RSS

Author Archives: D.P. Lyle, MD

About D.P. Lyle, MD

Author, Lecturer, Story Consultant

Guest Blogger: Bruce DeSilva: How I Made the Transition From Journalist to Crime Novelist

DeSilva 1

 

A lot of people think that daily journalism must be a great training ground for novelists. I tell them that, for the most part, it is not.

As someone who worked as a news reporter and editor for forty years before writing crime novels, I was never comfortable with the bad writing habits and journalistic traditions that make most news writing unnecessarily turgid and tedious. In fact, I spent my career at The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant and The Associated Press rebelling against those traditions and the editors who enforce them.

I wanted to write about real flesh-and-blood characters, but most news stories are populated by stick figures identified by little more than name, age and job title. I wanted to set my stories in real places, but most news stories use street addresses in lieu of a sense of place. I wanted to write yarns with beginnings, middles and ends, but most news stories are “articles” that insert information in order of its importance and then dribble pitifully to an end.

But the biggest fault I find with most news reports is that they are written in “journalese,” a standard journalistic voice that is stiffly formal, humorless, devoid of personality, and filled with bizarre sentence structures found nowhere else in English.

The best way to understand journalism’s voice problem is to take a fine piece of writing that we are all familiar with and imagine what it would look like if a journalist had written it.

Consider the first sentence of the King James version of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth.”

Nice sentence. It’s simple, clear, and tells a big story in very few words.  But if the typical journalist had written it, it would have come out something like this:

“In a series of surprise moves intended to bring all of creation into existence out of what leading scientists call the ‘singularity,’ before  energy, matter or even time existed, God yesterday said ‘Let there be light,’ according to reliable sources close to the project.”

If a journalist had written the Bible, I doubt anyone would have read it.

Voice, after all, is critical to the written word. It’s the reason we have favorite writers. It’s not what a writer has to say but how he or she says it that brings readers back story after story or book after book. It works the same way in books as it does in life. Suppose you are at a party where someone is telling a story. It’s not the story that makes people crowd around to listen. It’s the storyteller. If someone else were talking, nobody would pay attention.

The best writers know that readers don’t read with their eyes. They really read with their ears. They hear the writer talking to them from the page, and what that voice sounds like is critical. The late great Robert B. Parker once told me that the main reason readers loved his Spenser and Jesse Stone novels is the same reason they love certain songs. They like the way they sound.

One of the reasons some fine journalists leave the profession to become novelists is that they want to be free to write well; and some, such as Michael Connelly and Ace Atkins, succeed spectacularly. But many former journalists who aspire to write novels tell me that they struggle because they find the transition from “journalese” to good writing difficult.

Me? I can’t begin to write a novel until I fashion a paragraph that gets the voice just right. Everything flows from that.

When I began The Dread Line, the new novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring a former investigative reporter in Providence, R.I., the paragraph that did the trick was this:

“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

The killer turns out to be a feral tomcat that was leaving its daily kills on Mulligan’s porch, but that paragraph had the voice and the hard-boiled mood, that I was seeking. With that, I was off and running.

As a journalist, I was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many reporters burdened with editors who rigidly enforce harmful journalism traditions, I was blessed with a number of bosses who encouraged me to be a storyteller—and even to teach my colleagues how to do it.

And unlike most journalists, I spent much of my career writing and editing local, national, and international investigative stories, developing skills that I could pass on to the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels.

During my four decades in the news business, I also came to know hundreds of cops and FBI agents, lawyers and judges, mobsters and corrupt politicians, con artists and drug dealers, hitmen and gangbangers, prostitutes and snitches—experiences I draw on to create characters and plots.

But the main lesson I carried with me when I retired from The Associated Press seven years ago to write crime novels was this:  Writing is a job. You do it every say, whether you feel like it or not. You do not wait for inspiration. You do not dither hoping that your muse will turn up. You put your butt in your desk chair every day and write.

