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When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

 

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So you do all that forensic science research for your story and find a bunch of cool stuff. Now what? How do you use it to make your story believable, and convoluted, and of course suspenseful.

Here is a post I wrote for Le Coeur de l’Artiste that might help.

Original post is here: http://www.djadamson.com/lartiste/archives/09-2016

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

Make the Time of Death Vague: When your disheveled detective is standing over the body and chatting with the coroner and the subject of the time of death comes up, don’t have your coroner/medical examiner say something stupid like, “The victim died at 10:30 last night.” There is no way he could know this. The things he uses to determine the time of death during the first 48 hours – – things like body temperature, rigor mortis, and lividity – – aren’t very accurate. They are merely suggestions. But by using these techniques, the coroner can at least make an educated guess as to the APPROXIMATE time of death. And it is always a best guess. Realistically he should say something like, “The victim died somewhere between 10 PM and midnight.” And that gives you wiggle room in your plot.

Give Your Crime Lab Time to Breathe: Only on television do crime labs get results before the first commercial break. You know, the DNA sample is obtained and three minutes later they have the results, complete with a holographic image of the bad guy. Unfortunately, that is humorously far from reality. DNA analysis, toxicological testing, and most other forensic science techniques take time. The tests not only have to be done, they have to be checked and rechecked, and in high-profile cases, they are often sent out to other labs for corroboration. This takes time. At least days, and often weeks. Remember to allow for this when you’re plotting your story as this delay can add tension.

Make the Evidence Difficult to Find or Not Useful: The truth is that evidence is not always present. Of course, the crime scene technicians look for fingerprints, bodily fluids, shoe impressions, hair and fiber, and any other bits of evidence the perpetrator might have deposited at the crime scene. These might or might not be present, and if present might or might not be found, and if found might or might not be useful. If fingerprints are deposited on a window pane, a tile countertop, or some other smooth, hard surface, then they are often easily found and are clear and useful. If they are on a rough surface, such as a wooden slat or concrete, or if they are smeared or contaminated or altered in some way, they might not be useful. The pattern might be disrupted or difficult to see and if so the print is useless. DNA might be found but it might be so damaged from decay or contamination that it is not useful. So make it difficult for your detective. Don’t make the evidence jump right into his lap.

Make Everyone Involved in the Investigation Honest and Capable, or Not: The best-selling horror writer John Saul has said that he places his stories in small towns because the cops are stupid. This might be true in many cases, but I think what John means is that they are not sophisticated, experienced, or well-equipped to handle many criminal situations. This might be because they are poorly trained, or never worked in a major city, or solved any major crimes and therefore a murder in their small town might be beyond their capabilities. Or perhaps the city’s budget for crime-fighting is so small that they can’t afford to hire experienced officers, or forensic experts, or even do autopsies. It might be that those in power are just flat out criminally corrupt, or lazy, or incompetent. If your story is set in a major city, such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, or Miami, then sophisticated crime-fighting techniques, equipment, labs, and experts are easily available. But if it’s set in a small town, none of these are available. Use this to add tension to your story.

Make the Evidence Controversial: Just because a certain individual’s fingerprints or DNA or shoe impressions are left at the crime scene, it does not mean that person is the perpetrator of the crime. The thing about evidence is that it creates linkage. It links a person, an object, or a place to another person, object, or place. That is, if Joe’s fingerprints are found at the scene of the crime it means that at some point in time Joe was at that location. It does not mean Joe is the one that killed Martha. This is why when police begin their interrogation of Joe they will first ask him if he has been in Martha’s home, or if he even knows Martha. If he says yes, he knows her well and has been in her home many times, then there may be a perfectly innocent reason for his fingerprints to be there. If he says no that he does not know her and has never been in her home, then Joe has some explaining to do. Such evidence that points in the wrong direction is very useful for creating classic red herrings in your story.

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Guest Blogger: TK Thorne: Confessions Of A Pantser

Confessions Of A Pantser

Or

What’s The Best Way To Write A Novel?

by T.K. Thorne

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A controversy rages over the best way to write a novel—plotter vs. pantser.  A plotter is a writer who outlines the plot points and/or scenes before diving into the writing. A pantser goes “by the seat of her pants,” plotting as she goes.

