Category Archives: Writing Craft

Committing a Criminal Act: Forensics 101

I highly recommend this for anyone including crime in their writing

When I sat down to listen to D.P. Lyle lecture for two hours on forensics for writers, I made sure I was on the aisle so I could duck out if I started to nod off. Now, I love science and have watched a ton of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, so I wasn’t sure I’d get too much out of the workshop. But Lyle is an entertaining speaker with his hint of Southern drawl and quick wit, and his interpretation of the science of forensics is definitely what I needed as a writer. Here’s just a few things I picked up.

Gil Grissom isn’t waiting in the wings

The lecture started out with one fact overlooked by many authors: there isn’t a high-tech crime lab in every city. Yeah, I know, DUH. But stop and think a second. That means that if I wanted a character to get a DNA profile on blood found at a scene in a tiny little town, they’d have to send it out to a larger lab, probably the FBI. When would they get the results back? MONTHS later. Is this a good thing? Depends on your story line – but as a writer, knowing what’s real and what’s not is priceless.

Forensic scientists don’t interview witnesses or carry guns in the real world, they analyze evidence. I’d guess most do wear lab coats, though.

Coroner vs. Medical Examiner

Did you know that anyone can be a coroner? No medical experience or forensics knowledge is required for a position with the title coroner. The person must only be appointable or electable! Remember that blood drop in the tiny town? If they only had a coroner, the guy might be a garbage man who just happened to be around when the mayor needed to appoint someone. Wow – does that open some doors plot-wise. Maybe it closes a few, too.

A Medical Examiner (ME) is another story. As suggested by the title, some medical experience is required, and quite possibly some training in forensic science. When faced with the blood drop, I’m guessing he’d have a few more ideas about what it means and what to do with it than the local trash man.

As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but I’d never considered the difference before.

Time of Death

Something I took for granted was estimating the time of death. Things like rigor mortis, lividity, body temperature – those are all indicators that make it easy to pin down the time of death, right? Um, sort of. Temperature, whether the body was moved, humidity, weather…those are just a few of the variables that affect how long it takes for rigor or lividity to set in. In short, unless there’s some other definitive evidence is found (like an eyewitness or in the case of my book, Whirlwind, the pre-programmed sprinklers coming on), a window of a few hours for the time of death is pretty darn good. For a body found in the woods days or weeks after death, the estimate may be just that: a range of days or weeks.

Two tenets of evidence became very clear, very early in the workshop. First was Locard’s Exchange Principle. Basically, when two objects come into contact, there will be an exchange of matter, each leaving a trace of themselves on the other. This applies to objects, animals, and people. Everything leaves a trace.

Second is the idea that evidence, by and large, excludes, rather than incriminates. If our friend the blood drop turns out to be type A, then everyone who is not type A is excluded. The DNA profile will exclude everyone who doesn’t match – but if your suspect has an identical twin, then there will be at least two people with that DNA. (Fun fact: did you know that even though identical twins have indistinguishable DNA, they don’t have the same fingerprints?)

This is just a little snippet of the information covered in this workshop. Lyle discussed everything from DNA to poison to gunshots to search warrants to search patterns to fibers. I stayed for the full two hours, and when it was over, went directly to the bookstore and purchase D.P. Lyle’s book, Howdunit Forensics. More comprehensive than his more recognizable title, Forensics for Dummies, Howdunit Forensics will sit next to my Chicago Manual of Style as one of my favorite reference books.

Meet an Author Monday

Be sure and check out Meet an Author Monday, hosted on the lovely Lisa Sanchez’s blog. Just click on the photo below to check out what other authors are blogging about. Are you an author? Join the hop with us and meet new readers!

Meet an Author Monday

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March Madness

Writing

Image via Wikipedia

Can you believe it’s March already? Okay, not till tomorrow, but wow, has the year been flying by! I keep waiting for things to calm down around me, but they never seem to. Which brings me to today’s title.

March Madness for me has nothing to do with basketball, but everything to do with writing. The last year was devoted to publishing and marketing, and writing took a back seat. NO MORE! My madness revolves around my goal of getting the first draft of my next book completed, and thanks to my dear critique partner, I’m being held accountable to that deadline.

So if you don’t see me around as much, don’t despair – it means good things are happening!

Win a Copy of Whirlwind in March

Are you as tired of winter as I am?  How about a little spice and romance to welcome spring?  I’m giving away FOUR copies of Whirlwind in March on Goodreads and LibraryThing (yup, I’m on LibraryThing now!).  Sign up now and you could get your copy of Whirlwind for FREE!

First up:  Goodreads.  Two copies are up for grabs during the first half of March. Winners will be selected on March 14th.  You must be a Goodreads member (FREE) to enter.

Meet an Author Monday

Whether your a reader or a writer, there’s a lot of great information and fun on the Hop. Check it out!

Meet an Author Monday

Click here for the Author hop

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Win a Copy of Whirlwind Today

Coffee Thoughts Blog

Come on over to the Coffee Thoughts Blog at Coffee Time Romance and enter to win an autographed copy of Whirlwind .

This month’s topic is Romance, starting at noon EST, and I would love for you to join the conversation!  ONE LUCKY COMMENTER WILL WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF WHIRLWIND!  I bet you’ve got something to say about:

  • What do guys think is romantic?
  • Soulmates: fact or fiction?
  • Do kids kill romance?
  • Why does the boy always have to lose the girl?

These are just some of the topics that might come up today.  I’ll also be posting a couple of excerpts from Whirlwind, and there will be excerpts and giveaways from other authors, too! Join the discussion by adding a comment to one of my posts on the Coffee Thoughts Blog, and you’re entered to win Whirlwind! The contest runs until 8pm EST.

See you there!

Did you find my heart?

The candy heart somewhere on my website? Then you can enter to win the Lookin’ for Love Web Hunt! Click on the banner for more information:

Lookin' for Love contest

Meet an Author Monday

Whether your a reader or a writer, there’s a lot of great information and fun on the Hop.  Check it out!

Meet an Author Monday

Click here for the Author hop

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Where I Write

For this Meet an Author Monday blog hop, all us authors are talking about where we like to write, and including photos.  So, here goes!

I’m not a sit-at-a-desk-and-write kind of person. I use a laptop to write, and it goes everywhere.  My absolute favorite place to write, though is at my dining room table:

I have plenty of space to spread out, enough light, and the sound of the fountain outside the window. I don’t mean to tease all of you under snow right now, but I took this photo yesterday. (I love California!)

As I said, my laptop goes with me all over, so I spend time writing all kinds of places. My kids are both musicians, so I do a lot of writing while waiting for lessons to finish.  My car becomes my mobile office:

No, I DON’T WRITE WHEN I’M DRIVING – just when I’m parked in front of the music store! My car has a great sound system, so I can crank the tunes while I write.

I do have an office, though, and that’s where I do the bulk of my editing.  That’s the real work of writing for me, and I can’t have any distractions when trying to find that new, “right” word or sentence.  I am a pile-er, not a file-er by nature, so my desk is messy.  Rather than clean it (truth in advertising and all) I distorted things a little.  I’ve found that squinting at a mess makes it look pretty, and takes away a little of that “I really should be cleaning” guilt. 😀

FUN FACT ABOUT ROBIN:

What you can’t see to the left is my 30 slot paper shelf.  Some people collect shoes – I’m a paper and label fiend. Address labels, card stock, Astrobrites paper…I love them all.  Why hand-write something when you can print it on a sticker?

Thanks for visiting my little writing world!  Now I put the question to you: Where do YOU like to READ?

Meet an Author Monday

Click here for the Author hop

Be sure and check out the other authors on the blog (I know some of them actually cleaned their offices).

If you are an author, come hop with us!

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Are the Amateurs Teaching the Pros?

As an author trying to make it into the big leagues and become published, I’ve spent time in the ‘minors’: posting writing for free on amateur sites like fanfiction.net or fictionpress.com. In that world, the term ‘beta reader’ or just ‘beta’ is common – like us fledgling writers, betas are our fledgling editor counterparts. Betas critique, correct, and compliment with an eye toward improving the writing for readability and improving our review count, not sales. In many cases betas are faceless and voiceless, found through trial and error in that murky cloud called the Internet.

Imagine my surprise when I opened my Romance Writers Report (RWR) to find not only the term ‘beta’ but an entire article** not only defining the word, but encouraging the use of betas by the pros!

**As much as I’d love to point you at the article itself (written by Maria Connor), RWR is published by Romance Writers of America (RWA) for the use of their paying membership, and therefore unavailable to the general public.

Having used a number of beta readers myself (usually two or more on any given piece of writing), I was stunned to see that professional authors were unaware of such a resource. Ms. Connor notes in the opening paragraph that when asked, authors said they’d never used a beta reader, but they did use Kindle readers. REALLY?

Betas are the bread and butter of good amateur writers, the first set of eyes to see a new chapter or story and given carte blanche to not only correct grammar and awkward wordings (and find all my missing words), but to also chime in on plot issues, incomplete descriptions, even things as esoteric as whether or not dialog is appropriate for the era of the story. Ms. Connor details what a writer can expect of a beta and how using one can teach the writer to deal with constructive criticism. She includes a checklist for betas (including asking questions like ‘Are the characters believable?’ or ‘What themes are you finding?’) and advice to the writer (“The number one rule is be nice to your beta.”) – all things that my betas have done for me for years now.

Those of you who know my writing history will be asking yourself (or me) “So what? You know this, we know this, why are you blogging about THIS?”

Simple: This is one occasion where the students may be teaching the teachers.

Many of us trying to earn that magical title of ‘published author’ look to literary agent blogs, publisher websites and best-selling authors tweets to find that trick, that edge, that will push us over the top. What reading this article taught me is: don’t overlook your peers, whether they share your goals or not. They may be your greatest resource!

We all have the ability to be teachers, whether we realize it or not. So the next time you’re asked to look at someone’s writing or beta a story, consider that you may not be helping your friend with her fanfiction, you may be nurturing the next Nora Roberts.

And if you don’t have a beta yet, GET ONE! A friend, a writing partner, even a spouse can do it – just be prepared for an honest and deep evaluation of your work. It’ll be just as hard for your beta to highlight your writing blemishes as it’ll be for you to face them.

NOTE: I will give RWR a plug – it’s one of the many benefits that RWA membership provides. With limited advertising and great articles about the writing craft, profession and publishing industry as a whole, I look forward to receiving it every month. For more info, check out the RWA website at http://www.rwanational.org/.

Also, the RWA national conference is scheduled for July in Nashville – though the current storms and flooding have put the event in jeopardy. If you’d like to support those suffering in the rising waters, please consider donating to the Red Cross: http://www.middletennredcross.org/general.asp?SN=8522&OP=8919&SUOP=9359&IDCapitulo=78T3Z2WSK0

Finally, I’d like to thank my husband for beta-ing this blog entry! Betas ROCK!

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Filed under Editing, Writing Craft