to submit it.

Heads up: STOP, it needs more work.  Because words on a screen are harder to proofread than words on a page, because human beings are imperfect, because no manuscript any editor has ever seen is letter-perfect—for all those reasons and many more, yours needs a final sprucing up.

Writing books (and mag articles and movies) for half a century has taught me to take five last steps before submitting a manuscript:

  • Read the entire manuscript again and beef up the verbs.  The man didn’t “move” (one of the laziest words in the English language), he “glided,” or “strutted,” or “shuffled,” or “hustled.”  The man and woman didn’t “argue,” they “clubbed each other with ugly names” or “slashed each other with knife-blade accusations.”  Etc.  You won’t find a page that can’t use a more graphic verb.
  • Cut as many adverbs as you can.  But don’t just cut them.  Wrap the adverb’s meaning into a more active verb.  Where you wrote, “The car moved slowly up the driveway,” change it to “The car inched up the driveway.”  Where you wrote “She laughed loudly,” write “She hooted.”  And so on.  Combine your adverb and verb into a more vivid verb.
  • Read the entire manuscript aloud to yourself.  This is the most powerful of these suggestions.  It’s an amazing experience.  You’ll see places where the language is mundane but yearns to sing, or where it meanders along when it should deliver a short, hard punch.  You’ll notice, especially, dialogue that is wordy—something like “I’m not going to put up with this” when “Screw you” would have done better.  Or dialogue that is explanatory when you wanted an emotional flare-up.  You’ll also notice words that have been left out, or typed twice, or repeated too close together.  You’ll spot awkward phrases and pronoun confusion. Read any manuscript out loud and flaws will be obvious.
  • Transform narration into scene with dialogue.  Read with a sharp eye for passages you’ve summarized instead making them into scenes.  Easy example:  You wrote, “Leaving, she told him she’d be back in an hour.”  Instead let the reader see and hear—“One hand on the doorknob and the other about to slosh her coffee on herself, she called out, ‘Sweetheart, I’ll be back in an hour.’”
  • Last, spell-check the manuscript.  Yes, damn well do it.  Sure, spell-check is nuts.  Its ideas about grammar are stiff and old-fashioned.  It doesn’t understand the use of words like “myself” and “yourself” and even confuses “its” and “it’s” (!).  But it does two things well.  It catches repetitions (when you’ve typed “sky” twice instead of once) and it can SPELL (it knows “accommodate” has a double m).  No matter how many crazy ideas Spell-check spews out, spotting the spelling errors and repeated words is worth it.

Five readings—and NOW you can hunt down that million-dollar advance.

Win Blevins


Powder River NEW





Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing


Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Write a Killer Thriller Opening

Your thriller is coming along really well. You’ve written a first draft or are well into it, and you’re starting to think of actually letting others read it. Way to go! Now it’s time to go back and revise your opening pages to make them as riveting and intriguing as they can be.

I can’t emphasize enough how critical your first pages are. They can literally make or break your sales for that book – and maybe future ones. Why? Because after glancing at the front and back cover, potential readers, agents, publishers, and buyers will read your opening page or two to decide whether or not to buy your book. Readers are less and less patient, and with all the excellent books out there, if they’re not intrigued by the first few pages, they’ll reject yours and go on to another.

As James N. Frey says, “A gripping opening is not simply a good thing for your story. It’s absolutely essential.”


Writing a Killer Thriller_May '13


So what are the essential ingredients of a gripping opening?

Your first page – in fact, your first paragraph – needs to immerse your readers in the story right away, engage them emotionally, and hook them in so they not only want to but need to continue.

For that to happen, several factors come into play.

~ Tell us whose story it is. First, readers want to know right away who’s the protagonist, the one they’ll be rooting for. Put is in the head of the main character in the first sentence, certainly the first paragraphs. Readers expect that the first person they meet is the one they’ll identify with and bond with, so start right out in the point of view of your lead character.

~ Situate us right away. And readers want to know immediately where and when that first scene is taking place, and what’s going on. So be sure you’ve answered the four W’s within the first few paragraphs: who, what, where, and when – and in an engaging way. Don’t confuse or annoy your readers right off the bat by making them wonder who’s the main person in the story, what’s going on at that moment, and where and when it’s happening.

