Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Two Book Launch Party and Other Events

I have two new novels out this week:

HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL, a Dub Walker Thriller


ROYAL PAINS: FIRST, DO NO HARM, the first tie-in novel for the popular TV series.

Debbie Mitsch is throwing a Launch Party for both books at her bookstore Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach next Saturday June 4th. Then on June 11th I’ll be signing books at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego and on June 18th will be part of a MWA-sponsored panel on writing Tie In novels.

Try to stop by one of these if you can.

Details HERE and below:

Mystery Ink, Huntington Beach, CA
Saturday, June 4, 2011, 1 p.m.
7176 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA

Mysterious Galaxy Books, San Diego
Saturday, June 11, 2011, 2 p.m.
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Suite #302 
San Diego, CA 

FURTHER ADVENTURES: Writing Novelizations and Media Tie-ins Panel: DP Lyle, William Rabkin, Lee Goldberg, Nathan Long, and Christa Faust (Moderator)
A MWA sponsored event
Saturday June 18, 2011, 11:00 am
Sportsmen’s Lodge
12833 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City 91604


Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Writing


So You Want To Be a Military Trauma Surgeon

So you want to be a trauma surgeon. Better yet, a military trauma surgeon. You might want to rethink that.

Trauma surgeons live in a very high-stress, high-velocity world. At a moment’s notice they can be summoned to the emergency department to handle some catastrophe. Maybe the victim has absorbed some small arms fire during a domestic dispute. Maybe he crammed his hybrid tin can into a telephone pole. Maybe that back alley knife fight turned into a piñata contest. Regardless the trauma surgeon can find himself dealing with some very severe and time-sensitive injuries.

The old Grim Reaper hangs on his shoulder everyday, waiting his turn. It’s the trauma surgeon’s duty to keep him at bay. His goal is to save the trauma victim’s life and repair the damage.

Typically, a trauma surgeon worries about the victim’s life, not his own. But a military trauma surgeon can face an entirely different set of concerns. His life could be in jeopardy. Check out this video. If this isn’t drama I don’t know what is.


Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Medical Issues, Trauma


How Old Is That Blood Stain?

Your detective is called because a body has been found dumped in a remote area. The victim is identified as a man who has been missing for four months and the medical examiner determines that his death likely occurred around the time of his disappearance. He had been in a dispute with a business partner over ownership of their company. The business partner has always maintained that the victim sold out and moved away to parts unknown. A fishy story but your detective has little to go on.

The search warrant is executed on the business partner’s home and indeed an old bloodstain is found on the garage floor. Blood typing and DNA analysis proves that it is the victim’s blood but the partner says it was from two years earlier when the victim helped him move some furniture and injured his hand, bleeding on the floor. He said they both cleaned it up at that time but he must’ve missed a spot.

The dilemma facing your detective is how to determine when the blood was shed? Four months ago or two years ago? DNA will only tell him that the blood belongs to the victim but it will not tell him when it was deposited.

Enter Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (Messenger RNA or mRNA).

Our DNA is our instruction manual. It tells each cell of the body what to do and how to do it. But DNA is inert. It does nothing except hold information. The real work is done by the enzymes in the cytoplasm of the cell. They create new proteins, other enzymes, various chemicals, and all the other things required for life.

But how does the DNA pass its instructions out to the cytoplasm where the needed worker enzymes are created and ply their trade? By employing mRNA, a temporary molecule, that is synthesized within the nucleus according to the instructions coded within the DNA. The mRNA then migrates into the cell’s cytoplasm where it directs the creation of the enzymes needed to do the job. In effect it carries the DNA’s instruction to the workplace. That’s why it’s called messenger RNA. This is of course a simplified explanation of a very complex process.

So what does this have to do with the age of a blood stain? Anne-Marie Simard of the University of Montréal is studying the degradation of four messenger RNA molecules found within blood, saliva, and semen. Her preliminary findings suggest that these molecules degrade at a measurable rate and if this is proven to be true such studies might be useful for determining the age of crime scene samples.

This could be a very useful tool for homicide investigators, particularly in cases such as the fictional one I outlined above. Determining the blood stain was four months old rather than two years would require an explanation from the business partner.


Guest Blogger: The Relevance of Realistic Criminal Profiling in Writing

Welcome Allison Gamble to The Writer’s Forensic Blog.

The Relevance of Realistic Criminal Profiling in Writing

Media these days is saturated with television shows and movies that address the topic of criminal profiling, probably because it’s such an intriguing and enigmatic discipline. With so much exposure to the world of crime through the news, Internet and even cell phone apps today, normal people are becoming increasingly interested in what really makes criminals tick. Creative writers do their best to capture the nuanced principles of profiling in literature of all kinds, but it’s difficult to do this realistically while remaining entertaining, especially if they don’t have the organic experience of being a real profiler. The first step in writing organic crime stories that involve profiling, then, is to understand the basic tents behind the discipline.

