Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Weather or not....

The wind raged at the trees and flag pole that dared stand fast. Cans and bottles were cast onto the driveway like dice rolling down a craps table. The rain, not to be outdone, battered the cans and bottles like a jazz drummer, keeping an oddly rhythmic beat. In the background, thunder accompanied the composition, and lightning set the stage.

I wrote this after standing outside yesterday during the storm (safely under my porch). This reminder about the ferocity of storms left me awed. I may use this in a book or story someday. It may inspire a story of its own.

Weather is one of those things that may get overlooked in novels. We're busy focusing on characters and plots and setting but I find that weather is rarely mentioned other than a brief one line about how hot it is, how a storm shook the windows, or rain hitting the roof. Let your characters be more than inconvenienced by getting soaked, or shivering because it's snowing. In my sci-fi novel, Lethal Dose, my main characters Dalen and Adara pass by a planet with black lightning which of course screws up all communications and electronics. In my middle grade fantasy Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines (debuting September!), weather plays a big part in the story; the animals are safe for several more days when the construction machines sent to clear their woods are trapped in mud after a horrific storm. Snow adds more complications because tracks gives the animals' locations away.

If your story takes place in Seattle, where most of the time it's rainy (I could never live there), repeated references to rain and drizzle and mist would get tiresome. But in Twilight, Bella tells Edward her favorite color is brown (like his eyes, gag), but also because everything is so green from the constant precipitation. It's understandable that one would get sick of so much green and that comment says it all.

As Mark Twain said, "Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it." So mind the weather! And let's see how it impacts your story, your character, your plot, your mood.

I'll be sitting poolside because the summer heat baked the sunflowers to perfection; they stood, a deep golden yellow, almost too perfect to behold.



Char

Monday, July 18, 2016

And The Winner Is... Maybe...

Well, I've tallied the results of my un-official survey about my new author photo. Clearly, most people liked #1 for my Facebook photo.


Reasons cited was because it was more friendly, showed my playful side.

The second most popular is a tie between #2:



And #3:


And #6:


And #10:



Surprisingly, the most popular choice for my book photo is the black and white:



My publicist likes this one too.

In second place was #7:


And close behind was #6:


So, I'll post #1 as my new Facebook photo (because my public demands it). I'll see what the publisher's requirements are for the author pic and get back to you. Or maybe I should leave it as a surprise (buy the book? Get your library to buy it? Ask to borrow a friend's copy?)

Thanks all for your thoughtful consideration.

Next... Suzy's blog post about how to take a successful author photo. Then... Cover reveal! (I hope).

Char

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Picture is Worth... How Much?

When you get a book published, it's usually customary to have an author photo. That's exciting! Everyone will see the face behind the masterpiece. Then you're like... everyone will see the face! When you're an author or anyone who has to be in the public, this can be a real fear. Do I look good? Should I be serious or look like a fun person? Face or full body? Black and white or color? Solid shirt or patterned? Get a friend to take the pic, do a selfie or hire a pro?

It's enough to make a gal dizzy. (No blonde jokes here.)

Here's what I did: my friend Suzy Key Ryan is a FABULOUS photographer. I didn't know this until she started posting some pics on Facebook of kids, friends, etc. This gal knows what she's doing. So I asked her to do my author photos. Some things to be aware of when choosing a photographer:

1- Get a good location. Suzy suggested the Grounds For Sculpture. It's a beautiful place with green spaces and peacocks and art.

2- Suzy recommended a change of clothes, which I did bring, but it was so beastly hot, I didn't want to wear the second outfit, but at least I had it.

3- Since Suzy uses digital cameras, she could take hundreds of pics without great cost. If anyone's still using film...that could be expensive or you only get a few pics.

4- Check their work out beforehand. Suzy's work speaks for itself.

This is my dilemma; she took a number of great pics and I've narrowed it down. In the comments, tell me which one you think should go on my next book and which one on Facebook profile. If you can, tell me why you chose that photo. I'll post the results in about 2 weeks.