~ But not in a happy scene. Introduce some tension and conflict right away. Your lead character wants or needs something and it’s not happening. She’s starting to get stressed because…

~ Make us care about your protagonist. Give readers a hero they’ll really want to root for and worry about. He should be sympathetic, interesting, and charismatic, but with inner conflict and baggage. Show us his hopes, dreams, worries, and fears as soon as you can.

~ Give us characters in action. Don’t start with your heroine alone, contemplating her life. That’s too static and just not engaging or dynamic enough. Put her in a compelling scene with someone significant in real time, with tension, dialogue, actions, and reactions. That way, we get a feel for her personality and a glimpse into her world and her place in it.

~ Avoid neutral, detached descriptions or explanations. Don’t address the readers as an omniscient narrator, telling us about the setting, the weather, or the hero from afar. In fact, don’t tell us anything on the first pages – show us what’s going on through the actions and dialogue of your characters. Filter the descriptions of your hero’s surroundings through his perceptions, reactions, mood, and attitude.

~ Set the tone for the whole book. Your opening paragraphs need to establish the overall tone and mood of this story. Readers need to get a feel early on as to what they’re getting into, not only in terms of character and plot but also from your overall approach and attitude. They don’t want any nasty surprises later on.

~ Upset her world. Then, within the first chapter, throw your main character a major curveball. Show something or someone threatening her or people close to her, or other, innocent people. Force your hero to make some difficult, even agonizing decisions. And keep us in her head so we feel her worries or fear or anger or confusion, followed hopefully by strategizing, courage, determination, and actions.

~ Make us relate. For maximum reader involvement, introduce a situation of injustice that implicates your protagonist as primary problem-solver. Injustice is something all readers can identify with, and they want to vicariously fight it through a resourceful, courageous, determined hero or heroine.

~ Bring in the villain. Finally, introduce your adversary within the first two chapters. It’s best to put us right in his point of view, but I advise against revealing his identity right away – keep the readers guessing along with the hero, for more tension, suspense and intrigue.

To recap: So think of a gripping, stressful opening situation for your protagonist that creates empathy and identification for him and raises intriguing story questions. Then show that scene in real time, with tension, action, and dialogue, through the eyes and ears and heart of your protagonist.

And write tight. Don’t rev your engines at the beginning or let your opening sequence drag on. Get in there and be ruthless with your cutting, taking out anything that doesn’t drive the story forward or contribute to characterization. Start late and end early.

That’s a tall order, all for a first page. But the business of thriller writing is extremely competitive, so your opening needs to be stellar to stand out in the crowd. Don’t waste it with long, meandering descriptive passages about the scenery or weather, or with a character waking up in the morning thinking about his life. And whatever you do, don’t use those precious first pages to explain anything to your readers. This is where “show, don’t tell” is crucial.

Readers and writers – Do you have any other suggestions for a killer thriller opening?


Jodie no glasses (2)


Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, with the updated, expanded edition now available in e-book and paperback on Amazon; and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER, available in paperback, for Kindle, and in other e-book formats

For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website.


Posted by on June 21, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing


Guest Blogger: Pam Johnson: How to Evaluate Your Writing Skills

People are becoming increasingly more aware of how important it is to have superb writing skills. This rule does not apply only in the humanities or literary fields, but it also expands out into a diverse array of occupations. Therefore, you might be quite interested in the steps you can take to improve your own writing.


Old Typewriter


Read Out Loud

When you are reading your own paper and your eyes are scanning the words, it can be really difficult to find mistakes. You know what the paper is supposed to say, so you do not wind up noticing where you have made errors. However, reading the paper out loud is going to force you to slow down. You are going to start to see more of your own mistakes, and you are going to hear if sentences sound awkward. Furthermore, you will likely begin to see when you use the incorrect word.

Buy Grammar Books

A major part of writing is how the paragraphs are organized and if the sentences seem to flow together. However, if you have incorrect grammar, then you have incorrect writing. In order to ensure that your writing is really up to par, it is time to purchase some grammar books. When you have a question as you are writing, you can look up the answer in the book. As are you inputting the correct comma or semicolon, make sure you completely understand why you are doing it.