1. Criminal Profiling Has a Purpose

Lots of scientists consider forensic psychology a “soft science”—that is, one that doesn’t require rigorous quantitative analysis or an objective focus on accuracy. What’s interesting about this debate is that it actually provides an entire subset of conflict for creative writers to address in their work. Criminal profiling came into existence because federal agencies of all kinds (the FBI included) realized the benefits of being able to get inside a serial criminal’s mind. How do you prevent a terrorist attack or stop a killer from taking another victim if you have absolutely no preemptive advantage over them?

Understanding that the point of criminal profiling is preemption is important. Too often do writers create crime stories where one man or woman is an FBI agent and a profiler and a medical doctor and a sketch artist. Can you see what’s wrong here? The FBI has an entire unit, the Behavior Science Unit, dedicated to psychological criminal profiling so that field agents can get the job done faster and more accurately.

Consider Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter series. These iconic novels deal first-hand with criminal profilers trying to get an upper hand on a psychotic criminal. They do this by getting into Hannibal’s head, which is often both an enlightening and extremely scary experience. Their background in psychology allows them to look at common actions in unique and insightful ways that propel the story forward. This is an example of organic storytelling that takes advantage of an authentic profiling experience.

2. Criminal Profiling Takes Time

Lots of historically successful crime stories hinge on suspense, and profiling itself is a suspenseful action. A serial killer just took his fourth victim, and now it’s your job to do some rigorous psychoanalysis and figure out his next move before he does. Will you beat him? That’s suspense. Yet criminal profiling doesn’t happen over night, it takes a long time and involves the coordination of lots of different people. Successful crime stories exploit this suspense by making it difficult to put a profile together rapidly. This allows an audience to play detective and do the profiling and speculation on their own, based upon facts and information that you provide for them. As an audience puts the puzzle pieces together they not only feel a stronger connection with the profiler, but they also feel a connection to the criminal.

3. Criminal Profilers Often Don’t Have Much Time

Contradiction is the writer’s main tool for generating conflict in a story. Sure, it would be ideal if criminal psychologists could sit around and profile for weeks, but that’s typically not how it works. Criminal profilers often work with rapid response teams where immediacy holds priority over all else. You know those movies where a profiler gets a call at 1:00 a.m. and they’ve got about two hours to generate a killer’s M.O? Sometimes that’s all the time a police force has. It’s not in any way unrealistic, it’s bred from the idea that any preemption is better than none at all and it promotes a sense of urgency in crime writing, which prevents unwanted stagnation.

4. Profilers Humanize Criminals

You want your audience to connect to your criminal. The best way to do that is to prove to them that your serial killer or psychotic cannibal is a human being deep down. Isn’t that what criminal profilers do? Don’t they look deep into a criminal’s humanity to understand why does what he does? Profilers often look at things like family background, education, financial status, love life and past social interactions to get a better sense of a killer’s motivations. This is just a short list of things though; real profilers look into very detailed cracks to extract information on a killer. You can create an authentic profiling experience for your readers by doing research on the various types of strange facts that these professionals use to gain leverage on a criminal.

To portray anything realistically means to understand it from a professional level. If you’re going to write a crime story, do research. Learn about the gritty details. Try to find real on-the-job accounts from forensic psychologists, and if you’ve got a friend who’s one that’s even better.  Make the experience real for your reader by understanding what makes it real in the first place. Most importantly, don’t speculate, that’s the criminal profiler’s job.

Allison Gamble


My Father’s Pre-Civil War Log Cabin Survived Alabama Tornadoes

Back in the 1970s, my father, who is now 92, bought a pre-Civil War log cabin up in Tennessee. He had it torn apart and transported to Huntsville and then spent the next few years rebuilding, improving, and adding to it. He finally sold it because Mom wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of living there. Too far from the city.

The recent tornadoes that hit Huntsville and many other Alabama cities tore up the neighborhood but the house stood, protecting a family of three in the process.

Pretty cool. I’m proud of him to say the least. It’s always been his nature to “do things right.” This is an example.


Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Misc, Uncategorized


Thrillers: 100 Must Reads–A Great Book

This is a great book. Really, it is. Reading it brings back memories of the ones that I’ve read and pointed me to others that I somehow missed.

Okay so as one of the contributors I’m biased. But it’s still a great book. And that’s not just my opinion.

It was nominated for an Edgar Award and now has been nominated for an Anthony Award and the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award.

Congratulations to editors David Morrell and Hank Wagner and to all my fellow authors who contributed essays.


Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Writing


New Rapid DNA Technology

The recent killing of Osama bin Laden and the very rapid determination of his identity through DNA and other techniques has generated a great deal of discussion on just how fast DNA analyses can be done. The facts are that with good samples a DNA profile and its matching against a known profile can be done in a few hours, perhaps as little as two or three. But there’s new technology on the horizon that might reduce this time to less than an hour and, just as important, allow this testing to be done in the field by non-specially-trained individuals.

