Category Archives: Writing

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:


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So you do all that forensic science research for your story and find a bunch of cool stuff. Now what? How do you use it to make your story believable, and convoluted, and of course suspenseful.

Here is a post I wrote for Le Coeur de l’Artiste that might help.

Original post is here:

When Researching Forensics, Remember to:

Make the Time of Death Vague: When your disheveled detective is standing over the body and chatting with the coroner and the subject of the time of death comes up, don’t have your coroner/medical examiner say something stupid like, “The victim died at 10:30 last night.” There is no way he could know this. The things he uses to determine the time of death during the first 48 hours – – things like body temperature, rigor mortis, and lividity – – aren’t very accurate. They are merely suggestions. But by using these techniques, the coroner can at least make an educated guess as to the APPROXIMATE time of death. And it is always a best guess. Realistically he should say something like, “The victim died somewhere between 10 PM and midnight.” And that gives you wiggle room in your plot.

Give Your Crime Lab Time to Breathe: Only on television do crime labs get results before the first commercial break. You know, the DNA sample is obtained and three minutes later they have the results, complete with a holographic image of the bad guy. Unfortunately, that is humorously far from reality. DNA analysis, toxicological testing, and most other forensic science techniques take time. The tests not only have to be done, they have to be checked and rechecked, and in high-profile cases, they are often sent out to other labs for corroboration. This takes time. At least days, and often weeks. Remember to allow for this when you’re plotting your story as this delay can add tension.

Make the Evidence Difficult to Find or Not Useful: The truth is that evidence is not always present. Of course, the crime scene technicians look for fingerprints, bodily fluids, shoe impressions, hair and fiber, and any other bits of evidence the perpetrator might have deposited at the crime scene. These might or might not be present, and if present might or might not be found, and if found might or might not be useful. If fingerprints are deposited on a window pane, a tile countertop, or some other smooth, hard surface, then they are often easily found and are clear and useful. If they are on a rough surface, such as a wooden slat or concrete, or if they are smeared or contaminated or altered in some way, they might not be useful. The pattern might be disrupted or difficult to see and if so the print is useless. DNA might be found but it might be so damaged from decay or contamination that it is not useful. So make it difficult for your detective. Don’t make the evidence jump right into his lap.

Make Everyone Involved in the Investigation Honest and Capable, or Not: The best-selling horror writer John Saul has said that he places his stories in small towns because the cops are stupid. This might be true in many cases, but I think what John means is that they are not sophisticated, experienced, or well-equipped to handle many criminal situations. This might be because they are poorly trained, or never worked in a major city, or solved any major crimes and therefore a murder in their small town might be beyond their capabilities. Or perhaps the city’s budget for crime-fighting is so small that they can’t afford to hire experienced officers, or forensic experts, or even do autopsies. It might be that those in power are just flat out criminally corrupt, or lazy, or incompetent. If your story is set in a major city, such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, or Miami, then sophisticated crime-fighting techniques, equipment, labs, and experts are easily available. But if it’s set in a small town, none of these are available. Use this to add tension to your story.

Make the Evidence Controversial: Just because a certain individual’s fingerprints or DNA or shoe impressions are left at the crime scene, it does not mean that person is the perpetrator of the crime. The thing about evidence is that it creates linkage. It links a person, an object, or a place to another person, object, or place. That is, if Joe’s fingerprints are found at the scene of the crime it means that at some point in time Joe was at that location. It does not mean Joe is the one that killed Martha. This is why when police begin their interrogation of Joe they will first ask him if he has been in Martha’s home, or if he even knows Martha. If he says yes, he knows her well and has been in her home many times, then there may be a perfectly innocent reason for his fingerprints to be there. If he says no that he does not know her and has never been in her home, then Joe has some explaining to do. Such evidence that points in the wrong direction is very useful for creating classic red herrings in your story.

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Guest Blogger: TK Thorne: Confessions Of A Pantser

Confessions Of A Pantser


What’s The Best Way To Write A Novel?

by T.K. Thorne


A controversy rages over the best way to write a novel—plotter vs. pantser.  A plotter is a writer who outlines the plot points and/or scenes before diving into the writing. A pantser goes “by the seat of her pants,” plotting as she goes.