The truth is that writing a novel is a process that requires one’s entire brain in ways that neurological science has (yet) been able to completely understand.  For simplicity, let’s call it left brain and right brain processes. The left hemisphere is the origin for analytic/judgment making and the right brain is the origin of the creative/where-the-heck-did-that-come-from? You could also term it the conscious vs. the unconscious. I think in reality they both muck together a good bit, but we’ll use the terms for now.

One might say that plotters engage their left brain more in the planning process and pantsers use the right brain to come up with plot organically.  True and not true, but either way, I agree with Larry Brooks, who has postulated three stages for writing a novel.

• Search for Story

• Development of Story

• Polishing of Story

Both plotters and pantsers must follow these stages, although they do not have to occur precisely in order.  Sometimes you need to develop somewhat in order to find the story. Many writers advise writing a complete draft before you start polishing, but some writers polish as they go (which doesn’t mean you don’t need to rewrite. Robert Heinlein is the only person I know of who claimed he didn’t rewrite anything and I’m not sure I believe him or possibly he said that toward the end of his prolific career.)

Some people start with the story concept, which is different from a plot, by the way. A concept might arise from something as simple as a “What if—?” question. What if a radioactive spider bit a man giving him super spider powers?  What if young boys and girls went to a secret school to learn magic?

Wow, we have a concept, the first step in writing a novel, right?  Right . . . except not always.

It certainly can begin that way, and you can then explore the concept with an plot outline, noting the needed developmental points, develop the characters, and then write the story.  That may work best for you.

But it is not the only way to find story.

One day, I was brushing my teeth, and three words popped into my head, seemingly from nowhere.  The words were: “You’re a hero.”  I literally had nothing more, but felt the need to put my fingers on the keyboard and find out what lurked in my right brain/subconscious. Quickly spitting out toothpaste, I ran to my laptop and typed those words and then . . . let the muse play.  I’ve ended up with a novel and concept for two additional books.

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On another occasion, I “saw” an image of a young girl listening to her grandmother and just started writing the scene, which turned out to be Noah’s Wife.  My next novel, Angels At The Gate, began without even a scene in mind, just a few words out of an audacious young girl’s mind.

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So how exactly did that work?  Angels was loosely based on the biblical story of Lot’s wife. If you recall, she is the lady who looked back at the burning city of Sodom and turned into a “pillar of salt.” Nameless and only granted that one famous line, she didn’t give me much to go on. But I figured even as a child, she must have had a little problem with obedience. That led to the idea of her as a young, impetuous girl hiding a puppy in her robe. It could have been her own pup, but given the obedience issue, I decided she stole it. To explain why she stole it, I had to invent a character (the pup’s owner) who gave her a reason. (She overheard him say he was going to throw it into the cook pot.) And so it went. The characters determined what happened, or at the least, how they reacted to whatever I threw at them.

In both cases, I did prior research about the time period, but I had no idea what the story would be.  I wrote based on the first words that came out, building layer by layer. You don’t have to keep those words, but they provide a launching place. A work of quality can emerge from this process. Both novels won national awards.

With that experience, I am tempted to give my truest advice with two words—Go Play!

On the other hand, I have been writing and studying the craft of writing (omg!) for 40 years. According to Malcolm Gladwell, who studies such things, it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in anything.

So, read, study, and play for 10,000 hours.

Does that mean don’t try writing novels before you have the millage?  Absolutely not! Seven “practice novels” slumber in my computer, unpublished.  Writing them is part of playing and practicing.  It’s important.  And maybe it won’t take you that many!

In reality, plotters and pantsers exist on a continuum, and I am no exception.  My brain, no doubt, is bouncing back and forth as I work, right to left, left to right, subconscious to conscious, and vice versa (as my husband who is trying to get my attention will tell you.) I may start out totally by playing, but at some point I am imaging scenes and dialogue in advance and write toward that. I may or may not make notes about where I’m going, but it is very helpful to have a ending in mind, even if it is a vague one.  And there are definite places (plot points) in most fiction where certain types of things need to happen, and knowing where they are is helpful.

What I don’t do is set how to get there in stone, because I like surprises as much as a reader. If I don’t know what is going to happen next, neither will the reader.  On the other hand, it is scary to start without knowing where you are going, especially if you have a publisher waiting for a book or if you are working on a series and don’t want to box yourself in by doing something in book one or two that will make book three not work.