Visit Writing Centers

If you are a college student, your campus likely has a writing center. At writing centers, you have the ability to work with a professional tutor. This person is going to help you work on your mistakes and to work through issues with various problems involved with writing. For example, you might focus on the organization of the paper or you might talk about a specific grammatical issue with which you are struggling. Having another person go over the paper with you can be a majorly important tool.

Enroll in Courses

Another excellent way to really evaluate your writing and to see how you are doing is to sign up for a class. You might take a class at the college level. If so, look for some workshops. Doing workshops, you will usually read the papers of other students and they will read yours so that you all have the ability to critique one another’s work. Of course, you could also look for some writing clubs in your area too. Through these clubs, you will not have to worry about paying high fees for classes or working toward obtaining a certain grade. You can work with other writers to learn how to craft better pieces.

Evaluating your own writing skills can be a bit of a challenge, but having the tools to do so makes it much easier. One way to really complete this task is to ask other people to evaluate your writing and to look some samples over with people who are professionals in the field.

Author Pam Johnson is an author of sociology who spends a lot of time evaluating her own writing skills. She obtained her degree from one of the Best Top 10 Online Bachelor’s in Sociology Programs in the country.



Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing


Guest Blogger: Marcela De Vivo: Promoting Your Crime Novel Through Blogs

Promoting Your Crime Novel Through Blogs

In today’s online world, blogging is all the rage. Blogging can reach a huge audience, is cheap and very easy to learn. People use blogs to promote all kinds of things, from health and fitness coaching, creative products like women’s fashion accessories, and even books. Your book.

Blogging is a powerful way to bring in new readers and keep previous fans interested in your upcoming books. In 2011,  it was estimated that there were over 150 million public blogs in existence. If you’re looking to start your own personal blog, consider a few of these tips below to get started.

Making Your Blog Successful:

  • Analyze Your Audience And Customer Base
  • Use Social Networking
  • Listen To Your Fans
  • Talk Back
  • Get Creative With Content

Using Blogs For Marketing 

If you decide to use your blog to market your crime novel, the first thing you should do is sit back and analyze your audience. Who will be reading your book? If your book is for young adults, gather ideas on what sort of articles and interactive activities draw them into online blogs.

A hugely popular way to draw not only young adults, but anybody that uses a computer to your blog is to use social networking. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are great methods for catching the attention of your fans. Creative a Facebook page that links to your twitter and update it regularly with exclusive information.

Of course, it is always quite wise to listen to your fans. They might leave comments on your blog telling you that they absolutely love what you’re doing or that they dislike it. If they’re enjoying the content, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, change it up. You can even take some of their suggestions and tweak them to your liking as you see fit.

Interact with the blog readers by answering individual questions left in comments, sent in emails or otherwise. This is another style of building website morale. Talking back could ease tension on the blog and reassure readers that there is someone on the other side that cares about their thoughts and feelings. Nobody enjoys the feeling of talking to a bot.

Already have a blog, but are just looking to spice it up? Consider finding a service such a Blog Wranglers who will take the blog you already have and move it to WordPress –a more hip and interactive blog base.

The widgets and plugins are great tools to help your writing become slightly more interactive via your blog, as opposed to just talking about the book itself.

Generating Blog Content 

  • Guest blogging 

Guest blogging is when a blogger is invited to another website to share their words about a specific topic needed for the particular blog. If you are trying to promote your crime novel, find other fiction writers looking for all kinds of articles to build up content for their own blog and keep their fans interested.

But why is this helpful to you? The great thing about guest posting is that you are usually allowed to include a link to your own blog. This means that there is endless potential to drive traffic to your website by inciting the help of other bloggers.

  • Utilize Online Resources 

Browse the internet for different tips on how to market your fiction book online. The web is full of resources from people just like you, looking to start blogs or some that have had them for years now. Take advantage of that.

