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Author Archives: D.P. Lyle, MD

About D.P. Lyle, MD

Author, Lecturer, Story Consultant

Guest Blogger: Andrew Welsh-Huggins: Picture This: Using Images to Make Your Scenes Come Alive

I’m sure I stood out on that sunny Sunday afternoon, standing in the parking lot of a shuttered convenience store, still dressed in church clothes, as I used my phone to take pictures of the park across the street. It’s not a part of Columbus, Ohio, I’d be comfortable spending much time in, and I wasn’t sure what interest my presence might attract. But I needed pictures of that park. A police officer had identified the green space as a prime location for prostitutes and their customers. I wanted to know what it looked like when it came time to describe such a corner in my latest mystery.

With reporting as my day job, I’m accustomed to relying on notes and observations to describe a scene or landscape. I try to do the same when writing my private eye series set in Columbus (the latest installment, The Hunt, arrives in April). Increasingly, though, and thanks to the ease of smart phones, I’ve added photographs to my descriptive tool bag.

I learned the value of pictures researching a pivotal scene near the end of my first mystery, Fourth Down And Out (2014). In the climactic chapter, my private eye protagonist, an ex-Ohio State quarterback, returns to Ohio Stadium for the first time in two decades. Once a popular and successful player, Andy Hayes fell into the gutter of public opinion after a point shaving scandal his senior year that cost him his college career and his team the national championship. For many fans, the sight of Hayes stepping foot on the stadium’s hallowed grounds would be the equivalent of watching Benedict Arnold strut down the streets of Philadelphia after the Revolution. For the purposes of my fiction, I wanted to get the facts right about his return visit. Given the outsized nature of Ohio State fandom, I also had to be sure I didn’t commit any flagrant fouls when it came to describing the stadium and its environs.

Thanks to the generosity of the university athletic department, I toured the inside of the stadium for an hour one day, taking pictures of the views Hayes would see as he made his approach, from Gate 18, where he’d show his ticket, to the walk along the inside concourse, to the entrance into the stadium itself—all the way to the particular luxury box Hayes was headed to for a culminating show-down with the man who’d helped facilitate his fall from grace. These pictures, combined with my notes, came in handy many an early morning as I put the finishing touches on my manuscript. They also reminded me that while the Internet and its many eyes are a wonderful thing, there’s still no substitute for being there and recording the exact images you need.

I took a similar approach with my second book, Slow Burn (2015), in which Hayes tries to solve an arson fire in an off-campus neighborhood that killed three Ohio State students. I walked the streets in question many times, during the day and at night, to get a feel for the houses and their architecture. I took plenty of notes. But there’s no way what I jotted down could have captured in full the elements I was able to get with a few snapshots of some of the archetypal houses, with their dark brick porch pillars, second-story window filigree and multiple chimneys sprouting from roofs like something out of the Mary Poppins chimney sweep scene.

Ironically, the most pictures I took were for the third book in the series, Capitol Punishment (2016), set in the Ohio Statehouse. It’s a place I should be able to describe in my sleep after reporting there for many years. And for some of the scenes, those set in committee rooms or the windowless first floor known as the Crypt, that was largely true. But once again, photos were crucial as I explored some of the lesser known nooks of the building, including the Cupola, the Greek revival structure at the top where the book’s finale plays out. The pictures captured details like the rough wooden bench circling the room and some of its carved signatures dating back to the 1870s—such as “J. Cook,” whoever that was.

That leads me back to The Hunt, in which Hayes searches for a missing prostitute at a time a serial killer is stalking and killing street women across the city. I didn’t try anything so crass as sneaking pictures of such women, though, sadly, it wasn’t all that hard to see them, sometimes in full morning light, driving to work through a depressed neighborhood not far from downtown. Aside from those visual observations, the pictures that helped the most were street scenes of the type I captured across from the park; abandoned houses on the city’s east side which Hayes and his assistant visit during their investigation; and photos of derelict grain silos—including interior pictures, thanks to a helpful engineer who’d been inside—that come into play during the novel.