Network Biosystems (NetBio) is the creator of this portable instant DNA scanner that utilizes microfluidics, a rapidly expanding technology that makes use of very small volumes of liquids and microcapillary tubes. Since it is portable, rapid, and doesn’t require a scientifically-trained operator, it will no doubt prove to be a valuable forensic tool.

Lab on a Chip (LOCAD)

I first learned about this technology a couple years ago when I spent time with Dr. Lisa Monaco at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. She explained the microfluidic technology she employs in her Lab-on-a-chip (LOCAD) research and indeed one of her devices is currently roaming around Mars, seeking evidence of nitrogen, oxygen, water, and other chemicals, as well as the amino acids required for life.

Dr. Lisa Monaco

Whether on the surface of Mars or at a crime scene, this technology has a bright future and I suspect we will see an increasing number of uses for it.


Murder Charges 30 Years Later

David Michael Knick and Robert Duston Strong have been charged with a murder that took place 30 years ago. Sort of. The victim did not die until 2010. So if the victim died 30 years after Knick and Strong’s involvement how could they be charged with murder? It all comes down to the coroner’s determination that the death was a direct result of an act by these gentlemen.

In November, 1980, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies Ira Essoe and Greg Brown observed three men tampering with a series of cars in a parking lot in Orange, CA. When they approached the men a gun appeared and Deputy Essoe was shot. His injuries resulted in paralysis. The gunmen stole the officers patrol unit and a high-speed chase followed. These are big in Southern California. Seems like one happens every week. This one lasted about an hour and the two men were arrested. That was then.

Deputy Essoe remained paralyzed and suffered many complications from his condition. He also developed diabetes and heart disease and apparently had to have both legs amputated along the way. Last year he develop bed sores, a very common problem in paralyzed individuals, and from these developed an infection that spread to his bloodstream, a condition we call sepsis. He died from this.

Dr. Anthony Juguilon, chief forensic pathologist for the Orange County Coroner, determined that Essoe’s death was a delayed complication of the gunshot that left him paralyzed. This determination is critical. This makes the manner of death homicide and not natural, which would have been the case had Deputy Essoe been injured in a blameless accident, for example. But the fact that he was paralyzed by a gunshot wound that occurred during a criminal act and that his death was directly related to that incident led to the determination that the manner of death was homicide.

Both men will soon be going to trial. The defense will likely argue that the death was natural and was a complication of his other disease processes while the prosecution will of course agree with the coroner’s determination. We’ll see how this one plays out.


Question and Answer: In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

Q: I am a writer trying to figure out what, if anything, a 19th century physician (actually the book is set in 1863) in a provincial Canadian backwater might conclude about a dead body found in salt water, which had a caved in skull and no water in the lungs. Would they indicate possible foul play? Would they even examine the lungs at autopsy?

A: In 1863, there was essentially no forensic science available. Fingerprints hadn’t been discovered to be a form of identification, blood typing was nearly a half century away, and DNA was a full century down the road. Ballistic examinations were not done. Toxicology was in its infancy as a method for uncovering arsenic in the tissues of a corpse had been developed by Jean Servais Stas, a Belgian chemist, in 1851. So, there wasn’t much forensic science around.

But, there was the autopsy. The examination of corpses and the determination if any diseases and injuries were present dates back many, many centuries. Ancient Egyptians performed something like autopsies but the first true autopsies to gain medical knowledge were likely performed by Erasistratus around 250 BC. Galen, the great first century Greek physician, was the physician to the gladiators and had extensive experience in anatomy and wounds. He wrote extensively on these and many other subjects and his shadow fell over medical knowledge well into the 19th century. Not always for the good, since he was wrong about almost everything. In 1350, autopsies were done on victims of the Black Death in the hopes of finding a cause for the pandemic. Over the next seven centuries the autopsy became more common and more sophisticated.

So, by 1863, the autopsy was well ingrained into the practice of medicine. This means that your physician could easily have the knowledge to perform them. Or not. Since he is in an isolated area, he could be out of the loop on that so you can have it either way. If he had any experience at all, he could determine whether the blow to the head was enough to kill the victim or not. He would see a skull fracture or bleeding into and around the brain. If he saw these, he might conclude that this was the cause of death. If he saw none of this, but merely a scalp bruise, he might conclude that drowning was the cause of death. He might not look at the lungs but simply know that the victim was found in water and assume that a drowning occurred. Or if he did examine the lungs and found them to be dry, he might say that drowning had nothing to do with it and the victim must have been dead at the time he entered the water. With dry lungs and no significant head injury he might not be able to say what caused the death. This gives you several options for how you construct your plot.

I should point out that dry lung drownings can occur and that any corpse—drowned or not—that has been in the water longer than 12 or so hours will have lungs filled with water. This is simply due to water seeping in and forcing the air out. Like a sponge dropped into water. But this was not known in 1863 so dry lungs might have suggested to your physician that no drowning occurred. He might be wrong but who could argue with his conclusion?

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