Monthly Archives: August 2012

I Hear You . . . But You Sound Funny

Most hallucinogenics cause visual distortions and altered perceptions. Remember Lucy’s kaleidoscopic eyes? Users often misinterpret what they see (marmalade skies) or see things that aren’t really there (pink elephants). DiPT (Diisopropyltryptamine), while it can also cause visual and perceptual problems, primarily causes auditory distortion. For you guitar players out there, it can sound like a flanger or phase shifter. A wobbling or swirling of the sound.

One form of this drug, 5-Methoxy-diisopropyltryptamine, is sold on the streets as “Foxy” or “Foxy Methoxy.” In addition to auditory distortions, it can also cause euphoria, hypersexuality, emotional lability, hyperactivity, anxiety, and even out-of-body experiences.

Sounds like a Van Halen or ZZ Top concert to me.


I know all you creators of fictional villains out there are constantly looking for ways your bad guys can cause harm and aggravation to other characters. Employing this drug in your story could produce some interesting scenes.


A Few Final Words From Death Row

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has posted 30-years of the final words uttered by executed criminals. An interesting read. They also posted each former inmate’s Offender Information—a good thing since many do protesteth too much.

An example: Steven Michael Woods, Jr., who along with his buddy and stellar citizen Marcus Rhodes, shot and cut the throats of a young couple and then stole their car keys, cell phone, and other items. He closed his final rant with, “…go ahead and do it. Pull the trigger. It’s coming. I can feel it coming. Goodbye.”

Somehow I doubt his victim’s had the opportunity to say anything similar.

Adios, Stevie.


America Lost A Hero Today: Godspeed, Neil Armstrong



Sad news today. Neil Armstrong died, taking with him a big part of my childhood. As someone who grew up in the shadow of the space program, actually the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, I followed his and every other astronauts’ career from the beginning. Von Braun and crew at Marshall built the boosters that launched our satellites as well as the astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs into orbit and beyond. Back then when the ground around Huntsville shook, it wasn’t a Mother Nature thing, but rather a NASA thing. The huge test tower where the Saturn V boosters were static tested still stand and from the top you can see the entire center, the city, and much of the Tennessee River Valley.

I know there are those who say the moon landing never occurred, proving yet again that the morons walk among us.

I know. I was there. Not for the “one small step” but for the launch of Apollo 11. July 16, 1969, 9:32 a.m. It was a cool morning at Canaveral that day and once again the ground shook as the mighty Saturn V cluster sprang to life and Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, rose into the sky in route to the moon. We stood awe-struck and watched as the first stage separated and the second stage carried them out of sight.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Truly one of the highlights of my life.

It was the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years of med school in Birmingham. Don Hawkins, a classmate of mine, and I were doing cardiovascular research projects that summer and took a few days off to venture down. Don’s aunt worked for NASA and lived in Cocoa Beach. She had grabbed us passes to the Cape for the launch. Not an easy ticket to come by.

I remember we arrived there a couple of days early, pulling in around 2 a.m. after the grueling drive from Birmingham. As we neared the Cape we could see the rocket. Off in the distance, lit like a monument. What a thrill.


The day before the launch, we toured NASA, seeing the VAB (Vertical Assembly Building), the huge transport vehicle that carried the massive rocket from that construction site to the launch pad, and, of course, the rocket. Up close and personal. At that time the VAB, which had four construction silos inside, held the Apollo 12 and the ill-fated Apollo 13 rockets, as well as the beginnings of Apollo 14. NASA always planned ahead.

They say two million people descended on the Florida Coast that week. That might be a conservative estimate. The night before launch day, Don and I went for a long run along the beach, an hour out and an hour back. Campers and campsites lined the beach every step of the way, all night parties in progress.

Around midnight we tried to get some sleep but that didn’t work out so well. Too amped. So around 4 a.m. we headed over to the Holiday Inn for breakfast where we ran into some of the ABC news crew getting ready to head for the Cape. We met our bus around 6 and reached the Cape shortly thereafter. It was cool and overcast. There were hundreds of people there, Apollo 11 standing across a flat stretch of swamp water from us. Speakers lined the shore and blasted out the chatter between Mission Control and Armstrong and crew. The tension was indeed palpable and as the minutes clicked by it only increased. Around 9, the sky cleared and the countdown seemed to quicken until 10 . . 9 . . 8 . . and so on. Then: “We have ignition. And lift off.”


My heart raced in my throat and, yes, there were tears. Same was true for everyone there.

The steam rose from the water used to deaden the vibrations and heat from the boosters, obscuring the rocket. Then, Apollo 11 slowly nosed from the cloud and rose above us, its exhaust laying down a thick contrail.

Heady stuff.

Ultimately, 12 Americans set foot on that desolate surface and returned to talk about it.

Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong/Buzz Aldrin

Apollo 12: Pete Conrad/Alan Bean

Apollo 14: Alan Shepard/Edgar Mitchell

Apollo 15: David Scott/James Irwin

Apollo 16: John Young/Charles Duke

Apollo 17: Gene Cernan/Harrison Schmidt


But Neil Armstrong was the first.

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong. Your place in the history of humans will live forever.



Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


Suspense Radio Interview This Saturday

If you get a chance join Gregg Hurwitz, Jaden Terrell, Michael Crisp and me on Suspense Radio this Saturday at 10 AM PDT.

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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Pacing For Power, Part II

Pacing for Power, Part II – Increasing Tension & Suspense

Using style and pacing techniques to increase tension and suspense:

In Part I, we discussed techniques for picking up the pace in your novel to create a real “page turner.” But at some of the most critical, tense or emotional moments of a story, you actually want to slow things down, in order to give the reader a chance to realize the significance of the problem and appreciate the challenges the character is facing to overcome the obstacles. This stretching-out technique also increases the tension, draws out the suspense and intrigue, and emotionally engages the readers to get their adrenaline flowing. So don’t zip past those crucial pivoting moments of the story. Milk them for all they’re worth.

Here are some techniques to maximize the tension, suspense and intrigue in nail-biting scene.

Tips for increasing tension and suspense by slowing down pacing:

* Write longer, more involved sentences. This forces the reader to pay more attention and concentrate on every word.

* Use more description to show exactly how and why the setting, circumstances, and characters are significant and ominous.

* Exploit setting details to maximum effect by using darkness, shadows, harsh weather, eerie stillness, ominous sounds, suspicious smells, etc.

* Make time pass in slow motion to create anticipation, anxiety, and rising tension.

* Move the camera lens in close and show minute details that seem off or could be important in some way.

* Heighten the senses of the POV character and show the results—tell us every little sight, sound and smell they’re picking up, since what they perceive could be critical to their survival.

* Let us know what the POV character is thinking and worrying about, analyzing and planning.

* Show your characters’ increased apprehension and other heightened emotional reactions to what’s going on around them.


An extreme but very effective example of this is when bestselling thriller writer, Lee Child, goes into slow-motion to show a pivotal scene in his novel, Worth Dying For. Our hero, Jack Reacher, is approaching a suspicious-looking guy in a deserted parking lot. He needs to make a split-second decision, and if it’s the wrong one, it will very likely cost him his life, and the bad guys will continue terrorizing the town and harming innocent people, including children. Lee Child uses five pages in Chapter 32 to show/describe an action that literally takes seconds, including Reacher’s thought processes, decisions, actions, and reactions. Child uses lengthy, highly detailed sentences and long paragraphs that rivet our attention as we zero in on every word. One sentence actually goes on for a page and a quarter, and several others are half a page long.

Here’s the second half of one of those sentences, after Reacher decides to slug the guy hard in the gut:

“…his head snapping forward like a crash test dummy, his shoulders driving backward, his weight coming up off the ground, his head whipping backward again and hitting a plate-glass window behind him with a dull boom like a kettle drum, his arms and legs and torso all going down like a rag doll, his body falling, sprawling, the hard polycarbonate click and clatter of something black skittering away on the ground, Reacher tracking it all the way in the corner of his eye, not a wallet, not a phone, not a knife, but a Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol, all dark and boxy and wicked.”

I don’t think it’s necessary to slow the action down this much to be riveting, and you certainly wouldn’t want to write or read a whole novel with lengthy, minutely detailed sentences like these! But used well, this technique can be very effective. Not everyone can successfully pull off this kind of stretching out of a moment for maximum effect, but it’s useful to read bestselling thrillers to find different successful renditions of this technique.

Do you have any really good examples to share of novels where time is slowed down for pivotal scenes?




Copyright © Jodie Renner,, August 2012

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers and other crime fiction. Her craft-of-fiction articles appear here and on five other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her website or blog.

Jodie’s popular 42-page e-booklet, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Powerful Fiction, is only $0.99 on Amazon or PDF.



Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Writing


Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Pacing For Power, Part I

Pacing for Power, Part I – Picking up the Pace

We’ve probably all read (or at least started) novels that just seem to drag in parts, where the author has spent too much time on static description, lengthy backstory, analysis and rumination, or other explanatory lead-ups instead of grabbing our attention and hooking us in with compelling characters faced with critical challenges, and lots of action and dialogue. Most readers these days have little patience for an overly leisurely, analytical style, and it definitely doesn’t work for suspense-thrillers and most other best-selling fiction.

On the other hand, I’ve seen movies where it’s nonstop car chases, with buildings, cars, and people being blown up left and right. Too much of that gets old fast, making us just feel exhausted or just numb.