So, I will amend my advice: Do what works for you. Be a plotter or a pantser, or something in between, or switch as you go. Whatever works is the right way.

A retired Birmingham police captain, T.K. Thorne’s award-winning novels, Noah’s Wife and Angels At The Gate: The Story of Lot’s Wife, fill in the backstories of unknown, extraordinary women in two of the world’s most famous sagas. Her non-fiction book, Last Chance For Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers, made the NY Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. She blogs on her website, TKThorne.com, and speaks on life lessons, her writing journey, and her books.

T.K. will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming “Writing In The 21st Century” writer’s conference in Huntsville, Alabama.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2016 in Writing

 

New DEEP SIX Review From the Midwest Book Review

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Ex-professional baseball player Jake Longly adamantly refuses to work for his father, wanting no part of Ray’s PI world. He prefers to hang out at his beachfront bar and chase bikinis along the sugary beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama. But Ray could be persuasive, so Jake finds himself staking out the home of wealthy Barbara Plummer, a suspected adulteress. The mission seems simple enough―hang around, take a few pictures, sip a little bourbon. Except Barbara gets herself murdered right under Jake’s nose.

When Jake launches into an investigation of his target’s homicide, he quickly runs afoul of Ukrainian mobster Victor Borkov. Aided by his new girlfriend Nicole Jemison and Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers, his behemoth employee with crazy computer skills, Jake tries to peel away the layers of the crime. The deeper the intrepid trio delves, the more murders start to pile up, leading them to Borkov’s massive yacht — where they just might be deep-sixed.

In “Deep Six”, author D. P. Lyle has once again written a consistently compelling novel that will riveting his reader’s total attention from beginning to end. This is the stuff from which block-buster movies are made! While unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Thriller Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading list that “Deep Six” is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).

MORE INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/deep-six/

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2016 in Writing

 

Crime and Science Radio: Crime Scenes, Criminalistics, and the Cutting Edge

Crime and Science Radio: Crime Scenes, Criminalistics, and the Cutting Edge in Los Angeles: An Interview with Former LASD Criminalist Professor Donald Johnson of California State University, Los Angeles

BIO: Professor Donald James Johnson is an expert on criminalistics, with emphasis on crime scene investigation and reconstruction (homicides and sexual assaults), and forensic biology. His research interests include the application of new technologies to the field of criminalistics. He was formerly a senior criminalist at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he was involved in the scientific investigation of violent crimes.

NOTE: This show was recorded live at the MWA-LA Chapter meeting in Los Angels, CA

LISTEN: LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/09/10/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-dr-donald-james-johnson

Link will go live Saturday 9-10-16 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

California Forensic Science Institute: http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/cfsi

School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at CSULA: http://www.calstatela.edu/hhs/crim

CSULA Masters in Criminalistics http://ecatalog.calstatela.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=11&poid=3452

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SboLJ7WwnXQ

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: http://sheriff.lacounty.gov

American Academy of Forensic Sciences http://www.aafs.org

 

The Dread Line—A New Novel From Edgar Winner Bruce DeSilva

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In “The Dread Line,” the fifth novel in Bruce DeSilva’s Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels, Liam Mulligan is piecing a new life together after getting fired from his investigative reporting newspaper job.  He’s getting some part-time work with his friend McCracken’s detective agency, picking up beer money by freelancing for a local news website, and looking after his semi-retired mobster-friend’s bookmaking business.

But Mulligan still manages to find trouble. He’s feuding with a cat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone in town is torturing animals. All this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention. The New England Patriots, shaken by murder charges against their superstar tight end, have hired Mulligan and McCracken to investigate the background of a college athlete they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they start asking questions, they get push-back. The player, it seems, has something to hide – and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Release date is 9-6-16 and the book can be purchased here:  https://www.amazon.com/Dread-Line-Mulligan-Novel-Liam/dp/0765374331/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470767504&sr=1-1&keywords=bruce+desilva

 

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Posted by on September 5, 2016 in Writing

 

Katherine Ramsland: What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You?

It seems that after many disturbing crimes, the family, friends, or neighbors, in shock at what happened, often say: “But he seemed so nice. So normal. We had no idea.”

Happens all the time.