Bruce DeSilva grew up in a parochial Massachusetts mill town where metaphors and alliteration were always in short supply. Nevertheless, his crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press’s noir anthologies, and his book reviews for The Associated Press appear in hundreds of publications. Previously, he was a journalist for 40 years, writing and editing stories that won nearly every journalism prize including the Pulitzer. His fifth novel, The Dread Line, has just been published in hardcover and e-book editions by Forge and can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/Dread-Line-Mulligan-Novel-Liam/dp/0765374331/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471633059&sr=1-1&keywords=bruce+desilva

 

dread line

 
8 Comments

Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Q&A: Will a Decaying Corpse Actually Produce Alcohol?

whiskey glasses

 

Q: Is it possible or likely for blood alcohol levels to increase or decrease in a decomposing body, and if so during what stages of decomposition?

A: Alcohol is usually consumed in the decay process but may actually be produced and this might cloud any toxicological examinations on the corpse. Make it look as if the victim consumed more alcohol than he actually did.

I must point out that alcohol is not commonly produced but it does happen in rare cases. The alcohol is a byproduct of the action of some types of bacteria that are involved in the decay process. This means that alcohol can only appear during active decay. What is that time period? A little about putrefaction.

The decomposition of the human body involves two distinct processes: autolysis and putrefaction. Autolysis is basically a process of self-digestion. After death, the enzymes within the body’s cells begin the chemical breakdown of the cells and tissues. As with most chemical reactions the process is hastened by heat and slowed by cold. Putrefaction is the bacterially mediated destruction of the body’s tissues. It is this decay that might cause some alcohol formation. Not always, but sometimes. The responsible bacteria mostly come for the intestinal tract of the deceased, though environmental bacteria and yeasts contribute in many situations. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments and become sluggish in colder climes. Freezing will stop their activities completely. A frozen body will not undergo putrefaction until it thaws.

Under normal temperate conditions, putrefaction follows a known sequence. During the first 24 hours, the abdomen takes on a greenish discoloration, which spreads to the neck, shoulders, and head. Bloating follows. This is due to the accumulation of gas, a byproduct of the action of bacteria, within the body’s cavities and skin. This swelling begins in the face where the features swell and the eyes and tongue protrude. The skin will then begin to “marble.” This is a web-like pattern of the blood vessels over the face, chest, abdomen, and extremities. This pattern is green-black in color and is due to the reaction of the blood’s hemoglobin with hydrogen sulfide. As gasses continue to accumulate, the abdomen swells and the skin begins to blister. Soon, skin and hair slippage occur and the fingernails begin to slough off. By this stage, the body has taken on a greenish-black color. The fluids of decomposition (purge fluid) will begin to drain from nose and mouth. This may look like bleeding from trauma, but is due to extensive breakdown of the body’s tissues.

The rate at which this process occurs is almost never “normal” because conditions surrounding the body are almost never “normal.” Both environmental and internal body conditions alter this process greatly. Obesity, excess clothing, a hot and humid environment, and the presence of sepsis may speed this process so that 24 hours appear like 5 or 6 days have passed. Sepsis is particularly destructive to the body. Not only would the body temperature be higher at death, but also the septic process would have spread bacteria throughout the body. In this case, the decay process would begin quickly and in a widespread fashion. A septic body that is dead for only a few hours may appear as if it has been dead for several days.

As opposed to the above situations, a thin, unclothed corpse lying on a cold surface with a cool breeze would follow a much slower decomposition process. Very cold climes may slow the process so much that even after several months, the body appears as if it has been dead only a day or two. Freezing will protect the body from putrefaction if the body is frozen before the process begins. Once putrefaction sets in, even freezing the body may not prevent its eventual decay. If frozen quickly enough, the body may be preserved for years.

So, whether a particular corpse actually produces alcohol or not is totally unpredictable. How long it takes depends upon the conditions the corpse is exposed to. In a corpse in an enclosed garage in Houston in August, this process will be very rapid and the corpse will be severely decayed after 48 hours. If parked in a snow bank in Minnesota in February it might not even begin the decay process until April or May when the spring thaw occurs. And anything in between. The appearance of any alcohol would coincide with the time frame of the bacterial activity.

So how does the ME get around this possibility? How can he determine the actual alcohol level that was present prior to the decay process kicking in? He can’t with any absolute accuracy, but he does have a tool that will help him make a best guess. He can extract the vitreous humor from the victim’s eye—this is the jelly-like fluid that fills the eyeballs. The alcohol level within this fluid matches that of the blood with about a two-hour delay. That is, the level within the vitreous at any given time reflects the blood alcohol level that was present approximately two hours earlier. And the vitreous is slow to decay so it might be intact even though the corpse is severely decayed. By measuring the vitreous level the ME will know the blood alcohol level two hours prior to death and he can then estimate the blood alcohol level at the time of death.

