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Criminal Mischief: Episode 15: Introducing Characters

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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

 

 
 

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #10: Rattlesnakes and Murder

rattlesnake

Episode #10: Rattlesnakes and Murder Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-10-rattlesnakes-and-murder

Past Criminal Mischief Podcasts: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES

“Good fences make good neighbors”—Robert Frost, “Mending Wall” 

I suspect Ryan Felton Sauter’s neighbor, Keith Monroe, would agree.

People commit murder for a host of reasons. Things like financial gain, revenge, lust, anger, to cover another crime, and many other motives. It seems that these motives can even include a dispute with the dude who parked his RV next to yours.

All sorts of weapons are used for committing murder. Guns, knives, poisons, explosives, ligatures, drownings, and gentle pushes off buildings or cliffs. Oh, don’t forget rattlesnakes. This seems to be what Mr. Sauter decided to employ. Simply slipping the reptile into his neighbors RV might not work since rattlesnakes make that buzzing noise to warn people away. So, wouldn’t it be best to simply remove the rattle. And I guess the best way for that is to bite it off.

You simply can’t make this stuff up.

But snakebites are not always the result of some criminal activity. In fact, they rarely are. Most snakebites occur accidentally. Hunters and hikers know this all too well. As a kid growing up in Alabama, and stomping around in the woods on a daily basis, I knew snakes well. I knew which ones to avoid and which ones were harmless. A black racer was scary and fast, but harmless. Stumble on a rattlesnake or a copperhead and that’s a different story. And until you’ve seen a water moccasin, or as we call them cottonmouth, you haven’t seen an evil looking serpent. These guys are thick, dark, and prehistoric looking. And very dangerous. Yes, they can bite you in the water. So before you jump into that swimming hole deep in the woods, you better make some noise and shake up the water runoff any cottonmouth might be around.

But other people are bitten while they are handling snakes. I don’t mean just biologist or herpetologist, those that study these creatures, but also those who use them in religious ceremonies. You might think that snake handling is a thing of the past and something that is only found in the South, but that’s not true. There are still several snake handling churches from coast-to-coast. Even though in many locations snake owning and handling is not legal, the laws get shaky when it’s under the guise of religion.

snakehandling

Their justifications come from Mark 16:17-18

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

Snake handling in churches is often traced back to 1910 when George Went Hensley began incorporating them into his services at his Church of God with Signs Following. Many others have followed in his footsteps. And many have been bitten such as John Wayne “Punkin” Brown and Jamie Coots, whose son Cody was also bitten while preaching but saved when friends defied the church dictates and got him medical treatment.

For the most part, medical treatment is not offered in the circumstances because it is felt that it’s up to the Lord whether the preacher survives or not. After all, it is religion and the Lord can save you then what’s the point? Not to mention, that many of these groups feel that sipping strychnine is also good for you and will prevent you from dying if you are bitten by a snake. Yeah, that makes good medical sense. Add another poison to the poison authority in your system.

I use much of this in my third Samantha Cody book, Original Sin. One of the bad guys in this story is a snake-handling preacher. During my research for this book, I stumbled across a wonderful book titled Salvation on Sand Mountain. Sand Mountain is maybe 30 or 40 miles from where I grew up so obviously the title intrigued me. Once I got the book and began reading it I discovered it was wonderfully written and then discovered that it was nominated for a National Book Award. It is written by Dennis Covington and is the story of Glenn Summerford, a snake-handling preacher who attempted to kill his wife with a snake.

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From ORIGINAL SIN:

“I knew you’d come back to us,” John Scully said as Lucy and Sam walked into the church. He and Miriam were standing near the pulpit. 

“Back?” Lucy said. 

“Back to the church.”

“That implies I was ever here.”

“You were,” Miriam said. “From the moment you breathed your first breath.”

“You’re not making sense.”

Scully smiled. “You have always been a part of us. Martha and your parents saw to that.”

Lucy glanced toward Sam. “Am I missing something here?”

“Doesn’t make sense to me either,” Sam said.

“You were baptized into the church when you were only days old.”

“No offense, but I don’t remember that. And no one ever bothered to tell me.”

“But deep inside you know it’s true,” Scully said.

“I don’t think so.”

Felicia walked in, carrying a wooden box. She placed it on a table to Scully’s left. The unmistakable buzzing of snakes rose from the box. Scully raised the lid and casually removed a fat rattlesnake. Its buzzing now adopted an angry tone.

Lucy and Sam each took a step back. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sam said.

“Don’t worry. I’m immune to the poison.”

“I’m more worried about me and Lucy,” Sam said.

“He’s been bitten a dozen times,” Miriam said. “His faith protects him.”

“That and a little strychnine,” Scully said.

“Strychnine?” Lucy asked. Her attention never drifted from the snake that now waved its head around as if looking for a suitable target. She felt perspiration gather along her back as her heart rate clicked up a notch. God, she hated snakes.

“A little sip neutralizes the poison,” Miriam said.

“I must have missed that day in med school,” Lucy said.

Miriam offered a maternal smile. “Can’t learn everything from man’s books. Only from the word of the Lord.”

The snake coiled around Scully’s arm, head raised. Lucy felt as if it was watching her. She took another half step back, Actually, she wanted to run out the door, but fought the impulse.

“Why snakes?” Sam asked. “What do they have to do with Jesus?”

Lucy knew Sam was playing cop now. Ty and Bump had told them about Scully’s insane beliefs. And Sam had told her that Gladys Johnston had said the same thing. Sam was merely asking questions she already knew the answer to. Seeing if Scully changed his story in any way. 

Now it was Scully’s turn to offer a paternal smile. It faded and his gaze seemed to glaze over. He spoke.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

The quote Sam had shown her. The one Scully had written on the back of a menu.

“Mark Sixteen,” Felicia said.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Sam said. “This is the scripture that tells you to play with snakes?”

Scully gaze hardened. “It’s not play. But you wouldn’t understand.”

 

LINKS:

https://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/police-caldwell-county-man-uses-rattlesnake-neighbor-dispute/NUFO8d5JNM4ggWDdliKS2I/

Snake Handling In Religion Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_handling_in_religion

Snake Handling Churches: http://www.cerm.info/bible_studies/Apologetics/snake_handlers.htm

Church of God With Signs Following: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_God_with_Signs_Following

George Went Hensley—the First Snake Handler?: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Went_Hensley

Punkin Brown: http://www.hiddenmysteries.org/religion/pentecostal/snakeskill-fool.shtml

Jamie Coots Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Coots

Cost Coots: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6070685/Snake-preacher-gets-bitten-four-years-father-killed-rattlesnake.html

Salvation on Sand Mountain: https://www.amazon.com/Salvation-Sand-Mountain-Snake-Handling-Redemption/dp/0140254587?_encoding=UTF8&redirect=true

Original Sin: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/original-sin.html

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #08: Mood and Tone in Crime Fiction

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Criminal Mischief: Episode #08: Mood and Tone in Crime Fiction

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-07-mood-and-tone-in-crime-fiction

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

Mood and Tone NOTES:

Setting the mood and tone in crime fiction should be done up front.

The opening passages tell the reader the type of world they are entering and what they can expect.

The opening might give character insights, setting, and the basics of the crime—and reveal the voice.

What’s the difference between mood and tone?

Tone is the author’s attitude

Mood is the atmosphere and emotion the author creates

So, tone reflects the author’s attitude while mood is how the reader feels about the story. 

Mood and Tone can be revealed through word choice, sentence structure, formal vs informal writing, point of view, objective vs subjective, rhythm, setting, action, dialog, voice—in short, all the tools of storytelling.

Like other fiction, mood and tone in crime stories runs the gamut—dark, light, noir, cozy, suspenseful, humorous, quirky, creepy, supernatural, you name it. 

Examples:

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.

Ernest Hemingway—A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference.

The Concrete Blonde—Michael Connelly

The house in Silverlake was dark, its windows as empty as a dead man’s eyes. It was an old California Craftsman with a full front porch and two dormer windows set on the long slope of the roof. But no light shone behind the glass, not even from above the doorway. Instead, the house cast a foreboding darkness about it that not even the glow from the streetlight could penetrate. A man could be standing there on the porch and Bosch knew he probably wouldn’t be able to see him.

“You sure this is it?” he asked her.

“Not the house,” she said. “Behind it. The garage. Pull up so you can see down the drive.”

Bosch tapped the gas pedal and the Caprice moved forward and crossed the entrance to the driveway.

“There,” she said.

Bosch stopped the car. There was a garage behind the house with an apartment above it. Wooden staircase up the side, light over the door. Two windows, lights on inside.

“Okay,” Bosch said.

They stared at the garage for several moments. Bosch didn’t know what he expected to see. Maybe nothing. The whore’s perfume was filling the car and he rolled his window down. He didn’t know whether to trust her claim or not. The one thing he knew he couldn’t do was call for backup. He hadn’t brought a rover with him and the car was not equipped with a phone.

“What are you going to – – there he goes!” she said urgently.

Bosch had seen it, the shadow of a figure crossing behind the smaller window. The bathroom, he guessed.

“He’s in the bathroom,” she said. “That’s where I saw all the stuff.”

Bosch looked away from the window and at her.

“What stuff?”

“I, uh, checked the cabinet. You know, when I was in there. Just looking to see what he had. A girl has to be careful. And I saw all the stuff. Makeup shit. You know, mascara, lipsticks, compacts and stuff. That’s how I figured it was him. He used all that stuff to paint ‘em when he was done, you know, killing them.”

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe—Douglas Adams

In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

In Cold Blood—Truman Capote

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of Western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with it’s hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, and a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

……………

Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises— on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again— those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers. 

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.

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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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Sunshine State—DP Lyle (My next Jake Longly comedic thriller—coming 5-21-19)

Here’s the deal. Ray thinks I’m a wimp. Has for years. The best I can remember it began around the time I left major league baseball. For several years, I pitched for the Texas Rangers. Could really bring the heat. A hundred miles an hour. Zip, pop. Loved that sound. Loved that the catcher would often shake his hand out after snagging one of my fastballs. That was me. Jake Longly, baseball stud. Everybody said so. Even the ESPN folks.

Not so Ray. He never actually used the word wimp. Pussy. That’s the one he preferred. Four weeks ago being his most recent assessment. 

Nicole Jamison, my current girlfriend, love interest, whatever she was, I wasn’t sure yet, had laughed. Rude, but she does love getting her shots in. Besides, she just might’ve agreed with him. Mostly. Not in bed, mind you. I’m freaking Godzilla in the sack. Really, I am. I think she would agree. In fact, just last night, if I remember correctly, there was tequila involved, she invoked God a couple of times. Or it could’ve been my echo. Lord knows I called on Him a couple of times.

Okay, I added the zilla part. So, sue me. No, wait, don’t. The best attorney in town, Walter Horton, is married to my ex-wife, Tammy the insane. He’d already done a colonoscopy on my wallet. Probably wouldn’t hesitate to encore that performance. 

So, let’s just say Nicole and I have fun.

Regardless, she and Ray conspired to enroll us in martial arts classes. Actually, some craziness based on Krav Maga and several other disciplines mixed into a soup of pain, mayhem, and considerable bodily harm. Taught by an ex-Mossad guy that Ray knew from back in the day. Ben Levitsky. Six-two, lean and muscular, the body fat of a distance runner, and no nonsense. No wonder he and Ray got along.

Ray Longly. My father. Owner of Longly Investigations. An outfit that, depending on your definition, employs Nicole. Speaking of employing, Ray has used every trick in his considerable bag of mischief to drag me into his business. But, I prefer Captain Rocky’s, my just dive-y enough bar/restaurant on the sand in Gulf Shores. I’d much rather hang out there with Pancake, who really does work for Ray. He also thinks I should sign on with Ray. Not going to happen. At least, not officially.

Seems like despite this resolve, I repeatedly get dragged into Ray’s world. And end up throwing baseballs at hitmen, or whacking alligators with baseball bats, stuff like that.

Captain Rocky’s is much safer.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2018 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

Guest Blogger: Roger Angle: How To Avoid Getting Lost In The Woods

HOW TO AVOID GETTING LOST IN THE WOODS 

By Roger Angle
Author, “The Disappearance of Maggie Collins”

When I first started writing novels, I was used to creating literary short fiction. I’d begin a story with a line that came to me, or with an image in my mind, without much else. I’d follow the story wherever it led me, like a dog following a scent. 

That worked OK for short fiction, but when I started writing novels, I’d often follow the scent for 175 pages or so and then realize I had not yet found a story, not even close. I had gotten lost in the woods. 

So, I asked myself, how do you avoid that? 

My answer was to plot out the major turning points in the novel:

  1. The triggering event or call to action. 
  2. The big story problem: Will James Bond defeat Dr. No? 
  3. The point of no return, where the hero or heroine commits to the action and can no longer turn back. 
  4. Deep doo-doo, where the hero gets in up to his neck in alligators. 
  5. The struggle to survive or to win with several reversals. Looks good, looks bad, looks good, etc. 
  6. The climax, win or lose.  
  7. The hero returns and everything is hunky dory again.

No matter what outline you have in mind (and there are many), you need to find a way to structure your story, both to lead your reader from one plot point to the next and to keep your own eye on the ball. 

My answer is to write each chapter in such a way that you drive toward a goal, toward a plot point or turning point that will end the chapter and propel the reader onward. Hollywood writers sometimes call this a “button line.” In newspapers, we used to call it “a kicker.” 

For example, suppose your main character is a middle-class teenage boy who is unhappy at home and is acting out. You want him to get in trouble. You might have him meet some kids from the wrong crowd, as they say, and steal a bunch of car parts. The climax of the first chapter could be his getting arrested at a gasoline station he and his buddies intend to burglarize. The end of the chapter could be the sound of the jail door clanging shut, a life-changing event. 

Of course, that is just Chapter One. He has to get in and out of more trouble before the story comes to its conclusion. You may want to cover his whole life, or just a summer, or just 24 hours. That is up to you. 

When I was writing MAGGIE COLLINS, I knew I wanted the two main characters to be in love and having trouble. I also wanted to introduce the killer. So I orchestrated two scenes. The first shows the hero and heroine embroiled in the case and arguing about their future together. The second scene shows the killer stalking a victim. 

As the story goes along, it gets deeper into the characters, deeper into their relationships, and deeper into the story problem. A famous thriller writer, Lee Child (a.k.a. Jim Grant, a former TV writer and director) says the best way to structure a story is around questions that you raise in the reader’s mind. 

In MAGGIE COLLINS, the first question is, Will the hero and heroine catch the killer? Oddly enough, the second question is, Will the killer find love? (His idea of love is twisted, to say the least.) 

Another thing you need to know, as a writer, is your theme. What is your book about? I needed to know, to keep from wandering off onto side paths and getting lost in the woods. 

I thought about the three main characters and what they want. The older detective, Dupree, is in love with a younger woman, Maggie. He wants to retire from the force and take her with him to live in Maine, literally in the woods. He wants a quiet life. 

But, alas, that is not what she wants, which is the danger and excitement of being a NYPD detective. In a way, she is a thrill seeker. She loves her job. 

What does the killer want? As I said, he wants true love. When he kidnaps women, he goes through a kind of ceremony that declares his love for them. If they don’t respond in exactly the way he wants them to, that brief relationship does not end well. 

So what, I asked myself, is my book about? I decided that my theme was the perversion of love. I put that on a sticky note above my computer, as a guide, so I wouldn’t forget. That helped a lot. That, and driving toward a plot point in each chapter. 

It isn’t easy. Good luck. You will need it. I sure did.

BIO: Roger Angle was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize his first year as a reporter and won the Random House short fiction contest in 1999. He grew up around cops and has always been fascinated by criminals, con-men, and desperados. He lives in Southern California. 

http://rogerangle.com/

“The Disappearance of Maggie Collins” is scheduled for publication on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2018, by Down & Out Books: 

https://downandoutbooks.com/

A brief description of the publisher: 

http://rawdogscreaming.com/small-press-spotlight-down-out-books/

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2018 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode #06: Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today?

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Criminal Mischief: Episode #06: Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today?

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/criminal-mischief-episode-06-is-it-harder-to-write-crime-fiction-today

Is It Harder To Write Crime Fiction Today? Notes:

Do modern forensic science and police investigative techniques make creating compelling crime fiction more difficult? Are there simply too many balls to keep in the air? Too much to consider? Or is now little different from then?

The Past, the present, and the future

Forensic Science timeline—-a fairly new discipline

Basic Science, then Medicine, finally forensic science

Personal ID

Visual
Bertillon
West Case
Facial recognition
Behavioral Profiling

Prints, ABO type, DNA, DNA Phenotype

Fingerprints—-then and now

Vucetich—the Rojas case
Stella Nickell Case
Touch DNA
Touch Toxicology

Toxicology

From arsenic to GC/MS

Blood Typing

ABO can exclude but not ID

DNA

Nuclear
Mitochondrial
Familial—Grim Sleeper case
Phenotypic Analysis

Electronics

Cell phones, computers, emails, texts, VMs

LINKS: 

Forensic Science Timeline: http://www.dplylemd.com/articles/forensic-science-timeline.html

History of Fingerprints: http://onin.com/fp/fphistory.html

Brief History of Poisons and Forensic Toxicology: https://www.okorieokorocha.com/poisons-and-forensic-toxicology/

History of Forensic Ballistics: https://ifflab.org/the-history-of-forensic-ballistics-ballistic-fingerprinting/

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/forensics-for-dummies.html

HOWDUNNIT:FORENSICS: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/howdunnit-forensics.html

Stella Nickell Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Nickell

DNA Profiling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_profiling

Mitochondrial DNA: http://www.dplylemd.com/articles/mitochondrial-dna.html

Familial DNA: http://www.dnaforensics.com/familialsearches.aspx

Grim Sleeper/Lonnie Franklin case: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grim_Sleeper

Is DNA Phenotyping Accurate: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-accurately-can-scientists-reconstruct-persons-face-from-dna-180968951/

DNA Phenotyping Examples: https://snapshot.parabon-nanolabs.com/examples

Bertillon and the West Brothers: http://www.nleomf.org/museum/news/newsletters/online-insider/november-2011/bertillon-system-criminal-identification.html

 

Criminal Mischief: Episode 05: Making Characters Compliant

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Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode 05: Making Characters Compliant

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/character-compliance

PREVIOUS EPISODES: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

Making Characters Compliant Show Notes:

Coercion and Threat

Leverage

Trauma:

Trauma is time limited

Unconscious vs Pain/Fear of death

Drugs:

Drugs have variable timelines

Drugs don’t have timers

Alcohol and Mickey Finn

Narcotics and sedatives

Date Rape Drugs

Rohypnol

GHB—Gamma Hydroxybutyrate

E, Ecstasy, MDMA—3.4-Methylenedioxy Methamphetamine

Ketamine

Links:

Date Rape Drugs: http://www.dplylemd.com/articles/date-rape-drugs.html

ROHYPNOL: https://www.drugs.com/illicit/rohypnol.html

GHB: https://www.drugs.com/illicit/ghb.html

ECSTASY: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasymolly

KETAMINE: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302663.php

Andrew Luster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Luster

Dr. Grant Robicheaux: http://www.newser.com/story/264806/calif-surgeon-girlfriend-may-have-raped-hundreds.html

 

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