My friend Katherine Ramsland addresses this in an excellent new blog post in Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today site.

 

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What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You? by Dr, Katherine Ramsland

An early Ripper tale depicts the role of denial in reframing the obvious.

I’ve long known about an early fictional story based on the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, but only recently read it. The Lodger, by Marie Belloc Lowndes, was published as a short story in January 1911 in McClure’s magazine. Later, she lengthened it into a novella that focused on the female landlady. Alfred Hitchcock changed it somewhat to turn it into a film.

Reportedly, Lowndes was inspired by an anecdote she heard at a dinner party about an elderly couple who were certain that Jack the Ripper had lodged with them around the time of the murders late in 1888. During the Ripper spree, Lowndes had been a young aspiring writer. Although she was in Paris, not London, at the time, she followed the sensational news coverage. Years later, she used the unique context to write a story that drew out gender and class issues in London society. She also shows a keen eye for subtle psychological twists.

The plot is basic: The Buntings, an aging couple with financial problems, are overjoyed when a single man arrives and decides to rent several rooms. Without this stroke of good luck, they would have starved. The lodger, Mr. Sleuth, is an odd duck, but Mrs. Bunting can overlook this as long as he pays and doesn’t cause trouble. Her accommodating attitude foreshadows more dramatic allowances to come.

Mrs. Bunting attends to Sleuth, while her husband spends his time reading newspapers, especially when stories pop up about “The Avenger,” a Ripperesque killer of alcoholic women. Mr. Bunting has a friend on the police force, so he gets behind-the-scenes details. This also gives the author a chance to describe Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, founded in 1875.

Criminological museums popped up in several large cities during the late nineteenth century. Objects and pictures were exhibited to showcase theories about crime and its perpetrators. Into these museums went weapons, poisons, blood samples, fingerprints, hangman’s nooses, morgue photos, crime reconstructions, handwriting samples, police memorabilia, and even human remains.

Mrs. Bunting despises her husband’s obsession with the unsolved Avenger murders, but she begins to suspect that their lodger might be the guy. This is where the story’s genius lies. The more she discovers, the more she covers for him. She even ventures out to a coroner’s inquest – something only vulgar people did – to discover what the police actually know. (Great period detail!)

Mrs. Bunting knows the lodger has a satchel but she cannot find it when she cleans his rooms. She spots red liquid seeping from a locked cabinet, but accepts his hasty and implausible explanation. She begins to act in uncharacteristic ways, including lying to her husband. Each time she discovers something that implicates Mr. Sleuth as a killer, she tones it down.

In part, she needs to feel safe in her own home, and in part, she needs the money. If he’s arrested, she faces poverty.

In this tale you get some early criminal profiling (a “mission killer”), and even a glimpse of Madame Tussaud’s famous wax museum. But most interesting is the way Lowndes so subtly shows how anyone might accommodate the behavior of someone later unmasked as a serial killer.

I hear this question all the time. People just cannot believe that in the home of a serial killer there might be innocent parties. But it happens. Even if certain items or behaviors should seem sinister, denial is a powerful mechanism – especially when a personal investment in seeing things in a more flattering light is strong.

The best expression I’ve seen is in Lionel Dahmer’s memoir about his son, Jeffrey. When Jeff lived in his grandmother’s basement, she complained to Lionel twice about disgusting odors. Jeff had an innocent explanation: he experimented with chemicals on chicken parts from a grocery store. Lionel found a nasty-smelling liquid near the garbage cans that he thought was ordinary meat juice. Why would he have concluded that it was human blood?

“I allowed myself to believe Jeff,” Lionel mused in A Father’s Story, “to accept all his answers regardless of how implausible they might seem…. More than anything, I allowed myself to believe that there was a line in Jeff, a line he wouldn’t cross…  My life became an exercise in avoidance and denial.”

He accepted a stolen mannequin as a “prank”, a .357 Magnum as a “target pistol,” a charge of child molestation as an “accident,” and the request for a freezer as a responsible attempt to be economical. Who would have thought it was for dismembered body parts?

The Lodger sheds no light on the Ripper’s identity, but it does portray what can happen when bias and need infect our perception and beliefs.