Here they are:






















Just say #4 for the book because I'm not laughing, #7 for FB because I look friendly, or whatever.

In two weeks, Suzy will be a guest blogger here and will share her tips on how to get a great author photo.  In the meantime, check out her work here. She might be on Instagram, but I'm not, so check that out too.

Thanks for your help!

Keep smiling,

Char

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Step Into the REAL World...

TV shows and movies (and novels) tend to dramatize crimes. My co-presenter at the NJ SCBWI annual conference, Guy Olivieri, who is a forensic detective with the Woodbridge, NJ police, laughs a little and shakes his head when discussing how things work in the real world. At our workshop, Scene of the Crime: How Experts Handle A Crime Scene, I talked about writing a factually correct crime scene and he presented the steps and information about how detectives and investigators examine a crime scene and collect evidence. This final part in my series on that presentation is based on Guy's observations and expertise: 6 Mistakes to Avoid at a Crime Scene.  In Guy's words:

"Crime scenes are so fragile that just about anything you do can cause crime scene contamination. The moment that the first uniformed officer enters the scene, it is contaminated. Investigators must be ready for that question on the stand, "Was the crime scene contaminated before you arrived?" The answer to this question is always and unequivocal "yes it was counselor," followed with an explanation if allowed. Crime scene contamination is unavoidable in law enforcement's quest to render aid to the victim or obtain evidence. However, law enforcement can mitigate contamination by avoiding these six (6) deadly crime scene mistakes:

1. Not controlling police personnel.
The biggest problem in any crime scene are your fellow officers and therefore the most important appointment is to choose a "gatekeeper." The gatekeeper's job is to maintain the integrity of the scene, keep a list of who entered the scene (a crime scene log) and to prevent unauthorized personnel from gaining access. Some officers inadvertently contaminate the crime scene when they are assigned "the job," while others like to show up to gawk. These officers pose the most difficult challenge at the crime scene for the "gatekeeper."

2.Not identifying evidence.
When processing a crime scene you have to have an open mind. If you are only looking for certain items, that is all you will find. Don't miss the forest for the trees. If you think it has the potential to be probative evidence, then take it with you. There is nothing worse than finding out hours later that you left an important piece of evidence behind.

3. Not documenting interviews/evidence, etc.
If the investigator doesn't take the time to document parts of the case then the entire case could be jeopardized. If the reports aren't filled out, then that information will be lost forever. Worst yet,  a poorly documented case opens it up to rightful criticism by the defense counsel. They will point out that certain things weren't documented because they were exculpatory- meaning they would eliminate his/her client as a possible suspect. If it wasn't recorded, it never occurred.

4. Not taking enough photographs.
The old mantra of a crime scene techs that I used to work with was, "Film is free." The case investigator is the one that will be explaining themselves in a courtroom, so they need to learn how to take charge. You can never have enough photographs. More is better, for sure. Photographs play an important role as demonstrative evidence in a courtroom, a memory aid for investigators, a reference for cold case detectives and the opportunity to identify something that was originally missed.

5. Not identifying secondary or tertiary crime scenes.
The primary crime scene is always where the initial incident talk place, unless it was a homicide, then it is where the body was found. Once again, the investigator cannot operate with blinders on. For instance, if the location is a "dump site" (murdered elsewhere and left the body in another location) then you would have to think that a vehicle was probably used, therefore another potential crime scene. Other areas to think about are points of entry and egress, alleys, rooftops,  elevator landings, staircases, etc. An investigator should always think of potential secondary and tertiary crime scenes in every case.

6. Taking crime scene photos with people standing in the background.
Nothing screams crime scene contamination or mismanagement more than rolls of film with both uniformed officers and investigators standing in the midst of the scene- some for no apparent reason. Crime scene photos should be taken when the scene is as pristine as possible. The proper way a crime scene should be documented is: photo, sketch, search and collect.