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Grain Silos

Of course, verisimilitude has its limits. “This book is a work of fiction. That means I make things up,” Harlan Coben says at the end of Darkest Fear. Photos help me get descriptions correct where they count, but they should be signposts, not traffic barriers. If a plot point requires a shifting of the time-space continuum in the form of a fake in a real neighborhood or a building never erected on an otherwise familiar corner, so be it. In researching Capitol Punishment, I took pictures of a glass Statehouse cabinet filled with mementoes of the building’s earliest days. That helped me describe a scene in which characters pass by the cabinet, turn the corner and come across a commemorative gavel “fashioned from a two-hundred-year-old oak tree that got hit with lightning last summer in southern Ohio.” If you visit the Statehouse, you’ll find that cabinet without a problem, but you’ll look in vain for the gavel. No matter: the plot needed both. Despite the advantages that pictures provide, sometimes images must reside forever in the imagination.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins works for The Associated Press in Columbus and writes the Andy Hayes mystery series for Swallow Press, featuring an ex-Ohio State quarterback turned private eye.

https://andrewwelshhuggins.com/

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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Writing

 

DEEP SIX Named Finalist for INDIES 2016 Book of the Year Award (Thriller Suspense Category)

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Honored to be considered by Forward Magazine and the INDIES AWARD committee.

Finalists in all categories can be seen here. Congratulations.

DEEP SIX is the first story in my Jake Longly comedic thriller series. The next one A-LIST will be out in December. What’s it about?

Jake Longly and girlfriend Nicole Jemison are still recovering from their ordeal with Ukrainian underworld boss Victor Borkov and life on the Gulf Coast is returning to normal. Then Nicole’s producer uncle Charles Balfour calls asking them to head to New Orleans where his mega-star, A-list actor Kirk Ford, has awakened with the corpse of a college co-ed in his hotel bed. Ford, in the Big Easy for a location shoot, remembers little of the evening and nothing of the murder. As if things couldn’t get worse, the girl is the niece of local mafioso-type Tony Guidry who will do what is necessary to avenge his niece’s death.

As Jake and Nicole attempt to put the pieces together, they butt heads with Tony’s muscle, his near-do-well yet aggressive nephews (the dead girl’s brothers), as well as drug dealers Ju Ju and Ragman. Of course, Ray and Pancake arrive to help sort things out with the help of Ford’s  beautiful co-stars in the multi-billion dollar Space Quest franchise, Tegan and Tara James (aka The Twins), who vehemently support and defend Ford.

But something isn’t right. The facts don’t fit. Who would want Kristi Guidry dead, or Kirk framed for murder? And why? Everyone has an opinion, including Kristi’s friends, her ex-boyfriend, homicide detective Troy Doucet, and even local fortuneteller Madam Theresa. It’s up to Jake and Nicole to decipher who’s lying, who’s telling the truth, and exactly who schemed to murder Kristi Guidry. Nothing is easy in the Big Easy.

DEEP SIX Info

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Writing

 

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Q&A with Expanded Audio Discussions Now on the Suspense Magazine Website

Check out the new posts John Raab of Suspense Magazine and I put together. Read the Q&As and listen to the expanded discussions. Hope each proves helpful for your crime fiction.

Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/20/d-p-lyles-forensic-file-episode-1/

In 1863, Could An Autopsy Accurately Determine the Cause of Death?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2017/01/09/in-1863-could-an-autopsy-accurately-determine-the-cause-of-death-d-p-lyle-answers-this/

Can My Female Character Cause Her Pregnancy To Become “Stone Baby” By Shear Will?

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/31/can-my-female-character-cause-her-pregnancy-to-become-stone-baby-by-sheer-will/

More to come.

Want more cool questions from crime writers? Check out my three Q&A books.

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More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

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More Info and List of Included Questions

 

Psychopathic Brains and MRIs

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Psychopath, sociopath, borderline personality disorder, choose your phrase as these are often used interchangeably but in the end they are terms used to describe certain criminal offenders. In many cases, the worst of the worst. These individuals are often impulsive, lack self-control, and have little, if any, empathy with others, particularly their victims. The annals of serial predators are filled with such persons.

Forensic science has for many years searched for a true lie detector and a reliable method of determining someone’s criminal tendencies. Most have not panned out. One recent investigative arena is the use of functional MRIs to determine segmental brain activity in both “normal” and “psychopathic” individuals. The hope is to discover reliable and repeatable differences that might prove useful in criminal investigations.

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One current study at Radboud University in the Netherlands has revealed some interesting results. It appears that persons with sociopathic tendencies possess an overly active “reward” area of their brains while at the same time showing some loss of communication between this area and one that is used for “self-control.” Obviously this leads to a dangerous combination of psychiatric defects. If someone is reward driven, impulsive, and narcissistic, while at the same time lacking any sort of consistent control of these impulses, it is easy to see that criminal behavior could follow.

Though this study and none of the others that have looked into this area of psychopathology have delivered the “smoking gun” of psychopathic behavior, they are intriguing investigations.

 

Crime and Science Radio: Dangerous Instincts: An Interview with Senior FBI Profiler (Ret) Mary Ellen O’Toole Ph.D.

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BIO: MARY ELLEN O’TOOLE, Ph.D. has spent her career studying the criminal mind. One of the most senior profilers for the FBI until her retirement in 2009, Dr. O’Toole has helped capture, interview and understand some of the world’s most infamous people including:

•Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer

•Derrick Todd Lee and Sean Vincent Gillis, both serial killers in Baton Rouge

•The Collar Bomb Case, a bank robbery and murder of a pizza delivery man

•Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber

•The Polly Klaas child abduction

•David Parker Ray, a serial sexual sadist

•The Red Lake School Shooting

•The Monster of Florence serial murder case

•The Zodiac serial murder case

•The bombing during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT

•The mass murder in Florence, Montana in 2001
Dr. O’Toole also worked the Elizabeth Smart and Natalee Holloway disappearances, the Columbine shootings and many other high profile cases. Her law enforcement career spanned 32 years, beginning in the San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office when she was a Criminal Investigator. Dr. O’Toole worked as an FBI agent for 28 years, spending more than half of her Bureau career in the organization’s prestigious Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU)—the very unit that is the focus of the hit crime series “Criminal Minds.”

During her time in the unit, Dr. O’Toole developed an expertise in Criminal Investigative Analysis (CIA) as well as offender behavior. She has provided assistance to law enforcement and prosecutors on a wide range of violent and criminal behavior including serial and single homicides, sexual assaults, kidnappings, product tampering, school shootings, arsons and bombings and extortions. Dr. O’Toole is also a trained FBI hostage negotiator and has a unique expertise in the areas of targeted school violence, workplace violence and threat assessment.

Dr. O’Toole is recognized as the FBI’s leading expert in the area of “psychopathy.”  Her work in psychopathy has put her on the forefront of mental health and law enforcement efforts to apply the concepts of this personality disorder to both violent and white collar offenders and their behavior and crime scenes. She lectures internationally on the application of the theory of psychopathy to real life situations. She continues to lecture at the FBI Academy on psychopathy and interviewing. She has served as adjunct faculty to the FBI’s Prestigious Leadership Development Institute (LDI) at the FBI Academy and also frequently lectures at the Smithsonian Institution about everything from Sherlock Holmes to personal safety. She is a Fellow with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2017/03/04/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-mary-ellen-otoole

Link will go live Saturday 3-4-17 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Mary Ellen’s Website: http://maryellenotoole.com

Mary Ellen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drmaryellenotoole/

Mary Ellen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryellenotoole

Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us: https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Instincts-How-Feelings-Betray/dp/1594630836

Dangerous Instincts: The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/dangerous-instincts-fbi-profiler-explains-the-dangers-of-that-nice-neighbor/2011/10/17/gIQAkvNCDM_story.html

Learning How To Read People: http://www.theironjen.com/learning-how-to-read-people-dr-mary-ellen-otoole/

Psychopathy: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: https://leb.fbi.gov/2012/july/psychopathy-an-important-forensic-concept-for-the-21st-century

Orlando Shooter Profile: CCTV America: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhTjGAsUuzk

Why Are American Cops So Bad At Catching Killers?: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/02/why-are-american-cops-so-bad-at-catching-killers#.PFh6oYRhF

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Small Town Crimes; Small Town Cops

Recently Mystery Readers Journal had a two-part series on articles about small town cops. Mine appeared in Volume 2—and here it is. If you don’t belong to Mystery Readers International and subscribe to the Journal, you should.

Small Town Crimes; Small Town Cops

For me, small town crimes are big time fun. Crimes set in big cities, with large and sophisticated police forces, are good but when murder happens in a more closed community, it’s more personal. The cops, or PIs, or amateur sleuths who investigate such tragedies more often than not know the victims, and the suspects. That’s the way it is in small towns.

The cop likely got the job because no one else wanted it. The coroner is the local undertaker. Homicide detectives? Nope. Don’t have one of those. Maybe Barney, at best. So the pressure on the investigators is even greater. And the watchful eyes of the community add another layer of conflict. Good stuff.

The police station is in an old house, the chief hangs out at the local diner, the corruption a personal affront. No faceless bad guys here. The killer is part of the community. The secrets are tightly bound to local history. There are many examples.

The best, in my opinion, is James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series. Dave is an ex-New Orleans cop who now lives near New Iberia. LA—the home of Tabasco—a small town nestled among the swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin. Nowhere in modern literature does the locale play such a role in stories. The geography, the weather, the colorful characters create a feeling that is real and actually makes your clothes stick to your body as you read them. Mr. Burke puts you there. And Dave is constantly battling his past and nefarious characters who seem to continually slither from the swamp.

Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls series is set in a small upstate New York town that has seen better days and has secrets within secrets. And it’s these secrets that often drive the narrative. His cast of characters include a cop, a PI, a newspaper man, and all the usual suspects you see in small town America.

And then there’s Chief Kate Burkholder, Linda Castillo’s wonderfully complex and conflicted ex-Amish cop. When Kate left the fold, she was shunned by many members of the order, yet in each story she must return to that community to solve one sordid crime after another. Her past not only allows her to understand the community but also causes personal and political conflicts she must navigate. This is what great storytelling is all about.

And  what about the death rates in Kinsey Millhone’s Santa Teresa, CA and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove? This would give anyone pause before moving to either. But these towns and their skeletons play major roles in Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels and the hit Murder She Wrote TV series. These stories simply wouldn’t be the same if they played out in a larger, more impersonal locale.

I grew up in Huntsville. AL and that’s where my Dub Walker series is set. Sure Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center is the heart of the US Space Program, and the city has more scientists than you can shake a stick at, but Huntsville is a small town at heart. Drive 15 minutes in any direction and you are in the depths of rural America. Farmland and small communities. This small, tight-nit community plays a major role in each story.

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In my Samantha Cody series, Sam hales from the tiny town of Mercer’s Corner. You won’t find it on a map because it’s a total fabrication. But it sits roughly where the town of Amboy is—you don’t even have to blink to miss it—where I-40 and the old Route 66 part ways. The town’s compressed geography and isolation play a large role in Devil’s Playground. The story simply would not have worked in New York. And when Sam travels, and invariably becomes involved in murderous situations, it’s always to a small town. In Double Blind it’s Gold Creek, Colorado (also a fabrication) along the famous San Juan Parkway, while in Original Sin it’s Remington. TN—loosely based on Winchester, TN—where many of my ancestors resided.

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DEEP SIX, the first in my new Jake Longly comedic thriller series, is set in Gulf Shores, AL and environs. Though Gulf Shores now boasts hoards of multi-million dollar homes and high-rise condos, it remains a small town. And everyone knows Jake, his PI father Ray, and his friend Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers. These entanglements are evident throughout the story.

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So, for me, small towns and small town cops make the best stories. The geography, the closed communities, and the many secrets these places strive to protect, complicate the stories in a way a large urban area never could.

Published in Mystery Readers Journal Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 2017

http://mysteryreaders.org

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Master CraftFest Is Nearly Filled

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Master CraftFest Is Nearly Filled

If you plan to come to New York this July for ThrillerFest and CraftFest and want to sign up for Master CraftFest, do it today. The classes are nearly filled so don’t miss out.

Master CraftFest is ITW’s unique, one-day, hands-on workshop led by a group of stellar and experienced teachers of the writing craft. Join us and take your writing to next level.

This year’s instructors are Steve Berry, Lee Child, Grant Blackwood, Meg Gardiner, Andrew Gross, Steven James, Gayle Lynds, and DP Lyle.

Sign up Now: http://thrillerfest.com/master-craftfest/

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2017 in Writing

 
 
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