Visit the original post: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing/201608/what-if-jack-the-ripper-lived-you

And check out Katherine’s recent interview on Crime and Science Radio:

http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/katherine-ramsland.html

 

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Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library

It you are in the Huntsville, AL area on Saturday, September 10th drop by the Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library.

I’ll be speaking at 2 p.m.: “Storytelling: A Uniquely Human Endeavor”

 

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Local Authors Shine at Southern Authors Expo

Submitted by lmcphail on August 1, 2016

Come to the Downtown Huntsville Library on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Southern Authors Expo. The library will be filled to the gills that day with local and regional authors ready to share their works with you. Huntsville is already home to a few notable authors…maybe you’ll meet the next Homer Hickam or Ilsa Bick!

The Southern Authors Expo offers the opportunity to connect authors and readers and for aspiring authors to meet others like themselves. The Expo also includes a writers room where writers can receive critiques and help with their first chapters, a readers room where authors will read from their texts in fifteen minute increments, and speakers on the hour every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Aspiring writers are encouraged to bring in ten pages and receive notes and critiques from editors.

Hot Box and Sugar Belle Bakery food trucks will be available for lunch in the parking lot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Southern Authors Expo is free to attend and open to the public. Authors will have copies of their books for purchase. Support our homegrown talent at the Expo!

Speakers

Auditorium:

10 a.m.         Ann B. Ross
11 a.m.         Les Johnson
12 p.m.         Michael Guillebeau
1 p.m.           Christy Jordan
2 p.m.           D. P. Lyle
3 p.m.           Melanie Dickerson

2nd Floor Events Room:

10 a.m.         Alex White
11 a.m.         Robert Bailey
12 p.m.         Pamela Hearon
1 p.m.           Sarah Henson
2 p.m.           Ann-Marie Martin
3 p.m.           Ramona Hyman

Readers Nook

10:00: Cathy Knowles
10:20: Toya Poplar
10:40: Amanda Orneck
11:00: Susan Spalding
11:20: Sasha Reynold-Neu
11:40: Daco Auffenorde
12:00: Margaret Vann
12:20: Mack Vann
12:40: Bert Carson
13:00: Joel Cobbs
13:20: Jamie Marchant
13:40: Cathryn Buse
14:00: Christina Carson
14:20: Frank Chase Jr
14:40: Ethan Fossett
15:00: Lana Austin
15:20: Hilda Lee
15:40: Debbie Esslinger

Registered Authors

Ashford, Joyce Ann
Auffenorde, Daco
Austin, Lana
Bailey, Robert
Baldwin, Mary
Barnes and Noble
Blessyn, Yura
Buse, Cathryn
Callison, Maria
Carnegie Writers
Carson, Christina & Bert
Cavanaugh, Mary Pulles
Chase, Frank Jr.
Chess, Kristina
Cobbs, Joel
Cole, Annie
Davis, Charles
Dickerson, Melanie
Distler, Dixie
Duncan, Victoria
Esslinger, Deborah
Fossett, Ethan
Gardner, Bonnie
Garrett, Shirley
Gilbert, Virginia
Goldstein, Deborah
Guillebeau, Micheal
Hearon, Pamela
Hensley, Ray
Henson, Sarah
Higginbotham, K.M.
Hilton, Eloisa
Hilton, Eloisa
Hyman, Ramona
Jacks, Lauralee
Jeter, John Sims
Johnson, Arloo
Johnson, Les
Jordan, Christy
Kerr, Kimberly
Kingsley, Stacy
Knowles, Catherine
Larson, Susan
Lee, Hilda
Lewis, Marlena
Ligon, Philip
Lyle, D.P.
Lynch, Lear
Lynne, Pepper
Mann, Angela
Marchant, Jamie
Martin, Ann-Marie
McPhail, Susan
Moon, Virgil C
Orneck, Amanda
Peel, Jennifer
Pociask, Anna
Poplar, Toya
Reynolds-Neu, Sasha
Rotstein, Robert
Satterwhite, Rob
Simpson, Micheal
Soden, Nina
Spalding, Susan
Sparkman, Pamela
Suddeth, Vickie
Thaler, Lynn
Trigg, Patsy
Vann, Mack
Vann, Margaret
Vaughn, Otha H Jr.
Vowell, Judd
White, Alex
Wills, Glenn
Zorbino, Shannon

Library Website: https://hmcpl.org/sae

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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