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Criminal Mischief: Episode #22: Common Medical Errors in Fiction

Criminal Mischief: Episode #22: Common Medical Errors in Fiction

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-22-common-medical-errors-in-fiction

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/22-comon-medical-errors-in.html

Too often, fiction writers commit medical malpractice in their stories. Unfortunately, these mistakes can sink an otherwise well-written story. The ones I repetitively see include:

Bang, Bang, You’re Dead: Not so fast. No one dies instantly. Well, almost no one. Instant death can occur with heart attacks, strokes, extremely abnormal heart rhythms, cyanide, and a few other “metabolic” poisons. But trauma, such as gunshot wounds (GSWs) and blows to the head, rarely cause sudden death. Yet, how often has a single shot felled a villain? Bang, dead. For that to occur, the bullet would have to severely damage the brain, the heart, or the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal cord. A shot to the chest or abdomen leads to a lot of screaming and moaning, but death comes from bleeding and that takes time. Sometimes, a long time.

Ask any emergency physician or nurse. GSW victims reach the ER with multiple holes in their bodies and survive all the time. This is particularly true if it’s Friday night (we called it the Friday Night Knife and Gun Club), during a full moon (yes, it’s true, a full moon changes everything), or if the victim is drunk. You can’t kill a drunk. That’s a medical fact. They survive everything from car wrecks to gunshots to falling off tall buildings. The family van they hit head-on will have no survivors, but the drunk will walk away with minor scratches, if that.

Sleeping Beauty: I call this the “Hollywood Death.” Calm, peaceful, and not a hair out of place. As if simply asleep. Blood? Almost never. Trauma? None in sight. The deceased is nicely dressed, stretched out on a wrinkle-free bed, make-up perfect, and with a slight flutter of the eyelids if you look closely. Real dead folks are not so attractive. I don’t care what they looked like during life, in death, they are pale, waxy, and gray. Their eyes do not flutter and they do not look relaxed and peaceful. They look dead. And feel cold. It’s amazing how quickly after death the body becomes cold to the touch. It has to do with the loss of blood flow to the skin after the heart stops. No warm blood, no warmth to the touch.

Sleeping Beauty also doesn’t bleed. You know this one. The hero detective arrives at a murder scene a half hour after the deed to see blood oozing from the corpse’s mouth or from the GSW to the chest. Tilt! Dead folks don’t bleed. You see, when you die, your heart stops and the blood no longer circulates. It clots. Stagnant or clotted blood does not move. It does not gush or ooze or gurgle or flow or trickle from the body. 

Trauma? What Trauma?: You’ve seen and read this a million times. The hero socks the bad guy’s henchmen in the jaw. He goes down and is apparently written out of the script since we never hear from him again. It’s always the henchmen, because the antagonist, like most people, requires a few solid blows to go down. Think about a boxing match. Two guys that are trained to inflict damage and even they have trouble knocking each other out. And when they do, the one on his back is up in a couple of minutes, claiming the other guy caught him with a lucky punch. Listen to me: Only James Bond can knock someone out with a single blow. And maybe Jack Reacher or Mike Tyson. A car-salesman-turned-amateur-sleuth cannot.

And what of back eyes? If a character gets whacked in the eye in Chapter 3, he will have a black eye for two weeks, which will likely take you through the end of the book. He will not be “normal” in two days. A black eye is a contusion (bruise) and results from blood leaking into the tissues from tiny blood vessels, which are injured by the blow. It takes the body about two weeks to clear all that out. It will darken over two days, fade over four or five, turn greenish, brownish, and a sickly yellow before it disappears. On a good note, by about day seven, a female character might be able to hide it with make-up.

Similarly, what of the character who falls down the stairs and injures his back? He will not be able to run from or chase the bad guy or make love to his new lover the next day. He will need a few days (or maybe weeks) to heal. And he will limp, whine, and complain in the interim. And if he breaks something, like an arm or leg, he’ll need several weeks to recover.

I Can Run, and Jump, and Fight Like an Olympian: The typical fictional PI (maybe real ones, too) drinks too much, smokes too much, and eats donuts on a regular basis. He is not training for the Olympics. He will not be able to chase the villain for ten blocks. Two on a good day. And hills or stairs will reduce that to a very short distance. Yet chase montages in movies and books often seem to cover marathon distances. And then a fight breaks out. 

Of course, some characters can do all this. Not the PI mentioned above but maybe Dustin Hoffman can. Remember “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman) in Marathon Man? He had to run for his life as Dr. Christian Szell (Sir Laurence Olivier) and his Nazi bad guys chased him endlessly. But early in the film, we learn that he runs around the reservoir in Central Park every day. He constantly tries to increase his distance, improve his time. He could run for his life.

