Monthly Archives: September 2011

Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Revising and Polishing Your Novel

Today I welcome editor Jodie Renner to offer her opinions on the revision process.

Revising and Polishing Your Novel

Congratulations! You’ve finally finished the first draft of your novel! Give yourself a huge pat on the back and go out and celebrate! Then put it away for at least two weeks while you concentrate on other things, before going back and starting on revisions.

—Yes, revisions — starting with big-picture issues, like plot, characters, point of view and pacing. It’s highly unlikely that your first draft is ready for proofreading, or even line editing yet — save that for the last step of the revision process, after any large issues are detected and dealt with. If you’re unable to hire a freelance developmental editor and/or a copy editor, this is where your critique group (online or in-person) or acquaintances who read a lot of fiction come in.

Based on my own experience and advice from writing gurus, I’ve compiled a recommended approach to the revision process:

1-After you’ve finished your first draft, put your story away and concentrate on other things for a few weeks or even a month. Let the story percolate in your subconscious for a while.

2-Meanwhile send/give the manuscript to “beta readers” — savvy people who read a lot of fiction, in your genre. For suggestions and a list of possible questions, see my blog post, “Questions for Your Beta Readers” on Crime Fiction Collective (and Get at least two volunteer readers, but no more than five, as too many contradictory opinions could get overwhelming. Stress to your readers that at this point you’re looking for big issues only — parts where they felt excited, curious, delighted, scared, worried, confused, bored, etc.

3-After your break of a few weeks or so, collect the reactions of your volunteer readers or critique group. Go through them and note any that you really like; perhaps ask for clarification of suggestions, or more details.

4-Change the font of your manuscript to one you really like and print it up to read, rather than on the screen. (A different medium to help you look at it with fresh eyes. Or you can save this step until you’ve incorporated some changes.)

5-Reread your manuscript from start to finish, making separate notes only on big-picture changes you’d like to make, such as plot, characterization, point of view, pacing, etc. Cross out, delete or condense any boring scenes. Don’t get bogged down on wording or punctuation, etc. at this point.

6-Update your story outline and “to-do list” or plan of action to take into account advice from your beta readers, and/or critique group, as well as your own new ideas.

7-Save a new version of your manuscript under the current date and go through the whole thing, revising on-screen for big-picture changes only. Is your opening compelling enough? (See my blog posts on your first pages: “Act First, Explain Later” and “Those Crucial First Five Pages.”) Do all of the major plot points make sense? Do you see any inconsistencies in timing, setting, character or plot? Does the story drag in places? Is there enough conflict and tension? Suspense? (See “Writing a Killer Thriller,” Parts I, II and III, on Crime Fiction Collective BlogSpot.) Are your characters complex enough? Is your protagonist likeable? (“Creating Compelling Characters”) Do you have too many characters? Is your point of view all over the place? Anchor it in one of the main characters most of the time. (“Deep Point of View” on Blood-Red Pencil.) Maybe rewrite a scene from the viewpoint of a different key character? Rearrange some chapters or scenes? Or change the chapter breaks to earlier or later?

8-Now would be a good time to send your revised story to a freelance editor or to a few more volunteer readers — ones who haven’t read an earlier version.

9-Incorporate any new suggestions you like, and resave each new version as you go along, using the current date in the file name.

10-Go back to the beginning and start editing for voice, style, and flow. Slash excess wording and repetitions, or overexplaining. Streamline your sentences. Take out whole sentences and paragraphs — even scenes or chapters — if they don’t add anything new or drive the story forward. Take out unneeded adverbs and adjectives, eliminate clichés, and pump up your verbs to bring the action to life. See my blog post on fixing common style gaffes, “Style Blunders in Fiction” at The Thrill Begins BlogSpot.

11-Read just the dialogue out loud, maybe role-playing with a buddy or two. Do the conversations sound natural? Or stilted or even boring in parts. Amp up the tension and cut down on those empty phrases, overly wordy monologues, complete sentences, too-perfect grammar, etc. See my blog post called “Writing Effective Dialogue.”

12-Go through and do a basic line edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation — or better yet, hire a freelance fiction editor to do it.

13-Change the font to one you like, and print up the manuscript, double-spaced. Sit down with it and read it through out loud, crossing out excess words and sentences, and noting changes and suggestions between the lines, in the margins, or on the back.

14-Open up the screen version and type these new changes into your document; resave with today’s date.

15-Go over the whole thing again, on screen or on paper, looking for any new issues that crop up. Changes very often create new errors, so watch for those.