Readers’ tolerance or desire for either a leisurely pace or lots of action depends on the genre, of course. A literary fiction will usually have slower pacing than an action-thriller, for example. But in any successful novel, the key is to vary the pacing, and of course in “page-turning” suspense fiction, the pace should be generally brisk, with lots of conflict and tension. But even if you’re writing a fast-paced thriller or action-adventure, you don’t want to write your whole book at a break-neck pace, as that can be exhausting for the reader. Give them a chance to catch their breath from time to time before the next onslaught.

Successful writers use a variety of techniques to either slow down or speed up a story. Here in Part I, we’ll start with some tips for picking up the pace for faster, more exciting action scenes.

You can first find ways to increase the pacing of your story on a macro level, by considering scenes and chapters—do you have passages where not much is happening? Any slow-moving, boring scenes should be condensed, rewritten, or even deleted. Next, analyze the pacing at a micro level and tighten up your paragraphs and sentences, eliminating repetitions and reducing convoluted phrasing and excess wordiness. And while you’re at it, replace abstract, vague or obtuse words with more concrete, powerful, sensory, to-the-point words.

Some Tips for Picking up the Pace in Your Story:

* Keep chapters and scenes short, and change scenes rapidly.

* Show compelling action scenes in real time, and skip over slower transition scenes. If you’re writing a fast-paced thriller or action-adventure, summarize, reduce or omit the “reaction/reflection/regrouping” type sequels so integral to romances. Also summarize to condense long passages of time where not much happens.

*Start each scene or chapter as late as possible, not with a lengthy warm-up. Your story and every scene and chapter should start with some kind of question, conflict or intrigue, to arouse the curiosity of the reader and make them want to keep reading.

* End each scene or chapter as early as possible, rather than spending a lot of time wrapping up. And it’s best to end most scenes and chapters with a “cliff-hanger”—some kind of twist, revelation, story question, intrigue, challenge, setback or threat to make the reader want to turn the page and start the next chapter.

* Action scenes need to be “shown” in real time, to make them more immediate and compelling, rather than “telling” about them after the fact. (See my article “Show, Don’t Tell.”)

* Limit descriptive passages, backstory, and analyses.

* Use short, powerful sentences, with strong verbs, to-the-point dialogue, and lots of internal and external reactions.

* Keep transitions short from one scene to another. Use a sentence or two to take the reader from one telling scene to the next. Or just cut directly to the next scene.

* Add tension, conflict, intrigue, and change to every scene. This will keep the readers turning the pages to find out what happens next. See my article, “Every Scene Needs Conflict and a Change.”

* Use rapid-fire dialogue, with short questions, abrupt answers, lots of tension, and little or no description, deliberation or reflection.

* Use concrete words, strong nouns and powerful verbs, and shorter sentences and paragraphs. Write tight—take out all unnecessary, repetitive words and phrases.

* Use active voice to add urgency: “The detectives questioned the suspects,” rather than “The suspects were questioned by the detectives.” Or “The tornado damaged buildings,” rather than “Buildings were damaged by the tornado.”

Writers and readers—do you have any suggestions to add for picking up the pace in fiction?

In Part II, we’ll discuss techniques for using a slow-motion, heightened style of pacing to increase tension and intrigue.

Copyright © Jodie Renner,, August 2012

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers and other crime fiction. Her craft-of-fiction articles appear here and on five other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her website or blog.


Jodie’s popular 42-page e-booklet, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Powerful Fiction, is only $0.99 on Amazon or PDF.


Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Writing


RUN TO GROUND Now Available on Kindle

RUN TO GROUND is now available on Kindle.

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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Writing


The King Is Dead; Long Live The King

Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of The King: Elvis Presley. You don’t get to be The King of Rock and Roll by accident. What a voice. From Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” in 1954 to the 1976 “Jungle Room Sessions” recoded at Graceland, he was one of a kind. His catalog of recordings is simply astounding.


Elvis Returns to Tupelo, 1956

On a personal note, my father, like Elvis, is from Tupelo, MS and as a kid knew Elvis’ mother and her sister very well. My cousin Bobby and Elvis were great friends. My Dad has a photo of Bobby, Elvis, and their 4th grade class–maybe a dozen students total. Bobby and Elvis are sitting together in the front row, each with a facial expression that screams mischievousness.

RIP, Elvis.


Posted by on August 16, 2012 in On This Day


Some Serial Killers Seek Supernatural Powers

Only rarely, very rarely, if ever, is murder committed without some motive. Money, revenge, to cover another crime, to make a social or political statement, and many other reasons. Typically the motive is apparent, if a bit distorted. Such is the case with serial killers. A rational person can’t understand what moves many serial killers to action but to the killer his activities make perfect sense. Are even necessary. One such motive is that some serial killers believe their murders will give them supernatural powers. My friend Dr. Katherine Ramsland has written a very interesting article on this subject for Psychology Today.


Hello, Clarice


THE GREAT ESCAPES and the Reality of Most Prison Breaks

Great Escapes Infographic


Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Police Procedure

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