Hopefully, when you run across medical malpractice in your reading you’ll be forgiving and enjoy the story anyway. But maybe not.

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Criminal Mischief: Episode #21: Autopsy Of A Thriller: The Terminator

Criminal Mischief: Episode #21: Autopsy OF A Thriller: The Terminator

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-21-autopsy-of-a-thriller

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/21-autopsy-of-a-thriller.html

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

 

The Autopsy of a Thriller

The Terminator (1984)

T = The Terminator

R = Kyle Reese

S = Sarah Conner

T appears in ball of light, takes clothes from punk after being stabbed and ripping out his heart. + – 0

R appears in ball of light, takes vagrants clothes, steals shotgun from police car, escapes from police, finds 3 Sarah Conners in phone book.

+-0

S works at Big Boy, ditsy and clumsy. + – 0

T steals guns from gun shop, kills owner + – 0

T finds 3 Sarah Conners in phone book. + – 0

T kills Sarah Conner #1. + – 0

S sees TV broadcast of Sarah Conner’s murder. + – 0

S date stands her up, she goes out alone. + – 0

Police learn of murder of 2nd Sarah Conner. + – 0

S heads out for night, R follows. + – 0

S in restaurant sees TV news of 2nd Sarah Conner murder, tries to call police, phone out of service   + – 0

S senses she’s being followed by R, ducks into disco, R follows, S calls police, can’t get through. + – 0

T goes to S’s apartment, kills roommate and boyfriend, hears call from Sarah who leaves message about where she is, sees photo ID of S. + – 0

S reaches police, they are coming to disco. + – 0

(Inciting Incident) 

T arrives, R and T have shoot-out. T shot multiple times but gets up. + – 0

S and R escape, T steals police car and chases + – 0

R explains that he is there to protect her and that she has been targeted for termination and that T is a cyborg that will not stop until S is dead. R tells Sarah that in the near future machines take over and start a nuclear war, then set out to destroy all humans. T must kill her to prevent her from having her son, John Conner, mankind’s savior from the machines that will rule the future world. + – 0

Chase resumes between R & S, T, and the police. S and R crash car, arrested by police, T escapes. + – 0

S learns that roommate was killed. + – 0

T repairs injured forearm and removes injured eye, revealing that he is indeed a cyborg.    + – 0

Psychiatrist explains to S that R is crazy and that T was likely on PCP and wearing a flak jacket. + – 0

(1st Turning Point) 

T attacks police station, killing many cops. + – 0

S and R steal car and escape. + – 0

T looks through Sarah’s address book, finds mother’s address. + – 0

S and R get room in motel out of city. Sarah calls her mother, tells her where they are, but she is talking to T.   + – 0

S and R make sticks of nitroglycerine and then make love. + – 0

T arrives, but S and R escape in stolen truck, T chases on motorcycle. + – 0

T avoids nitro sticks, S knocks T off bike, crashes truck, T is run over by 18-wheeler.     +   – 0

T gets up, takes over 18-wheeler, and chases S and R. + – 0

R slips nitro stick into truck, blowing it up in huge fireball, T burns in fire. + – 0

(2nd Turning Point) 

T rises from fire, now reduced to a metallic skeleton.  +-0

R and S hide in industrial building, T follows. + – 0

T corners S and R in building. + – 0

R places nitro stick in T’s ribs and blows him to pieces. + – 0

Upper half of T keeps coming, forcing S into corner. + – 0

(Climax) 

S leads T into crushing machine and crushes him. + – 0

(Denouement) 

R dies, pregnant Sarah leaves country to prepare for coming war. 

+-0

 
 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #18: Gunshot To The Chest

XRay Chest Bullet

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #18: Gunshot To The Chest

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/gswtochest

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/18-gunshot-to-the-chest.html

Gunshot wounds (GSWs) come in many flavors and those to the chest can be particularly dicey. Yet, a chest GSW can be a minor flesh wound, a major traumatic event with significant damage, or deadly. If you have a character who suffers such an injury, this podcast is for you.

Here are a few interesting questions about chest GSWs:

Could a Person Survive a Gunshot to the Chest in the 1880s?

Q: My scenario is set in 1880. A man in his early 20s is shot in the back by a rifle. He loses a lot of blood and is found a couple of hours later unconscious. Could he survive and if so how long would it take him it recuperate? Also, would it be possible to bring him to consciousness long enough for another man to get him into a buggy. Is any part of this scenario possible?

A: Everything about your scenario works. A gunshot wound (GSW) to the chest can kill in minutes, hours, days, or not at all. The victim would be in pain and may cough and sputter and may even cough up some blood. He could probably walk or crawl and maybe even fight and run if necessary. Painful, but possible. He would likely be consciousness so could even help get himself into the wagon.

If all goes well, he should be better and gingerly up and around in a week or two. He would be fully recovered in 6 to 8 weeks.

After surviving the initial GSW, the greatest risk to his life would a secondary wound infection. Since no antibiotics were available at that time, the death rate was very high—40 to 80 percent—for wound infections. But, if he did not develop an infection, he would heal up completely.

How Is A Gunshot To The Chest Treated?

Q: I have a few questions regarding a gunshot wound that my poor character will be sustaining later on in my story. Supposing it’s a fairly small caliber bullet (typical handgun fare, not buckshot or anything) and it hits near the heart without puncturing anything important, how long might his recovery time be? He’s a strong, kinda-healthy guy in his thirties, although he drinks a fair amount and used to smoke. He’ll be rushed to a high-quality hospital immediately and receive the best care throughout recovery…what’s his outlook? When will he be allowed to go home, if all goes well? How long before he’s healed to normal?  When will it be safe for him to walk around, drive, have sex, etc.?

A: In your story, what happens to your shooting victim depends upon what injuries he received. A gunshot wound (GSW to docs and cops) can be a minor flesh wound or can be immediately deadly or anywhere in between. It all depends on the caliber and speed of the bullet and the exact structures it hits. A shot to the heart may kill instantly or not. The victim could die in a few minutes or survive for days or could recover completely with proper medical care and surgery. It’s highly variable but ask any surgeon or ER doctor and they will tell you that it’s hard to kill someone with a gun. Even with a shot or two to the chest.

A small caliber and slow speed bullet—such as those fired by .22 and .25 caliber weapons—are less likely to kill than are heavier loads and higher velocity bullets such as .38, .357, or .45 caliber bullets, particularly if they are propelled by a magnum load—such as a .357 magnum or a .44 magnum. Also, the type of bullet makes a difference. Jacketed or coated bullets penetrate more while hollow point or soft lead bullets penetrate less but do more wide-spread damage as the bullet deforms on impact.

All that is nice but the bottom line is that whatever happens, happens. That is, a small, slow bullet may kill and a large, fast one may not. Any bullet may simply embed in the chest wall or strike a rib and never enter the chest. Or it could enter the heart and kill quickly. Or it could puncture a lung. The victim here would cough some blood, be very short of breath, and could die from bleeding into the lungs—basically drowning in their own blood. Or the lung could collapse and again cause pain and shortness of breath. But we have two lungs and unless the GSWs are to both lungs and both lungs collapse the person would be able to breathe, speak, even run away, call for help, or fight off the attacker. Whatever happens, happens.

This is good for fiction writers. It means you can craft your scene any way you want and it will work. He could suffer a simple flesh wound and have pain, shortness or breathe, and be very angry. He could have a lung injury and have the above symptoms plus be very short of breathe and cough blood.  If the bleeding was severe or if both lungs were injured he could become very weak, dizzy, and slip into shock. Here his blood pressure would be very low and with the injury to his lungs the oxygen content of his blood would dip to very low levels and he would lose consciousness as you want. This could happen in a very few minutes or an hour later, depending upon the rapidity of blood loss and the degree of injury to the lungs.

Once rescued, the paramedics would probably place an endotracheal (ET) tube into his lungs to help with breathing, start an IV to giver IV fluids, and transport him to the hospital immediately. He would then be seen by a trauma surgeon or chest surgeon and immediately undergo surgery to remove the bullets (if possible) and to repair the damaged lung or whatever else was injured. He could recover quickly without complications and go home in a week, rest there for a couple of weeks, return to part-time work for a few weeks and be full speed by 3 to 4 months. Or he could have one of any number of complications and die. Or be permanently disabled, etc. It all depends upon the nature of Injuries, the treatment, and luck.

What Does a Close-range Gun Shot to the Chest Look Like?

Q: I have a question regarding gunshot wounds. In my latest mystery, a man and a woman, my heroine, struggle for a gun. It goes off, hitting the man in the chest. I want the man to live, but be temporarily incapacitated and need hospital care, so if the chest isn’t the best location, other suggestions are welcome. What would the gunshot wound likely look like before and after the man’s shirt was removed? Would there be a lot of bleeding where my heroine would take his shirt off and stuff it over the wound?

A: A gunshot wound (GSW) to the chest would work well. For it to be quickly fatal, the bullet would have to damage the heart or the aorta or another major blood vessel, such as the main pulmonary (lung) arteries. Under these circumstances, bleeding into the chest, the lungs,  and around the heart would likely be extensive and death could be almost instantaneous or in a very few minutes. He could survive even these injuries, but this would require quick and aggressive treatment, including emergent surgery, and a pile of luck.

If the bullet entered the lung, the victim could die from severe bleeding into the lung and basically drowning in his own blood. Or not. He could survive such an injury and would then require surgery to remove the bullet, control the bleeding within the lung, and repair the lung itself. This would require a couple of hours of surgery, a week in the hospital, and a couple of months to recover fully.

The bullet could simply embed in the chest wall and never enter the chest cavity. It could bounce off the sternum (breast bone) or a rib and deflect out of the chest, into the soft tissues of the chest wall, or downward into the abdomen. Once a bullet strikes bone, it can be deflected in almost any direction. Sometimes full-body X-rays are required to find the bullet. If the bullet simply embedded beneath his skin or against a rib or the sternum, he would require a minor surgical procedure to remove the bullet and debride (clean-up) the wound. He would be hospitalized for only 2 to 3 days and would go home on antibiotics and basic wound care.

Close-range, but not direct muzzle contact, wounds typically have a small central entry wound, a black halo called an abrasion collar, and often an area of charring around the wound. The charring comes from the hot gases that exit the barrel with the bullet. In addition, there is often tattooing, which is a speckled pattern around the entry wound. This is from the soot and unburned powder that follows the bullet out of the muzzle and embeds (tattoos) into the skin. The spread of this pattern depends upon how close the muzzle is to the entry point, If it over about 3 feet, then no tattooing or charring will occur.

In your scenario, the victim’s shirt would likely collect the soot and heat so that it would be charred and “tattooed,” rather than the victim’s skin. So, the shirt would show an entry hole, charring, and blood. Once the victim’s shirt was removed, the entry wound likely be a simple hole without any charring or tattooing, since the shirt would have collected this material and absorbed most of the heat. The wound could bleed a lot, a little, or almost none. It depends upon how many of the blood vessels that course through the skin and muscles are damaged.

Yes, her initial efforts should be the application of pressure over the wound to control bleeding until the paramedics arrive.

For more fun questions check out my Q&A books:

F&F200X302

FORENSICS and FICTION: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics–fiction.html

MF&F 200X320

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

M&M 200X300

MURDER AND MAYHEM: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/murder-and-mayhem.html

 

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #17: DNA and Twins

DNA Replication

 

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-17-dna-and-identical-twins

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

For years it was felt that the DNA of identical twins was indeed identical. Since they come from a single fertilized egg, this would seem intuitive. But, nature likes to throw curve balls—and the occasional slider. After that first division of the fertilized, and after the two daughter cells go their way toward producing identical humans, things change. And therein lies the genetic differences between two “identical” twins.

LINKS:

One Twin Committed the Crime—but Which One?: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/01/science/twins-dna-crime-paternity.html

The Claim: Identical Twins Have Identical DNA: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/11/health/11real.html

The Genetic Relationship Between Identical Twins: https://www.verywellfamily.com/identical-twins-and-dna-2447117

Identical Twins’ Genes Are Not Identical: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/identical-twins-genes-are-not-identical/

Rare Australian Twins Are “Semi-Identical,: Sharing 89 Percent of Their DNA: https://www.inverse.com/article/53633-semi-identical-twins-share-78-percent-of-dna

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #16: Arsenic: An Historical and Modern Poison

Arsenic

Criminal Mischief: Episode #16: Arsenic: An Historical and Modern Poison

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-15-arsenic-an-historical-and-modern-poison

SHOW NOTES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief-notes/16-arsenic-an-historical.html

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

Howdunnit200X267

From HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS

Toxicology is a relatively new science that stands on the shoulders of its predecessors: anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and medicine. Our knowledge in these sciences had to reach a certain level of sophistication before toxicology could become a reality. It slowly evolved over more than two hundred years of testing, starting with tests for arsenic. 

Arsenic had been a common poison for centuries, but there was no way to prove that arsenic was the culprit in a suspicious death. Scientist had to isolate and then identify arsenic trioxide—the most common toxic form of arsenic— in the human body before arsenic poisoning became a provable cause of death. The steps that led to a reliable test for arsenic are indicative of how many toxicological procedures developed. 

1775: Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1742–1786) showed that chlorine water would convert arsenic into arsenic acid. He then added metallic zinc and heated the mixture to release arsine gas. When this gas contacted a cold vessel, arsenic would collect on the vessel’s surface. 

1787: Johann Metzger (1739–1805) showed that if arsenic were heated with charcoal, a shiny, black “arsenic mirror” would form on the charcoal’s surface. 

1806: Valentine Rose discovered that arsenic could be uncovered in the human body. If the stomach contents of victims of arsenic poisoning are treated with potassium carbonate, calcium oxide, and nitric acid, arsenic trioxide results. This could then be tested and confirmed by Metzger’s test. 

1813: French chemist Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila (1787–1853) developed a method for isolating arsenic from dog tissues. He also published the first toxicological text, Traité des poisons (Treatise on Poison), which helped establish toxicology as a true science. 