16-Repeat above steps as needed, until your manuscript is compelling and polished, before sending it off to a literary agent or acquiring editor, or self-publishing. This whole revision process could easily take several months. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by publishing it or sending it off too soon.

17-Better yet, at some point along this process, send it to a reputable freelance fiction editor so you can get a professional, unbiased look at it, from someone familiar with both the genre and industry standards.

18-Finally, if you’re seeking an agent, take as much care with that all-important query letter. See my blog post, “Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot” on Blood-Red Pencil BlogSpot.
Copyright © Jodie Renner, Sept. 23, 2011

Jodie Renner is a freelance manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to final copyediting and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques and plot outline analyses. Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at Jodie also contributes regularly to these blogs: Crime Fiction Collective, The Thrill Begins, and Blood-Red Pencil.


Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Writing


ThrillerFest Discount Deadline is 9-30-11

If you are a past attendee of ThrillerFest/ CraftFest sign up before 9-30-11 to get a special discount. Be sure to use this code: TF7SAVE

Here is the official announcement:

We’re excited to announce that NASA will be at ThrillerFest VII to share the latest in cutting edge technology.  We’ll also be honoring this year’s spotlight guests, including 2012 ThrillerMaster Jack Higgins, 2011 ThrillerMaster R.L. Stine, Lee Child, John Sandford, and Ann Rule.

ThrillerFest VII offers something for everyone:

CraftFest—NYT Bestselling authors will share their secrets on the craft of writing.

AgentFest—The top agents in the business will be on hand to hear your pitches.

ThrillerFest—Network with other writers and meet industry professionals at the fabulous
panels.  Special guests will be announced soon.

Special Pricing Ending Soon!

The Extra Early Bird pricing—a one-time opportunity for PAST ATTENDEES to save on registration—ends at midnight on September 30th, 2011, EST (Eastern Standard Time) so please register soon.

Just go to and use the discount code TF7SAVE (please be sure to use caps, as the system is case sensitive) for these unbelievable savings.
We’re really looking forward to seeing you next July 11-14 in NYC for ThrillerFest VII.

DP Lyle
VP National Events, International Thriller Writers
CraftFest Director

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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Writing


Guest Blogger: Elena Giorgi: Deep DNA Sequencing

My guest today is E.E. Giorgi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. She will discuss some newer and more-sophisticated DNA analysis techniques.

By E.E. Giorgi

There are roughly three billion pairs of nucleotides in human DNA, and the vast majority is identical across individuals. When we talk about “genetic fingerprinting,” we really mean, “looking for a needle in a hay stack.” Luckily, for the most part, we all differ at the same loci. Over the years, the techniques used for DNA typing have improved greatly, diminishing both costs and the likelihood of errors. These days, most forensic laboratories use commercial kits to type specific regions of the DNA that are known to vary across the population. Here in the US, the standard for DNA fingerprinting is to type 13 loci called short tandem repeats (STRs), regions that are 4 or 5 nucleotides long. The likelihood of two individuals having all 13 loci identical is so low that we can deem it virtually impossible (with the exception of identical twins, of course).

Using PCR-based technology (which creates many clone sequences out of a small sample), the commercial kits can rapidly determine the 13 STR alleles even from old, partly degraded DNA. These alleles are then run through CODIS, the DNA database maintained by the FBI, and if the genetic profile is already in the system, a match can be determined.

However, there’s a catch, and it’s called microvariant. From time to time, an individual will have a mutation that is so uncommon it’s never been observed before. The commercial kits are made to recognize specific variants that have already been documented, so when the DNA with the rare mutation is analyzed, the kit will not be able to recognize it. This can potentially lead to mislabeling.

How can we build a reliable library of STR alleles that faithfully represents the whole population? Until a few years ago, the two sequencing methods available—the chain-termination method [1], and pyrosequencing [2]—yielded tens of sequences at the time. The breakthrough came in 2005, when 454 Life Sciences, a biotechnology company based in Branford, CT, invented a new fiber-optic chip that allowed the typing of tens of thousands of DNA sequences [3]. The new method is called 454 sequencing or ultra-deep sequencing.

Roche 454 GS-FLXTM Deep Sequencing Machine

For those of us working in HIV research, this was a breakthrough. Since we had already shown that only a handful of viruses are transferred during a sexual transmission, deep sequencing allowed us to type the genome of those transmitted viruses [4], shedding new light on vaccine design.

Pico Titer Plate

But what about forensic analyses?