Don’t be afraid to shoot a message to a person that owns a fiction blog much like one you are trying to start. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to help you get started. Plus, you’ll never know unless you ask.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and online marketing professional in the Los Angeles area. She’s planning to write a book on online marketing and SEO, and has already begun posting content ideas to her company blog at


Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing




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Admit it. Somewhere in your family there’s some young person who is still riding that CSI craze toward a career. They see themselves wearing lab coats and pipetting mysterious liquids under cool blue lighting to the tune of a rock music montage. Or they imagine striding inside the yellow tape, pulling on latex gloves and snapping a sharp “What’ve we got?” at the hot homicide detective. Or they imagine running down a dark alley, dodging behind the dumpster to squeeze off a shot at the serial killer they just figured out is the serial killer by the aftershave he wears, the unique scent of kumji berries blended specially for a boutique in Greenwich Village where the first victim had a temp job.

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Okay, first off—if it’s that last one, tell them to become a cop. CSIs don’t chase suspects. Most of us don’t even carry guns; that’s not a choice, it’s because we are civilian personnel and therefore not authorized. And because we already have enough crap to lug around.


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We also don’t dress in nice clothes, wear heels, and believe me positively no one looks sexy in a lab coat. Angelina Jolie couldn’t even look sexy in a lab coat, unless she wore it open with very select garments on underneath. But I won’t write an entire blog about the differences between CSIs on TV and CSIs in real life, though I could write several. Per day.

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Colleges and universities now have degrees in forensic science and/or in crime scene processing. As with any other field, advise your daughter/nephew/grand-niece to examine these programs carefully. The harsh reality is that the field is flooded with applicants who love CSI and it’s a buyer’s market. An agency might not be so quick to hire someone with an AA degree when they can get a BS or even MS for the same salary. Check out the details of the program and their success in placing graduates. The university near me had some personnel changes and veered their forensic science program from the hard sciences to forensic psychology, which might be great for students who dreamt of becoming a profiler, but those who wanted a crime scene job were beat out by students from the local for-profit college who actually received much more practical training in their classes.

The field of forensics is changing as the technology updates. Remember how in My Cousin Vinny the prosecution’s expert testifies that the tire rubber left in the peel-out is the same composition and size of the tires on the defendants’ car? That kind of thing sounds very impressive until the defense attorney does exactly what Joe Pesci’s character did—point out that this is one of the most common tires sold. Information like that used to make up the bulk of forensic evidence, but nowadays, unless you had a clear enough pattern to match that skid mark to that tire, the prosecutor probably wouldn’t even present the evidence. DNA has spoiled us all. Courts no longer want a pile of small pebbles of what could be coincidence which build into a mountain of certainty. They want one big boulder of: this sample absolutely came from that person. So the tire rubber, the pollen spores, the hairs, the fibers, the glass fragments are being left behind.

Quick check: Are you still thinking about Angelina Jolie in a lab coat? Stop. Pay attention.

So what do we spend our time with nowadays? Advise your daughter/nephew/ grand-niece to absorb as much of the concepts governing these systems as possible:

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Cell phones. We have a handy system that will download the information…in theory. But each model is different, so even with a case full of cables sometimes the connection won’t be made. Or we find we can download the text messages but not the photos, or the contact list but not the call history. And so on.

Video surveillance clips. At least everyone is going digital now so we no longer have to deal with scratchy VHS tapes; however we have the same problem as cell phones—the systems are all different. Many are sold by some mom-and-pop company that has since disbanded, the employees have no idea how to use it because they don’t need to on a regular basis, and they have no idea where the manual is, if they ever had one. Trial and error. It’s all trial and error. Oh, and a picture that looks great in a 4”x3” window looks like crap when blown up to 10”x8”. And no, we don’t have a handy software that fills in all those pixels so you can read the guy’s tattoo, or see the killer reflected in the victim’s eyeball.

Computers. Although the genius hackers of TV shows do not seem to exist, even the least educated criminal can figure out how to delete their emails. Where does this data go, where is it stored, what is a server, an Ethernet, a wireless connection, the Cloud? (And if you can answer these questions, please write and explain them to me.) You don’t have to know as much as an IT guy. If you do, become an IT guy. They make more.

And best of luck to your daughter/nephew/grand-niece. It’s a great field. Even if the wardrobe sucks.