By no means is this an all inclusive list of what could go wrong at a crime scene, however, these are the six (6) most likely scenarios. In addition, I have one more tip to share and it has to do with EMTs. Always ask the EMTs to clean their belongings up before leaving the scene. If not, you run the risk of having blue gloves, plastic wrappings, bandage wrappings, etc. flying around your crime scene. Also, if possible, ask them not to cut through the bullet/knife holes in the victim's shirt when they are removing his/her clothes.

References: Joseph L. Giacalone, ret. NYPD Det. Sgt. http://joegiacalone.net/cold-case-squad/
The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry.
Guy Olivieri, Det., Woodbridge PD

We hope this helps when writing about crime scenes. There is no need to make things up to create drama; following the rules of reality makes for more tension because it's more difficult than whipping stuff out of your imagination. (Remember when I opened this 4 part series with "Truth is stranger than fiction"?) Plus, you run the risk of an expert (like Guy!) who know what you're writing is false and they may just call you on it. Nothing irks a savvy reader more than an author who doesn't present a well-written, true-to-life (not including fantasies/scifi) book. Make it believable, make it true!

Give them nothing but the facts-

 Char

Step Into the REAL World...

TV shows and movies (and novels) tend to dramatize crimes. My co-presenter at the NJ SCBWI annual conference, Guy Olivieri, who is a forensic detective with the Woodbridge, NJ police, laughs a little and shakes his head when discussing how things work in the real world. At our workshop, Scene of the Crime: How Experts Handle A Crime Scene, I talked about writing a factually correct crime scene and he presented the steps and information about how detectives and investigators examine a crime scene and collect evidence. This final part in my series on that presentation is based on Guy's observations and expertise: 6 Mistakes to Avoid at a Crime Scene.  In Guy's words:

"Crime scenes are so fragile that just about anything you do can cause crime scene contamination. The moment that the first uniformed officer enters the scene, it is contaminated. Investigators must be ready for that question on the stand, "Was the crime scene contaminated before you arrived?" The answer to this question is always and unequivocal "yes it was counselor," followed with an explanation if allowed. Crime scene contamination is unavoidable in law enforcement's quest to render aid to the victim or obtain evidence. However, law enforcement can mitigate contamination by avoiding these six (6) deadly crime scene mistakes:

1. Not controlling police personnel.
The biggest problem in any crime scene are your fellow officers and therefore the most important appointment is to choose a "gatekeeper." The gatekeeper's job is to maintain the integrity of the scene, keep a list of who entered the scene (a crime scene log) and to prevent unauthorized personnel from gaining access. Some officers inadvertently contaminate the crime scene when they are assigned "the job," while others like to show up to gawk. These officers pose the most difficult challenge at the crime scene for the "gatekeeper."

2.Not identifying evidence.
When processing a crime scene you have to have an open mind. If you are only looking for certain items, that is all you will find. Don't miss the forest for the trees. If you think it has the potential to be probative evidence, then take it with you. There is nothing worse than finding out hours later that you left an important piece of evidence behind.

3. Not documenting interviews/evidence, etc.
If the investigator doesn't take the time to document parts of the case then the entire case could be jeopardized. If the reports aren't filled out, then that information will be lost forever. Worst yet,  a poorly documented case opens it up to rightful criticism by the defense counsel. They will point out that certain things weren't documented because they were exculpatory- meaning they would eliminate his/her client as a possible suspect. If it wasn't recorded, it never occurred.

4. Not taking enough photographs.
The old mantra of a crime scene techs that I used to work with was, "Film is free." The case investigator is the one that will be explaining themselves in a courtroom, so they need to learn how to take charge. You can never have enough photographs. More is better, for sure. Photographs play an important role as demonstrative evidence in a courtroom, a memory aid for investigators, a reference for cold case detectives and the opportunity to identify something that was originally missed.