1821: Sevillas used similar techniques to find arsenic in the stomach and urine of individuals who had been poisoned. This is marked as the beginning of the field of forensic toxicology. 

1836: Dr. Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806–1880) developed the first test for arsenic in human tissue. He taught chemistry at Grey’s Medical School in England and is credited with establishing the field of forensic toxicology as a medical specialty. 

1836: James Marsh (1794–1846) developed an easier and more sensitive version of Metzger’s original test, in which the “arsenic mirror” was collected on a plate of glass or porcelain. The Marsh test became the standard, and its principles were the basis of the more modern method known as the Reinsch test, which we will look at later in this chapter. 

As you can see, each step in developing a useful testing procedure for arsenic stands on what discoveries came before. That’s the way science works. Step by step, investigators use what others have discovered to discover even more. 

Acute vs. Chronic Poisoning 

At times the toxicologist is asked to determine whether a poisoning is acute or chronic. A good example is arsenic, which can kill if given in a single large dose or if given in repeated smaller doses over weeks or months. In either case, the blood level could be high. But the determination of whether the poisoning was acute or chronic may be extremely important. If acute, the suspect list may be long. If chronic, the suspect list would include only those who had long-term contact with the victim, such as a family member, a caretaker, or a family cook. 

So, how does the toxicologist make this determination? 

In acute arsenic poisoning, the ME would expect to find high levels of arsenic in the stomach and the blood, as well as evidence of corrosion and bleeding in the stomach and intestines, as these are commonly seen in acute arsenic ingestion. If he found little or no arsenic in the stomach and no evidence of acute injury in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but high arsenic levels in the blood and tissues, he might suspect that the poisoning was chronic in nature. Here, an analysis of the victim’s hair can be invaluable. 

Hair analysis for arsenic (and several other toxins) can reveal exposure to arsenic and also give a timeline of the exposure. The reason this is possible is that arsenic is deposited in the cells of the hair follicles in proportion to the blood level of the arsenic at the time the cell was produced. 

In hair growth, the cells of the hair’s follicle undergo change, lose their nuclei, and are incorporated into the growing hair shaft. New follicular cells are produced to replace them and this cycle continues throughout life. Follicular cells produced while the blood levels of arsenic are high contain the poison, and as they are incorporated into the hair shaft the arsenic is, too. On the other hand, any follicular cells that appeared while the arsenic levels were low contain little or no arsenic. 

In general, hair grows about a half inch per month. This means that the toxicologist can cut the hair into short segments, measure the arsenic level in each, and reveal a timeline for arsenic exposure in the victim. 

Let’s suppose that a wife, who prepares all the family meals, slowly poisoned her husband with arsenic. She began by adding small amounts of the poison to his food in February and continued until his death in July. In May he was hospitalized with gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, vomiting, and weight loss (all symptoms of arsenic poisoning). No diagnosis was made, but since he was doing better after ten days in the hospital, he was sent home. Such a circumstance is not unusual since these types of gastrointestinal symptoms are common and arsenic poisoning is rare. Physicians rarely think of it and test for it. After returning home, the unfortunate husband once again fell ill and finally died. 

As part of the autopsy procedure, the toxicologist might test the victim’s hair for toxins, and if he did, he would find the arsenic. He could then section and test the hair to determine the arsenic level essentially month by month. If the victim’s hair was three inches long, the half inch closest to the scalp would represent July, the next half inch June, the next May, and so on until the last half inch would reflect his exposure to arsenic in February, the month his poisoning began. Arsenic levels are expressed in parts per million (ppm).

An analysis might reveal a pattern like that seen in Figure 11-1. 

IMAGE in HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS

 The toxicologist would look at this timeline of exposure and likely determine that the exposure occurred in the victim’s home. The police would then have a few questions for the wife and would likely obtain a search warrant to look for arsenic within the home. 

LINKS: 

Arsenic Poisoning (2007): CA Poison Control: https://calpoison.org/news/arsenic-poisoning-2007

Arsenic Poisoning Cases Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenic_poisoning_cases

Arsenic” a Murderous History: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/arsenic/history.html

Facts About Arsenic: LiveScience: https://www.livescience.com/29522-arsenic.html

Poison: Who Killed Napolean?: https://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/on-exhibit-posts/poison-what-killed-napoleon

Victorian Poisoners: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Victorian-Poisoners/

12 Female Poisoners Who Killed With Arsenic: http://mentalfloss.com/article/72351/12-female-poisoners-who-killed-arsenic

 

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode 15: Introducing Characters

AOTA Graphic

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #15: Introducing Characters

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-15-introducing-characters

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The same is true for your fictional characters. So, make them vivid and memorial. How do you do this? There are many ways. Let’s explore a few of them.

SHOW NOTES:

Riding the Rap–Elmore Leonard

Ocala Police picked up Dale Crowe Junior for weaving, two o’clock in the morning, crossing the center line and having a busted tail light. Then while Dale was blowing a point-one-nine they put his name and date of birth into the national crime computer and learned he was a fugitive felon, wanted on a three-year-old charge of Unlawful Flight to Avoid Incarceration. A few days later Raylan Givens, with the Marshals Service, came up from Palm Beach County to take Dale back and the Ocala Police wondered about Raylan.

How come he was a federal officer and Dale Crowe Junior was wanted on a state charge. He told them he was with FAST, the Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team, assigned to the Sheriff’s Office in West Palm. And that was pretty much all this Marshall said. They wandered too, since he was alone, how you’d be able to drive and keep an eye on his prisoner. Dale Crowe Junior had been convicted of a third-degree five-year felony, Battery of a Police Officer, and was looking at additional time on the fugitive warrant. Dale Junior might feel he had nothing to lose on this trip so. He was a rangy kid with the build of a college athlete, bigger than this marshal in his blue suit and cowboy boots — the marshal calm though, not appearing to be the least apprehensive. He said the West Palm strike team were shorthanded at the moment, the reason he was alone, but believed he would manage.

The Long Goodbye–Raymond Chandler

When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care. I finished the drink and went to bed.

Trouble Is My Business—Raymond Chandler

(Marlowe meets Harriett Huntress—Chapter 3)

She wore a street dress of pale green wool and a small cockeyed hat that hung on her left ear like a butterfly. Her eyes were wide set and there was thinking room between them. Their color was lapis-lazuli blue and the color of her hair was dusky red, like a fire under control but still dangerous. She was too tall to be cute. She wore plenty of make-up in the right places and the cigarette she was poking at me had a built-on mouthpiece about three inches long. She didn’t look hard, but she looked as if she had heard all the answers and remembered the ones she thought she might be able to use some time.

The Neon Rain—James Lee Burke

My partner was Cletus Purcel. Our desks faced each other in a small room in the old converted fire station on Basin Street. Before the building was a fire station it had been a cotton warehouse, and before the Civil War slaves had been kept in the basement and led up the stairs into a dirt ring that served both as an auction arena and a cockfighting pit. 

Cletus’s face looked like it was made from boiled pigskin, except there were stitch scars across the bridge of his nose and through one eyebrow, where he’d been bashed by a pipe when he was a kid in the Irish Channel. He was a big man, with sandy hair and intelligent green eyes, and he fought to keep his weight down, unsuccessfully, by pumping iron four nights a week in his garage. 

“Do you know a character named Wesley Potts?” I asked. 

“Christ, yes. I went to school with him and his brothers. What a family. It was like having bread mold as your next-door neighbor.” 

“Johnny Massina said this guy’s talking about pulling my plug.” 

“Sounds like bullshit to me. Potts is a gutless lowlife. He runs a dirty movie house on Bourbon. I’ll introduce you to him this afternoon. You’ll really enjoy this guy.”

California Girl-T. Jefferson Parker

Here And Now

I drove past the old SunBlesst packinghouse today. Nothing left of it. Not one stick. Now there’s a bedroom store, pet Emporium and a supermarket. Big and new. Moms and dads and kids everywhere. Pretty people, especially the moms. Young, with time to dream, wake up, and dream again.

I still have a piece of the flooring I tore off the SunBlesst packinghouse back in sixty-eight. When I was young. When I thought that what had happened there should never happen anywhere. When I thought it was up to me to put things right.

I’m made of that place – – the old wood and the rusted conveyors and the pigeons in the eaves and the sunlight slanting through the cracks. Of Janelle Vonn. Of everything that went down, there in October, 1968. Even made of the wind that blew that month, dry and hot off the desert, huffing across Orange County to the sea.

I have a piece of the picket fence from the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza, too. And a piece of rock that came not far from where Mercury 1 lifted off. And one of Charlie Manson’s guitar picks.

But those are different stories.

Queenpin—Megan Abbott

 I want the legs.

That was the first thing that came into my head. The legs were the legs of a 20-year-old Vegas showgirl, a hundred feet long and with just enough curve and give and promise. Sure, there was no hiding the slightly worn hands or the beginning tugs of skin framing the bones in her face. But the legs, they lasted, I tell you. They endured. Two decades her junior, my skinny matchsticks were no competition.

In the casinos, she could pass for thirty. The low lighting, her glossy auburn hair, legs swinging, tapping the bottom rim of the tall bettor stools. At the track, though, she looked her age. Even swathed in oversized sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, bright gloves, she couldn’t outflank the merciless sunshine, the glare off the grandstand. Not that it mattered. She was legend.

I was never sure what she saw in me. You looked like you knew a thing or two, she told me later. But you are ready to learn a lot more.

Miami Purity—Vicki Hendricks

Hank was drunk and he slugged me – – it wasn’t the first time – – and I picked up the radio and caught him across the forehead with it. It was one of those big boom boxes with the cassette player and recorder, but I never figured it would kill him. We were sitting in front of the fan, listing to country music and sipping Jack Daniels – – calling each other “toots” like we both enjoyed – – and all of a sudden the whole world changed. My old man was dead. I didn’t feel like I had anything to do with it. I didn’t make that choice.

I spent a few days in jail till the law decided I wasn’t to blame. It was Hank’s long record got me out. He was known to the cops. Afterwards I went on drinking and missing that son of a bitch like hell. There were several months I don’t know what I was doin. He had a terrible mean streak, but we were good together – – specially when we got our clothes off.

At some point I woke up from a blackout and was in the hospital. I had vague memories of some asshole buying me drinks, and him on top of me in a musty smelling car. There were flashes of fist and the sound of it against my jaw, but I wasn’t sure whose fist it was – – I could’ve been mixing up another time. The nurse told me I looked like I’d been kicked, beat up so bad I was lucky to be alive. I don’t know why I believed her – – about being lucky – – but after they patched me up and dried me out for a while I was ready to give it a go. Really try to make myself a life, for the very first time. It was a big mistake.

To Kill A Mockingbird—Harper Lee

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about the injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He could’ve cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years have gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discuss the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began in the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

I said if he wanted to take a broad view of the thing, it really began with Andrew Jackson. If Gen. Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t? We were far too old to settle an argument with the fist-fight, so we consulted Atticus. Our father said we were both right.

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Original Sin—DP Lyle

Lucy Wagner knew exactly when she would hold the heart in her hands, its hard muscle churning against her palm, its moist heat warming her fingers. Knew when its rhythmic twisting would stagger and fall silent as the drugs brought it to a standstill. Frozen in time.

She just didn’t know it would be this heart or under these circumstances.

John Doe changed everything. John Doe couldn’t wait. John Doe bumped her 7:30 elective coronary bypass until later. Probably much later.

Thirty-five minutes earlier, Doe had been found down, face down, on the ER entry ramp at the Remington Medical Center. Purple, breath coming in shallow gasps, pulse barely palpable, and spiraling toward death. Circling the drain in medical slang. The heroic efforts of ER Director Dr. Jeffrey Dukes and his staff, pumping Doe full of fluids and blood, restoring just enough blood pressure to feed Doe’s weak but tenacious spark of life, somehow stabilized him long enough to reach Lucy’s operating table in OR Suite 3.

Now, the scalpel she held in her rock-steady hand hovered near the old man’s flesh. Tinted reddish brown by the hasty pre-op Betadine scrub, the parchment-thin skin and its underlying age-wilted muscles were all that separated the blade from the torn aorta and the massive pool of blood she knew waited within Doe’s abdominal cavity. A cardiovascular surgeon’s worst nightmare. The elderly man had little chance of getting through this alive but absolutely none if Lucy didn’t jump right in. As one of her fellowship mentors at Vanderbilt had been fond of saying, “They’re are times to contemplate and times to slash and grunge.” 

This was slash and grunge time. 

Prayer wouldn’t hurt.

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Deep Six—DP Lyle

It was precisely 12:12 a.m. when the window shattered. A crack-crunch, an eardrum concussing pop, and a spray of glass shards. It didn’t explode by itself, mind you, but rather courtesy of a cavity-backed, perimeter-weighted two-hundred-dollar five iron. A Callaway. I recognized it because it was mine. Or at least it had been.

I knew the exact time because the flying glass yanked me from sleep, my forward-slumped head aligned squarely with the dashboard clock. Took a couple of seconds to gain any sort of perspective on what had happened. 

Of course, sleep wasn’t part of the job. Watching the house two doors down and across the street was. In my defense, nothing had moved in the house, or even along the street that snaked through the high-dollar neighborhood, for at least a couple of hours. But sitting in the dark, behind the wheel of my car, boredom did what boredom does. Knocking back the better portion of the bottle of Knob Creek hadn’t helped either. Stakeouts were mind numbing and a little more numbing of the mind couldn’t be all bad. Right?

“Jake, what the hell are you doing?” the reason for the glass explosion screeched through the jagged hole. 

This wasn’t just any window. It was vintage, the reason it shattered rather than simply spider-webbing. The original passenger window of my otherwise spotless 1965 Mustang. Burgundy with black pony interior, now littered with glass shards. Going to be a bitch to find a replacement.