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Blunt Impact will be available April 1, featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean and a series of murders surrounding a skyscraper under construction in downtown Cleveland. The first to die is young, sexy concrete worker Samantha, thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11 year old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost will stop at nothing to find her mother’s killer, and Theresa will stop at nothing to keep Ghost safe.

Also, Kindle owners can find a bargain in my new book The Prague Project, written under the name Beth Cheylan. A death in West Virginia sends FBI agent Ellie Gardner and NYPD Counterterrorism lieutenant Michael Stewart on a chase across Europe as they track stolen nukes and lost Nazi gold, hoping to avert the death of millions of people.

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Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.




Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: WRITING TENSE ACTION SCENES

by Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor and craft-of-fiction writer

I’m pleased to welcome back Jodie Renner, whose craft e-book, Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power, just came out in paperback as well.

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I specialize in editing thrillers and other fast-paced, suspenseful fiction, and someone recently asked me how editing thrillers is different from editing other genres. That’s a huge topic, too much for one blog post, and would include differences in plot, characterization, pacing, word choice, and writing style, among many other considerations. For today, I thought I’d just talk about writing effective action scenes, which can also appear in romantic suspense, mysteries, action adventures, fantasies, and any other genre.

When your characters are running for their lives, write tight and leave out a lot of description, especially little insignificant details about their surroundings. Of course, if the details would somehow help them, then definitely include them.

Characters on the run don’t have time to sightsee, reminisce, deliberate at length, or have great long discussions. Their adrenaline is pumping and all they’re thinking of is survival. Show that in your writing style.

A few quick tips for writing strong action scenes:

~ Show, don’t tell (of course!).

~ Stay in the scene with the characters – don’t intrude as the author to explain anything.

~ Avoid lengthy discussions among characters or long, involved thought processes.

~ Cut out any little unneeded words that are cluttering up sentences and slowing down the pace.

~ Use short sentences and paragraphs.

~ Use the most powerful verbs you can find.

~ Show your viewpoint character’s sensory impressions to suck readers in more.

~ Show your POV character’s emotional and physical reactions, starting with visceral responses.

~ Show other characters’ reactions through their words, tone of voice, actions, body language, and facial expressions.



Fortunately for Jennifer, the attacker was far enough away that when he attempted to grab her she sidestepped him and delivered a sharp kick to the outside of his left knee.

He grunted and fell back against the stack of wooden crates. He then got up clumsily, rubbing his arm, showing his anger at how easily Jennifer had dodged and hit him.


The attacker lunged at Jennifer. She dodged to the side and delivered a sharp kick to his knee. 

He grunted and fell against the stack of wooden crates. He scrambled up, rubbing his arm, eyes full of hate. [or sneering at her. Or ….]


His facial expression changed from one showing loathing to one communicating unrestrained glee. Jennifer realized at that moment that she had made a fatal mistake. She looked to her right. The door leading out of the warehouse was about fifty feet from where she was standing.


His expression changed from loathing to unrestrained glee. Jennifer knew she had made a fatal mistake. She searched for the exit door. It was to her right, about fifty feet away.

Before: An inline skater came careening around the corner and skated fast towards them, shouting loudly. Josh shot a look back at Amy as he grabbed her arm and pulled her bodily to the edge of the street out of the path of the oncoming skater.

After: An inline skater came careening around the corner and barreled towards them, yelling. Josh grabbed Amy’s arm and pulled her out of the path of the oncoming skater.

Before: Moments later, another skater was coming at them at breakneck pace. This time it was Amy’s turn to save her companion as she pushed Josh flat against the gray-colored stone wall of the adjacent building.

[At times of stress, sentences need to be shorter. And leave out minor details, as Josh isn’t thinking that the stones are gray-colored right now.]

After: Moments later, another skater came at them at a breakneck pace. Amy shoved Josh against the stone wall of the building beside them.  [or just: against the building.]


Kate and Lauren ran down the tunnel to an open doorway, then up some stone steps leading to a stone walkway. Kate hesitated for only a moment at the top in order to jam the hand gun she was holding into her waistband and give her time to figure out where to run.

In front of them was a huge stone courtyard, which was too open for them to safely cross before the smugglers would come looking for them. Kate knew she had to find a hiding place quickly. Then it came to her.

“Follow me,” Kate commanded, running off to her left.