Researchers from Denmark used deep sequencing to analyze five STR loci and found rare base mutations and repeat variations that would have not been found using conventional methods [5]. As mentioned before, in order to reduce typing errors, it’s important to find these variants and incorporate them in the commercially available typing kits. Here in the US, a similar analysis is ongoing at the Forensic Science Program of the Western Carolina University [6]. The goal of the study, led by Professor Mark Wilson, is to understand how deep sequencing can uncover minor variants and hence minimize the rate of inconclusive results from genetic fingerprinting analyses.

In conclusion, just like its name implies, deep sequencing can give us a new depth to DNA sequencing, unveiling new, previously unknown alleles in the population.

A postdoctoral fellow and computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos, NM), E.E. Giorgi develops bioinformatics tools in order to study the genetics of the HIV virus. She blogs about DNA, HIV, and human genetics at


[1] [PMID:1100841] Sanger F, Coulson AR. A rapid method for determining sequences in DNA by primed synthesis with DNA polymerase. J Mol Biol. 1975 May 25;94(3):441-8.
[2] [PMID:8923969] Ronaghi M, Karamohamed S, Pettersson B, Uhlén M, Nyrén P.
Real-time DNA sequencing using detection of pyrophosphate release. Anal Biochem. 1996 Nov 1;242(1):84-9.
[3] [PMID:16056220] Margulies M, Egholm M, Altman WE, Attiya S, Bader JS, Bemben LA, Berka J et al. Genome sequencing in microfabricated high-density picolitre reactors. Nature. 2005 Sep 15;437(7057):376-80. Epub 2005 Jul 31.
[4] [PMID:20808830] Fischer W, Ganusov VV, Giorgi EE, et al. Transmission of single HIV-1 genomes and dynamics of early immune escape revealed by ultra-deep sequencing. PLoS One. 2010 Aug 20;5(8):e12303.
[5] [PMID:21806557] Fordyce SL, Ávila-Arcos MC, Rockenbauer E, Børsting C, Frank-Hansen R, Petersen FT, Willerslev E, Hansen AJ, Morling N, Gilbert MT. High-throughput sequencing of core STR loci for forensic genetic investigations using the Roche Genome Sequencer FLX platform. Biotechniques. 2011 Aug;51(2):127-33.

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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in DNA, Guest Blogger


Q and A: Can a Murder Be Staged to Look Like an Accidental Death from Autoerotic Asphyxia?

Q: I am currently working on a book that centers on a murder staged to look like an accidental death by autoerotic strangulation. Obviously the victim (who is a large man) needs to be incapacitated to the point where he is either unconscious or offers no resistance. The killer is unknown to the victim and not in a position to tamper with his food or drink, but by masquerading as a janitor he is able to get physically close. He is also able to obtain just about anything he’d need to get the job done.

Would Rohypnol do the trick? Can it be injected? Is there anything else you can think of that would serve?

A: Autoerotic asphyxia is the use of partial strangulation as part of masturbatory fantasies. Erotic asphyxia is where one partner partially strangles the other during sexual activity. The “kick” seems to be that the anoxia (decrease in blood, and thus oxygen supply, to the brain) is supposed to enhance the experience. This is also very dangerous and can lead to death or permanent brain injury. Most people believe that strangulation leads to loss of consciousness and death by preventing the victim from breathing. Not so. Strangulation compresses and obstructs the carotid arteries. These are the arteries on either side of the neck that carry blood from the heart to the brain. This is why strangulation can lead to loss of consciousness in a few seconds and death in less than a minute while you can hold your breath for 2 or 3 minutes if necessary. In the later, the oxygen content of the blood gradually declines while with occlusion of the carotid arteries the blood supply to the brain is abruptly interrupted. This makes erotic asphyxia, auto or otherwise, a very dangerous game. The victim often underestimates his capacity to stay conscious and once consciousness is lost, he can no longer save himself by releasing the rope, etc. Or his partner miscalculates when to release the pressure. Death follows.

Since you want the death to look like an accidental strangulation and since the ME can most often determine if strangulation has occurred, you would want the “actual cause of death” to be strangulation. If the killer were strong enough he could simply loop a rope around the victim’s neck, strangle him to death, and then “stage” the autoerotic scene. This is clean and simple and requires no other equipment and no chemicals. From your question, I get the impression that this would not work for you.