The truth is that writing a novel is a process that requires one’s entire brain in ways that neurological science has (yet) been able to completely understand.  For simplicity, let’s call it left brain and right brain processes. The left hemisphere is the origin for analytic/judgment making and the right brain is the origin of the creative/where-the-heck-did-that-come-from? You could also term it the conscious vs. the unconscious. I think in reality they both muck together a good bit, but we’ll use the terms for now.

One might say that plotters engage their left brain more in the planning process and pantsers use the right brain to come up with plot organically.  True and not true, but either way, I agree with Larry Brooks, who has postulated three stages for writing a novel.

• Search for Story

• Development of Story

• Polishing of Story

Both plotters and pantsers must follow these stages, although they do not have to occur precisely in order.  Sometimes you need to develop somewhat in order to find the story. Many writers advise writing a complete draft before you start polishing, but some writers polish as they go (which doesn’t mean you don’t need to rewrite. Robert Heinlein is the only person I know of who claimed he didn’t rewrite anything and I’m not sure I believe him or possibly he said that toward the end of his prolific career.)

Some people start with the story concept, which is different from a plot, by the way. A concept might arise from something as simple as a “What if—?” question. What if a radioactive spider bit a man giving him super spider powers?  What if young boys and girls went to a secret school to learn magic?

Wow, we have a concept, the first step in writing a novel, right?  Right . . . except not always.

It certainly can begin that way, and you can then explore the concept with an plot outline, noting the needed developmental points, develop the characters, and then write the story.  That may work best for you.

But it is not the only way to find story.

One day, I was brushing my teeth, and three words popped into my head, seemingly from nowhere.  The words were: “You’re a hero.”  I literally had nothing more, but felt the need to put my fingers on the keyboard and find out what lurked in my right brain/subconscious. Quickly spitting out toothpaste, I ran to my laptop and typed those words and then . . . let the muse play.  I’ve ended up with a novel and concept for two additional books.


On another occasion, I “saw” an image of a young girl listening to her grandmother and just started writing the scene, which turned out to be Noah’s Wife.  My next novel, Angels At The Gate, began without even a scene in mind, just a few words out of an audacious young girl’s mind.


So how exactly did that work?  Angels was loosely based on the biblical story of Lot’s wife. If you recall, she is the lady who looked back at the burning city of Sodom and turned into a “pillar of salt.” Nameless and only granted that one famous line, she didn’t give me much to go on. But I figured even as a child, she must have had a little problem with obedience. That led to the idea of her as a young, impetuous girl hiding a puppy in her robe. It could have been her own pup, but given the obedience issue, I decided she stole it. To explain why she stole it, I had to invent a character (the pup’s owner) who gave her a reason. (She overheard him say he was going to throw it into the cook pot.) And so it went. The characters determined what happened, or at the least, how they reacted to whatever I threw at them.

In both cases, I did prior research about the time period, but I had no idea what the story would be.  I wrote based on the first words that came out, building layer by layer. You don’t have to keep those words, but they provide a launching place. A work of quality can emerge from this process. Both novels won national awards.

With that experience, I am tempted to give my truest advice with two words—Go Play!

On the other hand, I have been writing and studying the craft of writing (omg!) for 40 years. According to Malcolm Gladwell, who studies such things, it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in anything.

So, read, study, and play for 10,000 hours.

Does that mean don’t try writing novels before you have the millage?  Absolutely not! Seven “practice novels” slumber in my computer, unpublished.  Writing them is part of playing and practicing.  It’s important.  And maybe it won’t take you that many!

In reality, plotters and pantsers exist on a continuum, and I am no exception.  My brain, no doubt, is bouncing back and forth as I work, right to left, left to right, subconscious to conscious, and vice versa (as my husband who is trying to get my attention will tell you.) I may start out totally by playing, but at some point I am imaging scenes and dialogue in advance and write toward that. I may or may not make notes about where I’m going, but it is very helpful to have a ending in mind, even if it is a vague one.  And there are definite places (plot points) in most fiction where certain types of things need to happen, and knowing where they are is helpful.

What I don’t do is set how to get there in stone, because I like surprises as much as a reader. If I don’t know what is going to happen next, neither will the reader.  On the other hand, it is scary to start without knowing where you are going, especially if you have a publisher waiting for a book or if you are working on a series and don’t want to box yourself in by doing something in book one or two that will make book three not work.

