Monthly Archives: October 2012

Be Careful What You Eat

People eat some fairly odd things. There’s even a medical term for some of these foreign-substance ingestions: Pica. Some people eat their own hair (hair pica) and rarely this leads to hair ball formation–just like your cat. People eat coins, starch, paint flecks, and even dirt. In the South there is a long tradition of chalk pica and clay pica (the eating of the red clay dirt that is so common in that region). The belief, passed down generation to generation, is that the red clay offers minerals that the body needs. It doesn’t. In truth, the clay can bind iron and remove it from the body and lead to iron deficiency anemia.



In two odd cases the ingestion of foreign substances has lead to serious health consequences and even death.

Apparently a new fad is to drink cocktails that contain Liquid Nitrogen (N). Sounds delicious I know but the problem is that Liquid N hovers between -196 degrees F. (its boiling point–the temp at which it converts to its gaseous form) and -346 degrees F. (its freezing point–the temp at which it becomes solid). This can literally freeze the stomach and lead to tissue death.

This is what happened to Gaby Scanlon. She ingested the drink as part of her 18th birthday celebration at a local bar only to end up in the hospital with her stomach surgically removed after it perforated. Not the best of birthdays, I imagine, and definitely not what she expected. Her story should be a cautionary tale for others.

Then there is 32-year-old Edward Archbold. He entered a “roach and worm” eating contest run by a local pet store. The grand prize? A python. Afterwards he became ill (you think?), vomited, and died.

It is unclear what exactly killed him. Was it a toxin in the roaches and worms? Was it a rip or rupture of the esophagus from his vomiting? Tearing of the esophagus with vomiting is called Mallory-Weiss Syndrome while esophageal rupture in this circumstance is termed Boerhaave’s Syndrome. Hopefully the medical examiner’s determination will sort this out.


Please Say It Ain’t So

Sociopaths do some very bizarre things. Things that make you scratch your head and say, “What?” And sometimes they do things that absolutely proves their sociopathy. Like selling the weapon you used to murder your ex-wife and an innocent bystander.

Were it not for the fact that OJ is a sociopath–in my opinion–I might dismiss this story as just another crazy report. But, this just might be true. I hope not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

The article poses the question: “How could he possibly have hidden it from police then and held onto it for this long?”

How did he hide it? Some feel it was in OJ’s small black duffle bag. Others point to the hang up bag Kardashian carried for OJ, who was returning from Chicago the day after the murders. It was likely in one of these two bags, along with OJ’s bloody jump suit and those ugly-ass Bruno Magli shoes. Remember, this was pre-911. It was easy to carry knives and bloody clothes on and off a plane. We might never know what actually happened but none of these items were ever seen again and Kardashian, not a criminal defense attorney, was placed on OJ’s defense team. Makes a subpoena directed at him impossible. That attorney-client privilege thing.


Robert Kardashian and OJ


I hope this story isn’t true but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.


The 7th Woman: Another Great Book From Le French Book

Le French Book’s release of the English translation of THE 7TH WOMAN is your last chance to win a trip to France.


There’s no rest for Paris’s top criminal investigation division, La Crim’. Who is preying on women in the French capital? How can he kill again and again without leaving any clues? A serial killer is taking pleasure in a macabre ritual that leaves the police on tenterhooks. Chief of Police Nico Sirsky—a super cop with a modern-day real life, including an ex-wife, a teenage son and a budding love story—races against the clock to solve the murders as they get closer and closer to his inner circle. Will he resist the pressure? Find out in The 7th Woman, by Frédérique Molay.

Check it out:


And be sure to sign up for a chance to win a signed first edition of RUN TO GROUND






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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Writing


Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: Essential Characteristics of a Thriller Hero




The hero or heroine of a suspense-thriller, like the protagonist of any popular bestseller, has to be impassioned, unique, and likeable enough for the reader to want to jump in and follow them through their journey, worrying about them and cheering them on through their challenges. So it’s important to take the time to create a charismatic, passionate, complex, sympathetic main character, one that readers can connect with immediately.

Heroes in novels and movies haven’t really changed a lot over the centuries since the days of Robin Hood and Maid Marion, but they continue to have universal appeal because through them, readers can vicariously participate in exciting adventures and confront and defeat evil to win the day and restore justice. Makes for a very entertaining, satisfying read. Get the adrenaline flowing with worry and fear, then triumph over adversity together, just in the nick of time!

Like the heroes of tales of long ago and, more recently, western and action-adventure stories and movies, the hero of a thriller is usually larger than life, and because of his cleverness, determination and special skills, can accomplish feats most of us cannot, including finding and crushing the bad guys before they get him! But unless you’re writing a James Bond-type story, don’t make your hero perfect or too cocky! Give them some inner conflict, weak spots or insecurities to keep readers on the edge of their seats worrying about them.

What’s the basic recipe for a suspense hero or heroine that sells books? James Scott Bell says a Lead character worth following must have these three attributes: “Grit, Wit, and It.”  As Bell says, “Grit is guts in action.” The ideal hero is tenacious and courageous under pressure. “Wit” refers to the character’s cleverness and humor or ability to laugh at himself, and “It” is all about personal magnetism and charisma, even sex appeal.

What else? Think white knight or cowboy with the white hat, defeating the bad guys. The classic hero may be (and often is) a rebel who defies society’s rules, but he has inner integrity and a personal code of honor, and will risk his life for a worthy cause. Readers want to cheer him on to defeat evil, so they can get a sense of satisfaction that they, too, could stop the bad guys, help innocent victims, and restore harmony to their scary world.

From my various reading of craft-of-fiction books and bestselling thrillers and my own editing of suspense fiction, I’ve come up with this list of desired qualities for the hero or heroine of a page-turning suspenseful mystery, romantic suspense, or thriller novel.

Heroes and heroines of bestselling thrillers need most of these attributes:

~ Clever. They need to be smart enough to figure out the clues and outsmart the villain. Readers don’t want to feel they’re smarter than the lead character. They don’t want to say, “Oh, come on! Figure it out!

~ Resourceful. Think MacGyver, Katniss of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, or Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive. The hero needs to be able to use ingenuity and whatever’s at his disposal to get out of any jams he finds himself in and also to find and defeat the bad guy(s).

~ Experienced. They’ve done things and been places. They’ve had a variety of tough life experiences that have helped them grow. They’ve “lived” and are stronger and more resilient for it. They’re definitely not naïve.

~ Determined. Your hero or heroine needs to be tenacious and resilient. They keep going. They don’t cave under pressure or adversity. They’ve got “grit.” They have a goal and stick to it, despite personal discomforts like fatigue, hunger, injuries, and threats.

~ Courageous.  Bravery is essential, as readers want to look up to him/her. Any heroes who are tentative or fearful early on should soon find courage they didn’t know they had. The challenges and dangers they face force them to be stronger, creating growth and an interesting character arc for them.

~ Physically fit. Your heroine or hero needs to be up to the physical challenges facing her/him. It’s more credible if they jog or work out regularly, like Joe Pike running uphill carrying a 40-pound backpack. Unless you’re writing a comic book, graphic fiction, or a James-Bond-type scenario, don’t lose reader credibility by making your character perform feats you haven’t built into his makeup, abilities you can’t justify by what we know about him so far.

~ Skilled. To defeat those clever, skilled villains, they almost always have some special skills and talents to draw on when the going gets rough. For example, Katniss in Hunger Games is a master archer and knows how to track and survive in the woods, Jack Reacher is great at shooting and fighting, and Joe Pike has multiple talents, including stealth.

~ Charismatic. Attractive in some way. Fascinating, appealing, and enigmatic. People are drawn to him or her. They’ve got “It.”

~ Confident but not overly cocky. Stay away from arrogant unless you’re going for less-than-realistic caricatures like James Bond.

~ Passionate, but not overly emotional. Often calm under fire, steadfast. Usually don’t break under pressure. Often intense about what they feel is right and wrong, but “the strong, silent type” is common – “a man of few words,” like Joe Pike or Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch.

~ Unique. They have a special world view, and a distinctive background and attitude that sets them apart from others.

~ Complex. Imperfect, with some inner conflict. Guard against having a perfect or invincible hero or heroine. Make them human, with some self-doubt and fear, so readers worry more about the nasty villains defeating them and get more emotionally invested in their story.  Remember, even Superman could be defeated by kryptonite.

~ Wounded. Had a tough background that toughened them up somewhat. But they’re still vulnerable because of it. Lucy Kincaid, from Allison Brennan’s romantic thriller series, was brutally attacked and nearly killed by a rapist, but she’s determined to overcome the emotional scars and become an FBI agent; Joe Pike was repeatedly beaten by an abusive father; Elvis Cole was abandoned by his mother; Jack Reacher was an army brat who was constantly in fights and lost his parents and brother. How these characters deal with their emotional and physical wounds touches the reader’s heart and draws us in.

~ Self-sacrificing. The thriller hero, while never a pious goody-goody, is ready do whatever it takes to help innocent people who are threatened, protect an individual or family being terrorized, or rescue a child who’s been kidnapped. Being self-sacrificing is often what separates a quasi-hero from a villain. For example, Rick in Casablanca is a cad-type antihero who ultimately sacrifices his own personal needs/wants/desires for the greater good and turns into a hero at the end. Similarly with Walt, the gruff, racist Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino.

~ Idealistic, Honorable. This is probably the most important attribute – pretty much a requirement. The thriller hero or heroine my lie, cheat, steal, even kill, but they do it for the greater good, to stop threats and defeat evil. A sense of honor is what distinguishes the flawed hero from the villain. According to Bell, “It is an inner quality that motivates right action, even in the face of terrible odds.” Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in High Noon demonstrates this strength of character.

~ Independent. Often a loner. Might even be an outlaw. Your hero works well – even best –alone, especially if an undercover agent or on a mission or assignment. Heroes often find themselves in situations where they can’t really depend on others – they need to solve the problems through their own resourcefulness, physical effort, and courage. As a result, and because of their inner makeup, heroes often make their own rules. Some examples of this are Robin Hood, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jack Reacher, and Joe Pike.

~ Unpredictable. Will often act in surprising ways, which keeps their adversaries off-balance and the readers on edge.

~ Usually likeable. But not always. Exceptions are those really rough, gruff antiheroes who redeem themselves somehow at the end, like Rick in Casablanca, Harry Callahan in the movie Dirty Harry, or Walt Kowalsky, the crotchety old Clint Eastwood character in the movie Gran Torino.

Also, it’s a good idea to give your hero or heroine:

~ An Achilles heel. A weakness or phobia. Maybe they’re afraid of heights or are claustrophobic. Maybe they’re afraid of snakes, like Indiana Jones. And Superman had to stay away from kryptonite. Give your hero a phobia or weakness, then of course put them in a scene where they’ll have to face their fears and overcome them!

~ A soft spot. Show a softer, more caring side to your tough hero now and then, to make him more human and appealing. Maybe he cares about the underdog, a minor character, an animal, or a child or baby.

Who are some of your favorite heroes and heroines of thrillers, on paper and on-screen? What makes them so likeable? What special talents or attributes do they possess?


James Scott Bell, Revision & Self-Editing

James N Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Thriller

And Jodie’s fiction reading and editing:



Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other suspense and crime fiction. For more information on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her website. Jodie’s two craft-of-fiction e-books in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power, are both available on Amazon-Kindle. And you don’t need a Kindle – you can read their books on your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. 



Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Guest Blogger, Writing


ThrillerFest Early Bird Discount Registration Ending 11-30-12

Don’t miss ThrillerFest 2013 in NY next July. It promises to be another great conference.

As will CraftFest. For example, we will open CraftFest on Wednesday morning with three hours of great teaching and learning with John Sandford and Steve Berry.

Sign up now a save.


We’re excited to announce that NYT bestselling author Michael Palmer will be joining us at ThrillerFest VIII.  Our special guests this year include 2013 ThrillerMaster Anne Rice, 2011 ThrillerMaster R.L. Stine, Michael Connelly, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Palmer, and more.  We’ll be in touch soon with further updates.

Don’t forget to sign up for CraftFest.  We’ve lined up some phenomenal teachers, including Steve Berry, John Sandford, Michael Connelly, and T. Jefferson Parker.  Learn more about the craft of writing from these NYT bestselling authors.  If you are looking for an agent, we’ll have over 50 agents at AgentFest who are interested in hearing your pitches.  Your thriller could be the next breakout novel!

The Early Bird discount will be in place until midnight EST on November 30, 2012, so please register soon.  Just visit for more information.  Also, don’t forget to book your room at the newly renovated Grand Hyatt to benefit from our group rate.  We look forward to seeing you next July!

Warmest regards,

D.L. Wilson, VP, National Events

D.P. Lyle, MD, VP, Education and Member Services and CraftFest Director

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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Writing


Colin Ireland’s Career Path: He Just Wanted To Be a Serial Killer

There are many career choices available. Some make sense, others less so. Colin Ireland is a case in point. He wanted to commit the perfect murder but he also wanted to be a famous serial killer. Difficult to be both. The perfect murder means the case is never solved while to be famous everyone must know what you did. A real problem for Colin.

Here is a great article from Dr. Katherine Ramsland on Colin’s dilemma.


Maggot DNA Identifies Corpse

Corpse identification is as much art as science. Sometimes no ID is possible and at other times creativity is required. In a recent case, where a badly charred body could not be identified due to the damage, DNA was extracted from the GI tracks of the fly maggots that had populated the corpse. Using the STR technique, DNA from the maggots was compared with DNA from the suspected victim’s father and a paternity-type match was made, proving the ID of the corpse to an accuracy of 99.685% according to the authors of the study.

This is the first time this technique has been used in this manner.



Another Great Book and Sweepstakes from Le French Book

My friend Anne Trager and the folks at Le French Book are offering a chance to purchase a great book and win a trip to France.



Oh Yeah, and a signed first edition of RUN TO GROUND.



Le French Book is promoting another second French to English release: Treachery in Bordeaux by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen. This is a classic whodunit set in French wine country. It is the first in a long series, and has been made for television in France, and “a fine vintage,” according to bestselling author Peter May. One reviewer said it “is the perfect book for people who might like a little treachery with their evening glass of Bordeaux, a little history and tradition with their Merlot.”

You can help make this book a bestseller and get some wonderful gifts and prizes too. You’ll get a great book and a second chance to win a trip to France and some fine French wine. Don’t miss this opportunity today. They’ve dropped 25% off the usual list price.

Check it out


Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Writing


Q and A: Can My Killer Hack the Victim’s Implanted Defibrillator and Cause His Death?

Q: How could a failing ICD kill someone? My idea is for the victim to be an older individual who has this kind of device implanted in him. The killer hacks the wireless device in a similar manner to this: According to this paper, the two attacks that seem most dangerous are to turn off therapy or to administer a V-fib shock intended for test purposes during the implantation procedure. How long would these take to kill someone? How healthy would someone be that had a pacemaker? How would this change if the victim had a mechanical cardiac pump?

Adam High, Marysville, CA

A: An AICD (Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) is a fancy pacemaker that has a defibrillator built in to it. It is used in people who have very severe and dangerous cardiac arrhythmias such as ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, both of which are typically immediately deadly. These rhythms can occur in anyone. but are very problematic in those with severe coronary artery disease and/or severely damaged heart muscles, which we call a cardiomyopathy. These people are highly prone to death from these dangerous arrhythmias, so these are the types of patients who receive these devices. These are also the types of patients that are candidates for cardiac transplants and artificial hearts, or what are called left ventricular assist devices (LVADs). Since people who receive these assist devices have extremely damaged heart muscles and are at a very high risk of dangerous arrhythmias, they will also often receive an AICD at the same time.



An AICD basically monitors the cardiac rhythm, and when a dangerous rhythm occurs, they fire an electrical impulse which shocks the heart back to a normal rhythm. Sometimes it stops the heart and if so the pacemaker portion of the device will kick in. Some people have these devices implanted as a precautionary measure and never use them, while others have significant problems with arrhythmias and the device discharges more frequently. What this means is that turning off the defibrillator portion of the device will leave the victim a jeopardy but will not in of itself cause death. If he is one of those individuals that never uses the device, or only rarely, then your killer would have to wait a long time, and maybe forever, before the victim had a lethal change in heart rhythm. And since these devices are frequently checked, typically every 1 to 3 months, it would be noted during the check that this portion of the device had been turned off. So that leaves a narrow window for something serendipitously to happen. Most killers want more assurance that their method will work.



A better method is to trick the device into firing an impulse in the hopes that it would start a dangerous arrhythmia. Again this is not assured. In the cardiac catheterization lab, after the device is implanted, it is tested by inducing one of these arrhythmias. But the heart doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes the rhythm cannot be induced. That would be the same situation with your victim. That is hacking the device and causing it to deliver a shock that was an appropriate might or might not cause the desired effect––a deadly cardiac arrhythmia.

Neither of these methods are assured of working, but of the two, I would go with hacking the device and delivering an inappropriate jolt of electricity. This would have the greatest probability of causing the result your killer wants. If so, death would be immediate.


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