 

MF&F 300X481

This question originally appeared in MORE FORENSICS AND FICTION

http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/more-forensics-and-fiction.html

 

Crime and Science Radio: The BTK Killer and Other Serial Murderers: An Interview with Psychologist and Author Dr. Katherine Ramsland

This Saturday at 10 a.m. Pacific Jan Burke and I welcome Dr. Katherine Ramsland to the show to discuss her years of research into one of America’s most notorious serial killers Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer and her wonderful book that has resulted form this work.

 

SONY DSC

Dr. Katherine Ramsland

 

BIO: Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at DeSales University, also teaches the forensic psychology track. She has published over 1,000 articles, stories, and reviews, and 59 books, including The Mind of a Murderer, The Forensic Science of CSI, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Ivy League Killer, and The Murder Game. Her book, Psychopath, was a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s list. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored a book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators among Us, with Dr. Henry C. Lee, The Real Life of a Forensic Scientist, and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, judges, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including CSI and Bones She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today called “Shadow-boxing” and consults for numerous crime documentary production companies. Her most recent book (August 2016) is with serial killer, Dennis Rader, called Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. She will also publish The Ripper Letter, a supernatural thriller based on Jack the Ripper lore, and a textbook, Forensic Investigation: Methods from Experts (2017).

LISTEN: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2016/03/30/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-dr-katherine-ramsland

Link goes live Saturday August 13, 2016 at 10 a.m. Pacific

LINKS:

Website: www.katherineramsland.com

Blog: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Kath.ramsland/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatRamsland

 

Ramsland_ConfessionSerialKiller

 

 

Father’s Unborn Twin Is the Genetic “Father” of His Son

A couple of years ago a happy couple in Washington welcomed a new baby boy. All was good until a paternity test showed that the father was not the father. Uh-oh. Well, it’s not really that bad. Turns out that genetic testing revealed the father was a chimera and the genetic testing was confused by his unborn twin’s DNA, which the father had absorbed in utero. Chimerism is an odd and interesting medical entity.

 

Greek Chimera

In Greek Mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing female that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon. Fortunately, human chimeras, which result from the combining of two or more human embryos in utero, are typically normal in every way—-except for that DNA stuff.

I’ve blogged and had Guest Bloggers comment on chimeras before:

Q&A: How Could My Sleuth Recognize a Chimera?

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/qa-how-could-my-sleuth-recognize-a-chimera/

Guest Blogger: EE Giorgi: I Am My Mother’s Chimera. Chances Are, So Are You

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/guest-blogger-ee-giorgi-i-am-my-mothers-chimera-chances-are-so-are-you/

Guest Blogger: Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/human-chimerism-mindboggling-dna-tests-gone-wrong-guest-blogger/

http://www.people.com/article/man-fails-paternity-test-twins-genes

 

Crime and Science Radio Goes Live at MWA-LA

CSR 300x250-72dpi

Mark your calendars for this event. Jan and I are recording an episode of Crime and Science Radio live with our special guest Criminalist and Forensic Science Professor Don Johnson. This will be a fun and informative event. Sign up now.

From MWA-LA

We have a special luncheon planned in August:

D.P. Lyle and Jan Burke Live Radio Podcast with special guest interviewee Criminalist and Forensics Professor Don Johnson

This will be a unique opportunity to experience a live podcast with three outstanding experts

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tam O’Shanter Restaurant

2980 Los Feliz Blvd.

Los Angeles

Doors open at 11:30

MORE INFO:

http://www.socalmwa.com/2016/05/tam-luncheon-dp-lyle-jan-burke-live-radio-podcast/

 

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland: Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer

Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer

By Katherine Ramsland

It’s easy these days to find quickie guides to forensic science and psychology. You have to look harder if you want in-depth details from experts. That’s why I like being interviewed for Crime and Science Radio with D. P. Lyle and Jan Burke. They’re both forensic professionals who are also writers. They ask good questions because they have extensive knowledge and experience.