So, I will amend my advice: Do what works for you. Be a plotter or a pantser, or something in between, or switch as you go. Whatever works is the right way.

A retired Birmingham police captain, T.K. Thorne’s award-winning novels, Noah’s Wife and Angels At The Gate: The Story of Lot’s Wife, fill in the backstories of unknown, extraordinary women in two of the world’s most famous sagas. Her non-fiction book, Last Chance For Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers, made the NY Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. She blogs on her website,, and speaks on life lessons, her writing journey, and her books.

T.K. will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming “Writing In The 21st Century” writer’s conference in Huntsville, Alabama.


Posted by on September 22, 2016 in Writing


New DEEP SIX Review From the Midwest Book Review

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Ex-professional baseball player Jake Longly adamantly refuses to work for his father, wanting no part of Ray’s PI world. He prefers to hang out at his beachfront bar and chase bikinis along the sugary beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama. But Ray could be persuasive, so Jake finds himself staking out the home of wealthy Barbara Plummer, a suspected adulteress. The mission seems simple enough―hang around, take a few pictures, sip a little bourbon. Except Barbara gets herself murdered right under Jake’s nose.

When Jake launches into an investigation of his target’s homicide, he quickly runs afoul of Ukrainian mobster Victor Borkov. Aided by his new girlfriend Nicole Jemison and Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers, his behemoth employee with crazy computer skills, Jake tries to peel away the layers of the crime. The deeper the intrepid trio delves, the more murders start to pile up, leading them to Borkov’s massive yacht — where they just might be deep-sixed.

In “Deep Six”, author D. P. Lyle has once again written a consistently compelling novel that will riveting his reader’s total attention from beginning to end. This is the stuff from which block-buster movies are made! While unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Thriller Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading list that “Deep Six” is also available in a Kindle edition ($9.99).


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Posted by on September 13, 2016 in Writing


The Dread Line—A New Novel From Edgar Winner Bruce DeSilva

dread line

In “The Dread Line,” the fifth novel in Bruce DeSilva’s Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels, Liam Mulligan is piecing a new life together after getting fired from his investigative reporting newspaper job.  He’s getting some part-time work with his friend McCracken’s detective agency, picking up beer money by freelancing for a local news website, and looking after his semi-retired mobster-friend’s bookmaking business.

But Mulligan still manages to find trouble. He’s feuding with a cat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone in town is torturing animals. All this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention. The New England Patriots, shaken by murder charges against their superstar tight end, have hired Mulligan and McCracken to investigate the background of a college athlete they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they start asking questions, they get push-back. The player, it seems, has something to hide – and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Release date is 9-6-16 and the book can be purchased here:


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Posted by on September 5, 2016 in Writing


Guest Blogger: Anne Trager: Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Anne Trager, translator
The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Can you actually make your own gold? I uncovered the truth recently while working on a fun thriller by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne called The Lafayette Sword. The plot has gold fever, Freemasonry, murders, and the quest for a stolen, priceless sword. It also has alchemy. It’s fiction, but to write it, the authors did a lot of research, and to translate it, so did I.

What exactly is alchemy?

Alchemy dates back four millennia, spans three continents (China, India and Europe), and includes a lot of symbolic mumbo-jumbo. But in short, it was part science, part magic.

Medieval European alchemy set out to make a substance called the philosopher’s stone—it was not actually a stone, but similar to wax in consistency. It was supposed to transform base metals into gold. Perfect for the greedy and power hungry, you may think. In fact, alchemy was more than a quest for a money-machine. It was also a symbolic journey of self-realization and the precursor to chemistry.

Magnum Opus

At the time, people thought everything was made up of fire, air, water and earth. If a common metal like lead was made of these elements, then gold was too. Thus, in theory, one could be transformed into the other.

The alchemical world view also included the idea of progression or maturation. Gold was considered the most mature metal because it had a perfect balance of these four elements. In some traditions, it also symbolized the most advanced stage in a person’s spiritual refinement. The transmutation of lead into gold was like the transmutation of the physical body into a higher energy—that is, becoming immortal.

The key was in the philosopher’s stone, which not only transformed metals, but also had healing powers, and was an essential ingredient in the elixir of life.

So, the alchemical Great Work, or Magnum Opus, was the process of working with the prima materia to create the philosopher’s stone. It ultimately led to gold, a perfect body and soul, and enlightenment—an enticing promise.