5. Not identifying secondary or tertiary crime scenes.
The primary crime scene is always where the initial incident talk place, unless it was a homicide, then it is where the body was found. Once again, the investigator cannot operate with blinders on. For instance, if the location is a "dump site" (murdered elsewhere and left the body in another location) then you would have to think that a vehicle was probably used, therefore another potential crime scene. Other areas to think about are points of entry and egress, alleys, rooftops,  elevator landings, staircases, etc. An investigator should always think of potential secondary and tertiary crime scenes in every case.

6. Taking crime scene photos with people standing in the background.
Nothing screams crime scene contamination or mismanagement more than rolls of film with both uniformed officers and investigators standing in the midst of the scene- some for no apparent reason. Crime scene photos should be taken when the scene is as pristine as possible. The proper way a crime scene should be documented is: photo, sketch, search and collect.

By no means is this an all inclusive list of what could go wrong at a crime scene, however, these are the six (6) most likely scenarios. In addition, I have one more tip to share and it has to do with EMTs. Always ask the EMTs to clean their belongings up before leaving the scene. If not, you run the risk of having blue gloves, plastic wrappings, bandage wrappings, etc. flying around your crime scene. Also, if possible, ask them not to cut through the bullet/knife holes in the victim's shirt when they are removing his/her clothes.

References: Joseph L. Giacalone, ret. NYPD Det. Sgt. http://joegiacalone.net/cold-case-squad/
The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry.
Guy Olivieri, Det., Woodbridge PD

We hope this helps when writing about crime scenes. There is no need to make things up to create drama; following the rules of reality makes for more tension because it's more difficult than whipping stuff out of your imagination. (Remember when I opened this 4 part series with "Truth is stranger than fiction"?) Plus, you run the risk of an expert (like Guy!) who know what you're writing is false and they may just call you on it. Nothing irks a savvy reader more than an author who doesn't present a well-written, true-to-life (not including fantasies/scifi) book. Make it believable, make it true!

Give them nothing but the facts-

 Char

Step Into the REAL World...

TV shows and movies (and novels) tend to dramatize crimes. My co-presenter at the NJ SCBWI annual conference, Guy Olivieri, who is a forensic detective with the Woodbridge, NJ police, laughs a little and shakes his head when discussing how things work in the real world. At our workshop, Scene of the Crime: How Experts Handle A Crime Scene, I talked about writing a factually correct crime scene and he presented the steps and information about how detectives and investigators examine a crime scene and collect evidence. This final part in my series on that presentation is based on Guy's observations and expertise: 6 Mistakes to Avoid at a Crime Scene.  In Guy's words:

"Crime scenes are so fragile that just about anything you do can cause crime scene contamination. The moment that the first uniformed officer enters the scene, it is contaminated. Investigators must be ready for that question on the stand, "Was the crime scene contaminated before you arrived?" The answer to this question is always and unequivocal "yes it was counselor," followed with an explanation if allowed. Crime scene contamination is unavoidable in law enforcement's quest to render aid to the victim or obtain evidence. However, law enforcement can mitigate contamination by avoiding these six (6) deadly crime scene mistakes:

1. Not controlling police personnel.
The biggest problem in any crime scene are your fellow officers and therefore the most important appointment is to choose a "gatekeeper." The gatekeeper's job is to maintain the integrity of the scene, keep a list of who entered the scene (a crime scene log) and to prevent unauthorized personnel from gaining access. Some officers inadvertently contaminate the crime scene when they are assigned "the job," while others like to show up to gawk. These officers pose the most difficult challenge at the crime scene for the "gatekeeper."

2.Not identifying evidence.
When processing a crime scene you have to have an open mind. If you are only looking for certain items, that is all you will find. Don't miss the forest for the trees. If you think it has the potential to be probative evidence, then take it with you. There is nothing worse than finding out hours later that you left an important piece of evidence behind.