I have a Crime and Science program coming up on August 13 regarding the writing of my two latest books, The Ripper Letter (a novel) and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. (http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html) Since Confession will be published in early September, I’ve been asked a lot about it, which sends me back to the text again and again to relive the experience of working closely for five years with a serial killer.

A peculiar thing about me, and maybe this is true of other writers, is that I move so fast from one project to the next that I often forget what I’ve just written. Because the BTK book took much longer than most of my books (and since I’m still in touch with him), I recall a lot about the experience. Yet when I look through the pages, I’m surprised by how dense with information this book is.

 

Ramsland_ConfessionSerialKiller

 

It begins with my struggle to understand Rader’s codes, covers his “dark journey” from his point of view, and ends with my professional evaluation. As disturbing as many of his revelations were, it has been among the most interesting book-related experiences of my life (and I went undercover with vampires for over a year!)

First, let me say why this project took five years. Rader had signed over his “life rights” to his victims’ families, and they evaluated authors who asked for a shot at this project. I passed the test, because I planned to give Rader’s memoir serious treatment that would benefit law enforcement and the fields of criminology and forensic psychology. I also agreed that they should benefit financially.

Once approved, I had to read five years’ worth of letters and documents that Rader had turned over to the family trust in order to write a proposal. Then I had to convince my agent. There were many layers. All during this time, I guided Rader through his autobiography.

So, this book is not just a serial killer blathering on about himself. We’ve had books like that already. Instead, his narrative is structured with what we know from criminological research. I filled in the theoretical details and provided Rader with specific items to read and ponder. Rader did talk in detail about each of his murders, but he also described the factors that he believed weighed most heavily in his trajectory toward serial violence. He proved to have some interesting self-reflections.

Rader has counted over 100 letters to me to date, some of which were 20-30 pages long. He also talked with me weekly by phone, and drew explicit pictures from his fantasy life, providing a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an organized, predatory serial killer who based his killing career on specific role models. His story, in his own words, is fascinating. Some readers have told me that it’s also frightening.

Because I listened to Rader and assisted him to view his “dark side” from various angles, including neuroscience (which fascinated him), he dove deep. It took nearly two years before he opened up in a way that I think is valuable for criminologists and psychologists, but he did manage it. We taught things to each other, which doesn’t happen very often in my world.

So, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss it in a lively presentation with Lyle and Burke. A production of Suspense Magazine, Crime and Science Radio airs every other Saturday at 10 AM PT on Blogtalk Radio. It’s free!

 

NOTE: Join Katherine on CRIME AND SCIENCE RADIO as Jan and I welcome her to discuss her work on this amazing book and many other topics.

MORE INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

 

Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference, DEEP SIX Launch Party, and a Special Plotting Class

Join me at Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, CA next week for these fun events.

First up on Wednesday evening 7-27 is the NorCal Launch Party for DEEP SIX. Meet my wonderful agent Kimberley Cameron, all the great folks at Book Passage, and grab a signed copy of DEEP SIX, the first in my Jake Longly comedic thriller series, and the updated 2nd Edition of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES. We will have wine and cupcakes and some laughs.

Then on Thursday afternoon I’ll be presenting a special pre-conference class on Plotting The Perfect Murder. Bring all you great ideas and we will kill off a few folks. Fictionally, of course.

That evening the always excellent Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference begins. Come and improve your craft with a host of excellent instructors, including David Corbett, Cara Black, Isabel Allende, Rhys Bowen, Tony Broadbent, Laurie R. King, Kelly Stanley, Jacqueline Winspear, Tim Maleeny, and me as well as others.

Look forward to seeing you there. Here are the details:

DEEP SIX Launch Party
Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 7 p.m. PDT
Book Passage Bookstore
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA
415-927-0960
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/dp-lyle-deep-six

Plotting the Perfect Murder
Book Passage Pre-Conference Class
Thursday, July 28, 2016, 1:00—3:00 PM PDT
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/pre-conference-class-dp-lyle-plotting-perfect-murder-corte-madera

Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference
July 28-31, 2016
http://www.bookpassage.com/mystery-writers-conference

 

DS 300X458-72

FFD 300X378

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,900 other followers

%d bloggers like this: