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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

 

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

 

Dub Walker Thrillers Discounted on Kindle

Pick up my three Dub Walker thrillers at a discounted Kindle rate on Amazon this week. Follow Dub, Claire, and T-Tommy as they track a serial killer (Stress Fracture), a scientist with zero morals (Hot Lights, Cold Steel), and a couple on the run after the public murder of a child killer (Run To Ground).

 

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STRESS FRACTURE

INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/stress-fracture.html

AMAZON LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Stress-Fracture-Dub-Walker-Lyle-ebook/dp/B004D4YIE8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0

 

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HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL

INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/hot-lights.html

AMAZON LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Hot-Lights-Cold-Steel-Walker-ebook/dp/B0053HDJSU/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0

 

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RUN TO GROUND

INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/run-to-ground.html

AMAZON LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Run-Ground-D-P-Lyle-ebook/dp/B008YHUD5S/ref=pd_sim_351_4

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2017 in Writing

 

DEEP SIX One of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2016

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Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2016

Cozy:

“Death at the Day Lily Café” by Wendy Sand Eckel
“Crime and Poetry” by Amanda Flower
“Michelangelo’s Ghost” by Gigi Pandian
“The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper” by Phaedra Patrick

Debut:

“Murder in G Major” by Alexia Gordon
“Behind Closed Doors” by B.A Paris
“Blood on the Tracks” by Barbara Nickless
“IQ” by Joe Ide
“Summit Lake” by Charlie Donlea

 Romantic Suspense:

“Tripple Six” by Erica Spindler
“Shadow Rider” by Christine Feehan
“Into the Whirlwind” by Kat Martin
“The Obsession” by Nora Roberts

Horror:

“A Time of Torment” by John Connolly
“Adam Frankenstein: A Collection of Short Stories” by Sheila English
“Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
“The Hatching” by Ezekiel Boone

 Dark Urban Fantasy/Paranormal:

“Night Shift” by Charlaine Harris
“Kill Switch” by Jonathan Maberry
“Feverborn” by Karen Marie Moning
“Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis” by Anne Rice

Indie:

“The Seven Year Dress” by Paulette Mahurin
“A Wild Fright in Deadwood” by Ann Charles
“Thirty-Six and a Half Motives” by Denise Grover Swank
“The Saints of the Lost and Found” by T. M. Causey

Historical:

“Ruler of the Night” by David Morrell
“This Was a Man” by Jeffrey Archer
“The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore
“The Murder of Mary Russell” by Laurie R. King

 

Anthology:

“The Thrill List” by Catherine Lea and Others
“The Big Book of Jack the Ripper” Edited by Otto Penzler
“Echoes of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon” Edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
“Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror” Edited by Ellen Datlow

 

True Crime:

“Possessed” by Kathryn Casey
“Framed: Why Michael Skakel Spent Over a Decade in Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit” by Robert. F. Kennedy
“A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold
“A Killing in Amish Country” by Gregg Olsen and Rebecca Morris

 

YA:

“Isabel Feeney: Star Reporter” by Beth Fantaskey
“Girl on the Brink” by Christina Hoag
“The May Queen Murders” by Sarah Jude
“Crooked Kingdom” by Leigh Bardugo

 

Thriller/Suspense:

“When Shadows Come” by Vincent Zandri
“Right to Kill” by Andrew Peterson
“Deep Six” by D.P. Lyle
“The Steel Kiss” by Jeffrey Deaver
“The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware
“A Great Reckoning” by Louise Penny
“Backblast” by Mark Greaney
“Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch
“Strong Cold Dead” by Jon Land
“The Obsidian Chamber” by Preston and Child

http://suspensemagazine.com/blog2/2016/12/14/the-best-books-of-2016/

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2016 in Writing

 

DEEP SIX Suspense Magazine’s BEST OF 2016

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Just learned that DEEP SIX has been selected as one of Suspense Magazine’s

Best Books of 2016

(Thriller/Suspense Category)

Details: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/deep-six/

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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Writing

 
 
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