Speaking of bitches, I recognized the grating voice even before I looked up into the face of my ex. Tammy’s the name; crazy’s the game. I’d lost four good years listening to it. Mostly whining and complaining, sometimes, like now, in a full-on rage. She had a knack for anger. Seemed to need it to get through the day. 

She gripped the five iron with both hands, knuckles paled, cocked up above her shoulder, ready to smash something else. If history offered any lesson it was that she might graduate from the side window to the windshield and so on until she got to me. Tammy didn’t have brakes. Or a reverse gear.

Cute according to everyone, except maybe me, she was a beach-blond with bright blue eyes, a magic smile, and a perfect nose. Some plastic surgeons were gifted. Expensive, but gifted. I knew. I’d paid for the nose.

But cute Tammy had a short fuse. She could go from zero to C4 in a nanosecond.

Like now.

“Funny, I was just fixing to ask you the same thing?” I said.

Still shaking the cobwebs loose and trying to get oriented to person, place, and situation, I managed to get the characters involved sorted out pretty quickly. Staring at a cocked five iron in the hands of your ex-wife will do that. The place came along in short order. Peppermill Road. A loop off Perdido Beach Boulevard that arched through The Point, a megabuck enclave nestled into another expensive enclave known as Perdidio Beach. Very high up the financial food chain, The Point was a row of seven-figure, stilted homes that hung off Peppermill like charms on a bracelet, each facing the Gulf over a wide sugary beach. 

Okay. Two down, one to go.

Person, check. Place, check. It was the situation I struggled with.

“Why are you parked in front of my house?” she asked, chin jutted forward, eyes flashing that anger I knew so well.

Well, there was that.

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Run To Ground–D. P. Lyle

“I can still smell him.” Martha Foster inhaled deeply and closed her eyes.

Tim stood just inside the doorway and looked down at his wife. She sat on the edge of their son’s bed, eyes moist, chin trembling, as were the fingers that clutched the navy-blue Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt to her chest. It had been Steven’s favorite. He had slept in it every night the first month, until Martha finally pried it away long enough to run it through the wash.

Behind her, a dozen photos of Steven lay scattered across the blue comforter. A proud Steven in his first baseball uniform. A seven-year-old Steven, grinning, upper left front tooth missing, soft freckles over his nose, buzz-cut hair, a blue swimming ribbon dangling around his neck. A playful Steven, sitting next to Martha at the backyard picnic table, face screwed into a goofy expression, smoke from the Weber BBQ rising behind them. Tim remembered the day he snapped the picture. Labor Day weekend. Just six months before that day. He squeezed back his own tears and swallowed hard.

Martha shifted her weight and twisted toward the photos. She laid the sweatshirt aside and reached out, lightly touching an image of Steven’s face. The trembling of her delicate fingers increased. She said nothing for a moment and then, “I’m taking these.”

Tim walked to where she sat and pulled her to him, her cheek nestling against his chest, her tears soaking through his tee shirt. He kissed the top of her head. 

“He’s gone,” Martha said. “Everything’s gone. Or will be.”

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2019 in Criminal Mischief Show, Writing

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #14: Rules of Writing

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Criminal Mischief: Episode #14: Rules of Writing

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-14-rules-of-writing

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

Somerset Maugham

There are three rules for novel writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Terry Brooks Rules

Read, Read, Read

Outline, Outline, Outline

Write, Write, Write

Repeat

Dave Barry:

Don’t Be Boring

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

1-Never open a book with weather

2-Avoid prologues

3-Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue

4-Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”

5-Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose

6-Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose

7-Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly

8-Avoid detailed descriptions of characters

9-Don’t go into great detail describing places and things

10-Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip

From BLACK CHERRY BLUES by James Lee Burke

Her hair is curly and gold on the pillow, her skin white in the heat lightning that trembles beyond the pecan trees outside the bedroom window. The night is hot and breathless, the clouds painted like horsetails against the sky; a peal of thunder rumbles on the Gulf like an apple rolling around in the bottom a wooden barrel, and the first raindrops ping against the window fan. She sleeps on her side, and the sheet molds her thigh, the curve of her hip, her breast. In the flicker of the heat lightning the sun freckles on her bare shoulder look like brown flaws in sculpted marble.

LINKS:

Elmore Leonard: “What a Guy,” says Jackie Collins

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/aug/21/elmore-leonard-what-a-guy-jackie-collins

Writers On Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially Hooptedoodle by Elmore Leonard

https://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html

Jack Kerouac’s 30 Tips:

http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/kerouac-technique.html

6 Writing Tips From John Steinbeck:

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/03/6-writing-tips-from-john-steinbeck/254351/

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SUNSHINE STATE, Jake Longly #3
Coming May 21, 2019

 

 
 
 
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