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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Character Dichotomies Are Everywhere

We are often told that our characters must be multi-dimensional. And that’s true. A character that is all good or all bad is flat and unrealistic. Good guys should have darker edges and bad guys should have a glimmer of silver lining. Even Hannibal Lecter had his good points.

Hannibal_Lecter

 

Evan Dorsey seems to fit this mold. A petty thief with an apparent heart of gold. Sure he was going to do a few B&E’s and grab a little coke to smooth out his day, but he also wanted to do a good deed. Since he stole diabetic medical supplies maybe he was going to help an elderly diabetic manage her blood sugars. But somehow I doubt it.

 

Q and A: Can My Chronic Arsenic Eater Die From Arsenic Poisoning?

Q: I am currently doing research for a historical novel, one of my main characters, a prosperous middle aged male, was an arsenic-eater who used this drug regularly for some time, at least two years probably longer, he became addicted to it and took increasingly large doses. He eventually died from an overdose of arsenic, possibly intentionally (as in suicide). Could you give me some information about what type of physical as well as psychological symptoms he may have had both as a habitual user as well as dying from n overdose of this drug?

Brandy Purdy, author of The Boleyn Wife, The Tudor Throne, and The Queen’s Pleasure

www.brandypurdy.com

http://brandypurdy.blogspot.com

A: Arsenic (AS) can cause both chronic and acute poisoning and it was indeed used in the past by many people as a folk remedy for almost anything. So was strychnine. Though chronic users can tolerate increasing doses there is still a tipping point because AS builds in the system over time until it becomes lethal—even if repeated small doses are taken. This can take weeks or months depending on dose. And if the dose is very small, one that matches the elimination of the AS from the body, then this can go on for decades. But if the intake is above the elimination rate, it will accumulate and eventually kill the taker.  For your story you don’t have to worry about the math just have your character use it for however long you want and the readers will assume the dose was too small to kill. And then when it accumulated to the point of death–or until someone either tampers with his dose or gives him an excess—have him become acutely ill and die and the readers will buy that also.

You used the word addiction here but that is not correct. AS is not addicting as would be a narcotic. It is not even habituating as are some sedatives and sleeping pills. If he stopped using it he would have no withdrawal and in fact would feel better as the effects of the AS faded.

The symptoms of AS toxicity are predominantly GI and neurological. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, insomnia, poor balance, numbness and tingling of the extremities, and a few other symptoms. Your victim could have these in any combination and in any severity. His symptoms could be mostly GI, mostly neurological, or any combination of the two. They can be constant, progressive, or wax and wane. And if he used very small amounts, he might have no symptoms at all.

With acute poisoning these symptoms can be very severe and appear quickly and violently. His vomiting and diarrhea would be bloody and his abdominal pain severe. With an acute poisoning, death can take many hours and is not pleasant. He could take the AS for many months or years and feel fine and then begin to develop the above symptoms, mild at first, but they would progress in severity until he died. This progression could be over a few days, weeks, or months. Anything is possible. And, if someone gave him a large dose on top of this progression in toxicity, he could die within hours.

FOLLOW UP Q: Thank you very much, that does help but I am confused about something. Is a psychological addiction or dependency possible? In his diaries this man writes about taking larger doses and feeling stronger and being in terrible pain and headaches, vomiting, and coldness or numbness in his hands and feet, when something prevents him from having his regular doses. That’s why I used the word addiction, I assumed this was withdrawal, but I didn’t realize this was not a part of arsenic use.

FOLLOW UP A: Yes that’s possible. It’s called the placebo effect–means that if someone believes that something helps them then it will. Health food stores have made a living off this for years. If he felt that the AS made him stronger and when he couldn’t get it he would be weaker then he could easily feel that way. The truth is the exact opposite, since AS toxicity actually makes one weaker not stronger. But reality is perception. This would be a form of “psychological addiction” for lack of a more accurate term. So go with it since whatever he believes is true is true to him and that’s really all that counts in his world.

 

 
9 Comments

Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Medical Issues, Poisons & Drugs, Q&A

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: SO YOUR DAUGHTER/NEPHEW/GRAND-NIECE WANTS TO BE A CSI

 

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Admit it. Somewhere in your family there’s some young person who is still riding that CSI craze toward a career. They see themselves wearing lab coats and pipetting mysterious liquids under cool blue lighting to the tune of a rock music montage. Or they imagine striding inside the yellow tape, pulling on latex gloves and snapping a sharp “What’ve we got?” at the hot homicide detective. Or they imagine running down a dark alley, dodging behind the dumpster to squeeze off a shot at the serial killer they just figured out is the serial killer by the aftershave he wears, the unique scent of kumji berries blended specially for a boutique in Greenwich Village where the first victim had a temp job.

3 26 pipetting

 

Okay, first off—if it’s that last one, tell them to become a cop. CSIs don’t chase suspects. Most of us don’t even carry guns; that’s not a choice, it’s because we are civilian personnel and therefore not authorized. And because we already have enough crap to lug around.

 

3 26 cop n gun

 

We also don’t dress in nice clothes, wear heels, and believe me positively no one looks sexy in a lab coat. Angelina Jolie couldn’t even look sexy in a lab coat, unless she wore it open with very select garments on underneath. But I won’t write an entire blog about the differences between CSIs on TV and CSIs in real life, though I could write several. Per day.

3 26 lab coats

 

Colleges and universities now have degrees in forensic science and/or in crime scene processing. As with any other field, advise your daughter/nephew/grand-niece to examine these programs carefully. The harsh reality is that the field is flooded with applicants who love CSI and it’s a buyer’s market. An agency might not be so quick to hire someone with an AA degree when they can get a BS or even MS for the same salary. Check out the details of the program and their success in placing graduates. The university near me had some personnel changes and veered their forensic science program from the hard sciences to forensic psychology, which might be great for students who dreamt of becoming a profiler, but those who wanted a crime scene job were beat out by students from the local for-profit college who actually received much more practical training in their classes.

The field of forensics is changing as the technology updates. Remember how in My Cousin Vinny the prosecution’s expert testifies that the tire rubber left in the peel-out is the same composition and size of the tires on the defendants’ car? That kind of thing sounds very impressive until the defense attorney does exactly what Joe Pesci’s character did—point out that this is one of the most common tires sold. Information like that used to make up the bulk of forensic evidence, but nowadays, unless you had a clear enough pattern to match that skid mark to that tire, the prosecutor probably wouldn’t even present the evidence. DNA has spoiled us all. Courts no longer want a pile of small pebbles of what could be coincidence which build into a mountain of certainty. They want one big boulder of: this sample absolutely came from that person. So the tire rubber, the pollen spores, the hairs, the fibers, the glass fragments are being left behind.

Quick check: Are you still thinking about Angelina Jolie in a lab coat? Stop. Pay attention.

So what do we spend our time with nowadays? Advise your daughter/nephew/ grand-niece to absorb as much of the concepts governing these systems as possible:

3 26 cell phone

 

Cell phones. We have a handy system that will download the information…in theory. But each model is different, so even with a case full of cables sometimes the connection won’t be made. Or we find we can download the text messages but not the photos, or the contact list but not the call history. And so on.

Video surveillance clips. At least everyone is going digital now so we no longer have to deal with scratchy VHS tapes; however we have the same problem as cell phones—the systems are all different. Many are sold by some mom-and-pop company that has since disbanded, the employees have no idea how to use it because they don’t need to on a regular basis, and they have no idea where the manual is, if they ever had one. Trial and error. It’s all trial and error. Oh, and a picture that looks great in a 4”x3” window looks like crap when blown up to 10”x8”. And no, we don’t have a handy software that fills in all those pixels so you can read the guy’s tattoo, or see the killer reflected in the victim’s eyeball.

Computers. Although the genius hackers of TV shows do not seem to exist, even the least educated criminal can figure out how to delete their emails. Where does this data go, where is it stored, what is a server, an Ethernet, a wireless connection, the Cloud? (And if you can answer these questions, please write and explain them to me.) You don’t have to know as much as an IT guy. If you do, become an IT guy. They make more.

And best of luck to your daughter/nephew/grand-niece. It’s a great field. Even if the wardrobe sucks.

blunt cover image

 

Blunt Impact will be available April 1, featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean and a series of murders surrounding a skyscraper under construction in downtown Cleveland. The first to die is young, sexy concrete worker Samantha, thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11 year old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost will stop at nothing to find her mother’s killer, and Theresa will stop at nothing to keep Ghost safe.

Also, Kindle owners can find a bargain in my new book The Prague Project, written under the name Beth Cheylan. A death in West Virginia sends FBI agent Ellie Gardner and NYPD Counterterrorism lieutenant Michael Stewart on a chase across Europe as they track stolen nukes and lost Nazi gold, hoping to avert the death of millions of people.

L Black author photo

 

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.

Website: www.lisa-black.com

 

 

Forensic Science and the Microscope

Without the microscope, there would be no forensic science. At least it would look nothing like it does today. When father and son Dutch lens makers Zaccharias and Hans Janssen discovered that lining up several of their spectacle lenses in a hollow tube would magnify any object viewed, they could never have imagined how their discovery would change the world. When Anton van Leeuwenhoek, the Father of Microscopy, perfected this design and incorporated it into his studies of biology and medicine, he too never imagined the invisible world he would enter. Science and medicine would never be the same and the gateway to modern forensic science was opened.

 

Microscope

 

The forensic science disciplines of blood analysis, firearm comparisons, trace evidence (hair, fiber, paint, etc.) examination, took mark interpretation, and even document examination regularly employ various types of microscopy.  HERE are some examples.

 
 

Guest Blogger: Jodie Renner: WRITING TENSE ACTION SCENES

by Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor and craft-of-fiction writer

I’m pleased to welcome back Jodie Renner, whose craft e-book, Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power, just came out in paperback as well.

Style that Sizzles_Final_medium

I specialize in editing thrillers and other fast-paced, suspenseful fiction, and someone recently asked me how editing thrillers is different from editing other genres. That’s a huge topic, too much for one blog post, and would include differences in plot, characterization, pacing, word choice, and writing style, among many other considerations. For today, I thought I’d just talk about writing effective action scenes, which can also appear in romantic suspense, mysteries, action adventures, fantasies, and any other genre.

When your characters are running for their lives, write tight and leave out a lot of description, especially little insignificant details about their surroundings. Of course, if the details would somehow help them, then definitely include them.

Characters on the run don’t have time to sightsee, reminisce, deliberate at length, or have great long discussions. Their adrenaline is pumping and all they’re thinking of is survival. Show that in your writing style.

A few quick tips for writing strong action scenes:

~ Show, don’t tell (of course!).

~ Stay in the scene with the characters – don’t intrude as the author to explain anything.

~ Avoid lengthy discussions among characters or long, involved thought processes.

~ Cut out any little unneeded words that are cluttering up sentences and slowing down the pace.

~ Use short sentences and paragraphs.

~ Use the most powerful verbs you can find.

~ Show your viewpoint character’s sensory impressions to suck readers in more.

~ Show your POV character’s emotional and physical reactions, starting with visceral responses.

~ Show other characters’ reactions through their words, tone of voice, actions, body language, and facial expressions.

SOME BEFORE AND AFTER EXAMPLES OF ACTION SCENES, WELL-DISGUISED FROM MY EDITING: 

Before: 

Fortunately for Jennifer, the attacker was far enough away that when he attempted to grab her she sidestepped him and delivered a sharp kick to the outside of his left knee.

He grunted and fell back against the stack of wooden crates. He then got up clumsily, rubbing his arm, showing his anger at how easily Jennifer had dodged and hit him.

After:  

The attacker lunged at Jennifer. She dodged to the side and delivered a sharp kick to his knee. 

He grunted and fell against the stack of wooden crates. He scrambled up, rubbing his arm, eyes full of hate. [or sneering at her. Or ….]

Before:

His facial expression changed from one showing loathing to one communicating unrestrained glee. Jennifer realized at that moment that she had made a fatal mistake. She looked to her right. The door leading out of the warehouse was about fifty feet from where she was standing.

After:

His expression changed from loathing to unrestrained glee. Jennifer knew she had made a fatal mistake. She searched for the exit door. It was to her right, about fifty feet away.

Before: An inline skater came careening around the corner and skated fast towards them, shouting loudly. Josh shot a look back at Amy as he grabbed her arm and pulled her bodily to the edge of the street out of the path of the oncoming skater.

After: An inline skater came careening around the corner and barreled towards them, yelling. Josh grabbed Amy’s arm and pulled her out of the path of the oncoming skater.

Before: Moments later, another skater was coming at them at breakneck pace. This time it was Amy’s turn to save her companion as she pushed Josh flat against the gray-colored stone wall of the adjacent building.

[At times of stress, sentences need to be shorter. And leave out minor details, as Josh isn’t thinking that the stones are gray-colored right now.]

After: Moments later, another skater came at them at a breakneck pace. Amy shoved Josh against the stone wall of the building beside them.  [or just: against the building.]

Before:

Kate and Lauren ran down the tunnel to an open doorway, then up some stone steps leading to a stone walkway. Kate hesitated for only a moment at the top in order to jam the hand gun she was holding into her waistband and give her time to figure out where to run.

In front of them was a huge stone courtyard, which was too open for them to safely cross before the smugglers would come looking for them. Kate knew she had to find a hiding place quickly. Then it came to her.

“Follow me,” Kate commanded, running off to her left.

After:

Kate and Lauren sprinted down the tunnel, then up some stone steps to a walkway. At the top, Kate stopped to jam the gun into her waistband and figure out where to run.

In front of them was a wide open stone courtyard. They’d never get across without the smugglers spotting them. Kate knew she had to find a hiding place quickly. Then it came to her.

“Follow me,” Kate said, dashing off to her left.

So for tense action scenes, write tight, show character actions and reactions, and keep things moving!

* * *

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Please check out Jodie’s website and blog, as well as her group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.

JRenner

Jodie’s craft-of-fiction articles are published regularly on various blogs, and she has written two popular books on writing fiction that sells, with more to follow. Jodie’s two books, both in the series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, are: Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, a how-to guide with examples for revving up your fiction-writing skills, also available in paperback, and her shorter e-booklet on writing riveting suspense fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller.

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

Taking a Bite Out of Crime

 

David Stoddard

 

David Stoddard and his buddies apparently thought that home invasion robberies were a slick and low risk way of making a living. After all, who would say no to three armed men?

Turns out the family’s pit bull did.

 

Pit Bull

 

As the thieves fled, the dog attacked and bit Stoddard on his leg and arm. Tragically, the dog was shot and killed. But the investigators realized that the dog had bitten one of the intruders and swabbed the deceased dog’s mouth for DNA.

Very clever.

The profile matched stellar citizen Stoddard who had been arrested for another crime–the shooting of two women, one a pregnant teenager who died. Didn’t I say he was a stellar citizen?

Of course Stoddard has pled not guilty and his defense, as voiced by his attorney John Sinn, seems to be: “My client indicates that he doesn’t have a recollection of those events.”

Really? I guess we would all forget shooting a 16-year-old mother to be and getting bitten by a pit bull. I mean, really, it could happen, don’t you think?

 

Guest Blogger: Philip Donlay: COOL GADGET: THE BLACK BOX

One of the wonderful side effects of writing a novel is I get to do the research that helps me tell my story.  One such learning experience involved creating a plane crash, at night, in the ocean, well out of radar contact.  All communication with the aircraft is lost and the flight never arrives.  Which poses the difficult question for all concerned: Where did it go, what happened, and why?  Search and rescue elements are the first into the fray, floating debris is eventually located, and then accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board step into action.  Their job is to start piecing together the evidence.  In this case, a possible crime scene with hundreds of fatalities stretched out over several miles.  Of course, the fact that the wreckage is 12,000 feet below the surface of the ocean makes the job even more difficult.  The first order of business:  Recover the black boxes.

Black Box: A general term for any magical gadget no one understands. 

Actual names of the devices: Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).  They’re two separate units, and they’re not black, they are in fact painted bright orange for higher visibility in the recovery process.

Every airliner has some type of black box installed, usually near the tail, if that gives you any hint where scientists believe the least amount of damage occurs in a plane crash.

Though I’m convinced they could install these devices in the nose and they’d survive to tell their tale to investigators.

In testing the crash-worthiness of the black boxes, they must be designed to survive the following:

a.) Being shot from an air cannon to create an impact of 3,400Gs.

b.) A 500-pound weight, with a quarter-inch steel pin attached, is dropped from ten feet to test for puncture survivability.

c.) For five minutes, 5,000 pounds per square inch of crush force is applied to all axis points.

d.) For at least thirty minutes, the box is placed in flames that reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. (Aluminum, the prime material used in airliner construction, will melt at 1221 degrees Fahrenheit.)

e.) The box must survive in salt water for thirty days.  These sturdy gadgets will also survive an ocean plunge down to 20,000 feet, and automatically begin to ping an acoustic signal for up to thirty days.

After all of these tests, the data stored inside must still be retrievable.  These devices are made to survive because of what they contain.  Stored inside on magnetic tape, or on a memory chip, are all of the essential events leading up to a crash.  The Cockpit Voice Recorder will record sounds in the cockpit.  The pilot’s conversations, the radio transmissions, sound of other voices in the cockpit.  All of the audio is preserved for the investigators.

The Flight Data Recorder is required to monitor at least eighty-eight parameters, such as heading, speed, altitude, aircraft attitude in relation to level flight and so on.  The end result is, once recovered, the accident investigators can create a visual depiction of the aircraft’s final moments.  It’s usually from that data, combined with information from the CVR, that the root cause of the disaster is determined.  It can be as obvious as a bomb, or the crew unwittingly flying into the side of a mountain in weather, to the failure of a turbine blade inside a jet engine.  Using clues from the black boxes, a Boeing 747 that crashed into the ocean off Long Island was eventually salvaged and pieced back together in an empty hangar.  Investigators then determined that defective wiring had caused a fuel tank explosion.

At some point in the future, there won’t be black boxes in airliners.  The flight and voice data will be streamed real-time via satellite and stored until needed.  Which means the only black boxes recording data for accident investigators might be the one in your car.  But, until that day comes, hunting black boxes on the ocean floor remains high adventure.

Zero_Separation_Cover

Philip Donlay is a retired professional pilot, and the author of three high-flying thrillers.  Category Five, Code Black, and the newly released Zero Separation.

 
 
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