Kate and Lauren sprinted down the tunnel, then up some stone steps to a walkway. At the top, Kate stopped to jam the gun into her waistband and figure out where to run.

In front of them was a wide open stone courtyard. They’d never get across without the smugglers spotting them. Kate knew she had to find a hiding place quickly. Then it came to her.

“Follow me,” Kate said, dashing off to her left.

So for tense action scenes, write tight, show character actions and reactions, and keep things moving!

* * *

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Please check out Jodie’s website and blog, as well as her group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.


Jodie’s craft-of-fiction articles are published regularly on various blogs, and she has written two popular books on writing fiction that sells, with more to follow. Jodie’s two books, both in the series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, are: Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, a how-to guide with examples for revving up your fiction-writing skills, also available in paperback, and her shorter e-booklet on writing riveting suspense fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller.



Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing


Guest Blogger: Philip Donlay: COOL GADGET: THE BLACK BOX

One of the wonderful side effects of writing a novel is I get to do the research that helps me tell my story.  One such learning experience involved creating a plane crash, at night, in the ocean, well out of radar contact.  All communication with the aircraft is lost and the flight never arrives.  Which poses the difficult question for all concerned: Where did it go, what happened, and why?  Search and rescue elements are the first into the fray, floating debris is eventually located, and then accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board step into action.  Their job is to start piecing together the evidence.  In this case, a possible crime scene with hundreds of fatalities stretched out over several miles.  Of course, the fact that the wreckage is 12,000 feet below the surface of the ocean makes the job even more difficult.  The first order of business:  Recover the black boxes.

Black Box: A general term for any magical gadget no one understands. 

Actual names of the devices: Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).  They’re two separate units, and they’re not black, they are in fact painted bright orange for higher visibility in the recovery process.

Every airliner has some type of black box installed, usually near the tail, if that gives you any hint where scientists believe the least amount of damage occurs in a plane crash.

Though I’m convinced they could install these devices in the nose and they’d survive to tell their tale to investigators.

In testing the crash-worthiness of the black boxes, they must be designed to survive the following:

a.) Being shot from an air cannon to create an impact of 3,400Gs.

b.) A 500-pound weight, with a quarter-inch steel pin attached, is dropped from ten feet to test for puncture survivability.

c.) For five minutes, 5,000 pounds per square inch of crush force is applied to all axis points.

d.) For at least thirty minutes, the box is placed in flames that reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. (Aluminum, the prime material used in airliner construction, will melt at 1221 degrees Fahrenheit.)

e.) The box must survive in salt water for thirty days.  These sturdy gadgets will also survive an ocean plunge down to 20,000 feet, and automatically begin to ping an acoustic signal for up to thirty days.

After all of these tests, the data stored inside must still be retrievable.  These devices are made to survive because of what they contain.  Stored inside on magnetic tape, or on a memory chip, are all of the essential events leading up to a crash.  The Cockpit Voice Recorder will record sounds in the cockpit.  The pilot’s conversations, the radio transmissions, sound of other voices in the cockpit.  All of the audio is preserved for the investigators.

The Flight Data Recorder is required to monitor at least eighty-eight parameters, such as heading, speed, altitude, aircraft attitude in relation to level flight and so on.  The end result is, once recovered, the accident investigators can create a visual depiction of the aircraft’s final moments.  It’s usually from that data, combined with information from the CVR, that the root cause of the disaster is determined.  It can be as obvious as a bomb, or the crew unwittingly flying into the side of a mountain in weather, to the failure of a turbine blade inside a jet engine.  Using clues from the black boxes, a Boeing 747 that crashed into the ocean off Long Island was eventually salvaged and pieced back together in an empty hangar.  Investigators then determined that defective wiring had caused a fuel tank explosion.

At some point in the future, there won’t be black boxes in airliners.  The flight and voice data will be streamed real-time via satellite and stored until needed.  Which means the only black boxes recording data for accident investigators might be the one in your car.  But, until that day comes, hunting black boxes on the ocean floor remains high adventure.


Philip Donlay is a retired professional pilot, and the author of three high-flying thrillers.  Category Five, Code Black, and the newly released Zero Separation.


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