So, your killer must incapacitate the victim, strangle him, and then set the scene. Yes, Rohypnol would work as would GHB and Ecstasy. These are all given orally but have no flavor or odor and could easily be placed into water or any other liquid. Again, you don’t want this for your scenario so that brings us to an injectable sedative. I’m assuming that you have worked out a method for your killer to sneak up on the victim and quickly inject him with the drug (not that easy to do) and if so drugs such as Ativan, Versed, or Ketamine would fit your needs. Ketamine is currently a hot item on the Rave and drug abuse scene and is often stolen from vet clinics–often at gunpoint–since it is a useful animal anesthetic. It is an injectable liquid, but kids dry the liquid by heating it, leaving behind a white powder, which they then snort. Go figure.

All the above mentioned injectable drugs are rapid acting sedatives and if given in large enough doses could take the victim down in a very few minutes. He would become disoriented and confused, then unconscious. Your killer could then do his dirty work. One problem could arise however. These drugs are powerful sedatives and anesthetics and your victim could stop breathing. Here the cause of death would not be strangulation, which is a problem for your killer. There is a way around this however. If the victim stopped breathing, your killer would need to strangle him immediately. Why? If he dies of chemical asphyxia (stops breathing due to chemical sedation) there would not be the characteristic neck bruises that the coroner would look for to conclude the death was due to strangulation. Once the heart stops, the blood clots in the blood vessels very quickly and bruising is no longer possible. This means that strangling the victim after death would not leave bruises. If the victim stopped breathing, he would be alive for several minutes so if your killer then strangled him quickly, the characteristic bruising would be present and the ME might conclude that the victim died from an accidental autoerotic strangulation.

One important point is that the killer should use the same rope to strangle as he uses to “stage” the autoerotic death. Manual strangulation with his hands or with a rope of a different size and pattern might leave behind bruise patterns that were different than expected and these findings might tip off the ME that something was amiss.

Of course, the coroner could test for Ketamine or any other drug and would find it if he looked for it. He might not but even if he does a sophisticated toxicological evaluation might take days or weeks to perform. This could give your killer the time he needs to disappear, if that’s his plan. Also, the ME could locate the injection site on the corpse and maybe even test the tissues in the area and find a high concentration of whichever drug was injected. For these reasons, I would suggest that you find a way to use one of the oral drugs. People often use Ecstasy and GHB and other sedatives as part of their sexual activities so the finding of these drugs in the victim could be considered part of his thing. The injectable drugs would not fit this scenario and would raise an eyebrow or two. And as I said, it isn’t easy to stab someone with a needle, and hold it in place long enough to depress the plunger on the syringe and inject the medication. Possible, just difficult.


Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Asphyxia, Medical Issues, Q&A


ThrillerFest/CraftFest VII Registration Now Open

Registration for the 2012 ThrillerFest, CraftFest, and AgentFest are now open. Sign up now and take advantage of the Extra Early Bird discount, which will last until September 30th. It’s going to be another great conference with Thriller Masters Jack Higgins and RL Stine as well as Spotlight Guests Ann Rule, John Sandford, and Lee Child. And of course another great CraftFest and AgentFest.

On Line Registration



We hope everyone has enjoyed a fabulous summer.  Now that September has arrived, we’re already gearing up to make ThrillerFest VII the best yet.  This year, spotlight guests will include 2012 ThrillerMaster Jack Higgins, 2011 ThrillerMaster R.L. Stine, Lee Child, John Sandford, and Ann Rule.

ThrillerFest VII offers something for everyone:

CraftFest—NYT Bestselling authors will share their secrets on the craft of writing.

AgentFest—The top agents in the business will be on hand to hear your pitches.

ThrillerFest—Network with other writers and meet industry professionals at the fabulous panels.  Special guests will be announced soon.


SPECIAL PRICING FOR PRIOR THRILLERFEST ATTENDEES: Starting today, you can register for the EXTRA EARLY BIRD pricing (even better than Early Bird pricing which expires November 30th), a one-time opportunity to save on registration. This is only available to PRIOR ATTENDEES.  Please sign up soon, because this special opportunity only lasts until midnight on September 30th, 2011.

We’re really looking forward to seeing you next July 11-14 in NYC for ThrillerFest VII.


D.P. Lyle, MD
VP National Events, International Thriller Writers
CraftFest Director, ThrillerFest VII


Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Writing


Guest Blogger: Frederick Strobl, MD: Locked-in Syndrome

Here is another great guest blog from Dr. Frederick Strobl. This time he discusses the very odd syndrome known as Locked-in Syndrome.