Not so fast. As an article in Scientific American states,

“Alchemists have often been dismissed as pseudoscientific charlatans but in many ways they paved the way for modern chemistry and medicine. The alchemists of the 16th and 17th centuries developed new experimental techniques, medicines and other chemical concoctions, such as pigments. And many of them ‘were amazingly good experimentalists,’ says Lawrence Principe, a chemist and science historian at Johns Hopkins University. ‘Any modern professor of chemistry today would be more than happy to hire some of these guys as lab techs.’ The alchemists counted among their number Irish-born scientist Robert Boyle, credited as one of the founders of modern chemistry; pioneering Swiss-born physician Paracelsus; and English physicist Isaac Newton.”

Isaac Newton, who was a Freemason and practiced alchemy throughout his life, even played an important role in the gold market. In 1696, he was appointed to the Royal Mint. At the time coin counterfeiting was rampant. He managed to recall all the coins in circulation, manufacture and issue new secure coinage and introduce the gold standard. Go Isaac!

Perhaps the most famous alchemist of all times was Nicolas Flamel, who figures in The Lafayette Sword, as readers follow his quest for the philosopher’s stone. The legend around him grew during the seventeenth century, when alchemy was all the rage, and continues to this day. He’s quoted in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, he figures in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, he’s mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. (Now, that’s an odd combination of titles to have in one sentence.)

Yes, you can

Today alchemy is actually possible. We have the technology, and it’s been done. Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg tranmuted tiny quantities of bismuth into gold in 1980. What you need, again according to Scientific American is: “a particle accelerator, a vast supply of energy and an extremely low expectation of how much gold you will end up with.” The current consensus is that it would cost way too much (a quadrillion dollars per ounce) to be worth it.

Find out more

¥ For an in-depth examination of gold from antiquity to modern times, read Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession.

¥ The World Gold Council,, provides information about current prices, mining, supply and demand and research.

¥ For more about gold market manipulation, and the inspiration for the worldwide gold conspiracy in The Lafayette Sword: Gold Anti-trust Action Committee

¥ On the science of turning lead into gold:

¥ More on Newton: Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson

¥ More on alchemy:

Gold. Obsession. Secrets.


Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English.

Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt. A priceless sword is stolen and deaths ensue setting the Freemason detective on a case of Masons turned bad. A clue points to mysteries and conspiracy about elusive pure gold, launching a frantic, deadly race between two symbolic places—the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. A captivating plot weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages into a modern-day thriller.

Web page:

Praise for the series

•“Vivid characters, evocative international settings, and a history darker than midnight. I highly recommend!” —Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling coauthor of the famed Pendergast series of novel

•“A race against the clock.” —Le Figaro

•“A superbly esoteric blend of history and adventure.” —Glenn Cooper, internationally bestselling thriller writer

•“Giacometti and Ravenne’s series kickoff has abundant visceral appeal.” —Kirkus Reviews

•“Brilliantly plotted and well researched.” —Le Parisien

The authors


Eric Giacometti studied biochemistry and genetics in Toulouse, France, before going into journalism. Then, at the height of his career as an investigative reporter, Eric Giacometti was contaminated by the thriller virus. His life took on another dimension: journalist by day, writer by night. In 2013, he left his full-time reporting job with a French daily newspaper to work freelance and write. He teaches journalism and writing.

Jacques Ravenne is a high-level French Freemason. He is also a literary critic, known for his work on the writers Paul Valéry, Yves Bonnefoy, Gérard de Nerval and Stéphane Mallarmé. In addition to his academic work, he was also a local elected official for a number of years, and contributes regularly to Freemason publications. He discovered the Marquis de Sade’s château in 1985, beginning a

long fascination with the man, which has resulted in an anthology of his correspondence and a novel based on Sade’s life.

Book Info:

Anne Trager
Le French Book
French books you’ll love in English!


Anne Trager is the founder of Le French Book, a publisher dedicated to hand-picking, translating and publishing top crime fiction from Europe. Their recent release The Lafayette Sword is by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne, who rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown (over 2 million copies sold) to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English. Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt in a captivating plot that weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages in to a modern-day thriller. Find out more here. Or read an extended sneak preview here.


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

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



Dr. Katherine Ramsland


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


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




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

Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer

By Katherine Ramsland

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

MORE INFO:–science-radio.html




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