Imagine the unimaginable. You awaken to find that you can think normally, but not speak. You try to move your arms and legs, but you are totally paralyzed. You can’t even lift your head off the pillow.

You can see and hear normally except if you look to the side, you have double vision. While completely functional, mentally, you are overcome with dread . . . you are a prisoner trapped inside your own body, locked-in from the rest of the world.

A nurse comes in to check your blood pressure. You can feel the pressure cuff inflate. Suddenly seeing your eyes open, she drops her stethoscope on your legs. You feel that too! She quickly returns with the neurologist. After examining you, he says the fateful words: “She is locked-in, I’m afraid.”

Locked-in syndrome is a rare neurological condition characterized by complete paralysis of the voluntary muscles in all parts of the body except those that control eye movement or blinking. It may result from a massive stroke, traumatic head injury, diseases that destroy the myelin insulating sheath surrounding nerves, and in rare cases, a toxic medication overdose. Individuals with locked-in syndrome are conscious and aware, able to think and reason normally, but are unable to speak or move. In a few cases, patients may regain certain body functions, but the chances for recovery are limited. The damage is located in the brainstem which connects the brain with the spinal cord.

Until the 1960s, people with this condition were considered brain damaged even when their higher brain functions were normal. While locked-in syndrome is better diagnosed today, it imposes a frightening and frustrating experience for the sufferer who can feel sensations of pain, hunger, itching, and the scope of human emotion, but cannot react or readily communicate such needs or desires.

Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist, suffered a massive stroke at age 43. He was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome and learned to communicate by blinking his left eye. Through this method, and with the help of a dedicated assistant who repeated letters of the alphabet to him, Bauby ultimately wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was later adapted into a film.

In the last decade, some advances have been made in assistive technologies. These include the implantation of sensors in the brain that allow the patient to move a computer cursor using thoughts or even convert thoughts into speech also through the use of a computer creating the sounds.

Similar to locked-in syndrome is a harmless but frightening condition called sleep paralysis. Essentially, in a healthy patient, the brain awakens from sleep before the rest of the body. Usually lasting for seconds, patients who have experienced this condition have expressed that it would be a fate worse than death.

Frederick (Fritz) Strobl, MD is a neurologist and a Director of the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, one of the largest private clinics in the world devoted entirely to neurology. His Dr. Jack Stevens series of medical thrillers includes Presidential Migraines and Greek Flu. His next book, Cyber Death, is due to be released in April 2012. Contact Fritz at or visit
Here is an interesting article Fritz submitted on reading brain activity and its possible use in Locked-in Syndrome.


Sextortion: Luis Mijangos Convicted

On August 29th I posted a guest article by Allison Gamble on Cyber Safety. A recent Orange County, CA case starkly underlines her points. Luis Mijangos knows his way around the cyber world and used his skills to damage many innocent women. Somehow six years just doesn’t seem harsh enough.


These articles reveal just how sinister his plot was:

Digital Trends Article

Victims Speak Out


Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Computers/Cell Phones/Electronics


A Trip to Europa

I don’t mean the daughter of King Tyre and Zeus’ lover nor her namesake moon that spins around Jupiter. I mean the hallucinogenic drug created by Alexander Shulgin, the father of more than 200 other psychoactive chemicals. Europa, also called K2, Red X Dawn, Blaze, or Spice, is actually 2C-E or 2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylphenethylamine.

Though often compared to LSD it is chemically different and its effects are likewise different. Each of these drugs have hallucinogenic effects but Europa seems to cause a synesthetic syndrome more frequently and more powerfully than does LSD.

Synesthesia is a medical condition in which distortion of the senses, particularly sound and vision, occurs. Those with synesthesia might see letters or numbers as colors or “see” sounds as colors or shapes or both. In his wonderful novel The Fallen, my friend T. Jefferson Parker created Homicide Detective Robbie Brownlaw who was afflicted with this condition. It’s a fascinating read.


Europa seems to simulate this medical condition. Under its influence, the visuals can be dramatic with brightly colored fractal patterns like Persian rugs or kaleidoscopes. Who can forget Lucy’s eyes in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds? Of course, as the song title suggests, Lucy took LSD and not Europa but the effects can be similar. You know, marmalade skies can break out anywhere.


John Lennon said his inspiration for the song came from a nursery school drawing done by his son Julian that John titled Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and that LSD had nothing to do with it. Really, John? It was the 60s after all.

Unfortunately it appears that Europa can also be deadly as a young man from Blaine, MN tragically discovered.


Posted by on September 1, 2011 in Poisons & Drugs

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