3. Not documenting interviews/evidence, etc.
If the investigator doesn't take the time to document parts of the case then the entire case could be jeopardized. If the reports aren't filled out, then that information will be lost forever. Worst yet,  a poorly documented case opens it up to rightful criticism by the defense counsel. They will point out that certain things weren't documented because they were exculpatory- meaning they would eliminate his/her client as a possible suspect. If it wasn't recorded, it never occurred.

4. Not taking enough photographs.
The old mantra of a crime scene techs that I used to work with was, "Film is free." The case investigator is the one that will be explaining themselves in a courtroom, so they need to learn how to take charge. You can never have enough photographs. More is better, for sure. Photographs play an important role as demonstrative evidence in a courtroom, a memory aid for investigators, a reference for cold case detectives and the opportunity to identify something that was originally missed.

5. Not identifying secondary or tertiary crime scenes.
The primary crime scene is always where the initial incident talk place, unless it was a homicide, then it is where the body was found. Once again, the investigator cannot operate with blinders on. For instance, if the location is a "dump site" (murdered elsewhere and left the body in another location) then you would have to think that a vehicle was probably used, therefore another potential crime scene. Other areas to think about are points of entry and egress, alleys, rooftops,  elevator landings, staircases, etc. An investigator should always think of potential secondary and tertiary crime scenes in every case.

6. Taking crime scene photos with people standing in the background.
Nothing screams crime scene contamination or mismanagement more than rolls of film with both uniformed officers and investigators standing in the midst of the scene- some for no apparent reason. Crime scene photos should be taken when the scene is as pristine as possible. The proper way a crime scene should be documented is: photo, sketch, search and collect.

By no means is this an all inclusive list of what could go wrong at a crime scene, however, these are the six (6) most likely scenarios. In addition, I have one more tip to share and it has to do with EMTs. Always ask the EMTs to clean their belongings up before leaving the scene. If not, you run the risk of having blue gloves, plastic wrappings, bandage wrappings, etc. flying around your crime scene. Also, if possible, ask them not to cut through the bullet/knife holes in the victim's shirt when they are removing his/her clothes.

References: Joseph L. Giacalone, ret. NYPD Det. Sgt. http://joegiacalone.net/cold-case-squad/
The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry.
Guy Olivieri, Det., Woodbridge PD

We hope this helps when writing about crime scenes. There is no need to make things up to create drama; following the rules of reality makes for more tension because it's more difficult than whipping stuff out of your imagination. (Remember when I opened this 4 part series with "Truth is stranger than fiction"?) Plus, you run the risk of an expert (like Guy!) who know what you're writing is false and they may just call you on it. Nothing irks a savvy reader more than an author who doesn't present a well-written, true-to-life (not including fantasies/scifi) book. Make it believable, make it true!

Give them nothing but the facts-

 Char

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Just the Facts, Nothing Else.

"You have the right to remain silent!"

We've seen this situation in so many movies, books, and tv programs. And we think we know how it goes.

Wrong.

Using information provided by forensic crime scene detective Guy Olivieri, my partner 'in crime' at the NJ SCBWI annual conference in June, we're going to dispel the erroneous information that Hollywood has led you to believe is how the real world works and that shows up in (too) many novels.

As soon as an officer asks you a question, you do NOT get a Miranda warning. Take A.I.M. for the truth- Arrest > Interrogation > Miranda. Officers are allowed to question you at the scene, in the car, where ever because you are not under arrest. Clues and valuable information are gathered just by 'chatting' and police are not required to Mirandize you until you are officially under arrest and are being interrogated.

Another thing Hollywood gets wrong, says Guy, is that forensic evidence is not always available. Crime savvy criminals know to wear gloves a lot of the time. Add to that it takes sometimes months for evidence to be analyzed and run through various databases for 'hits' (where it matches up with other crimes or people). And if there is no DNA or fingerprints on file, there can be no comparison. (My mom wouldn't be in any database, but I would because I was fingerprinted when I applied for a teaching job. Guess I'll have to get her to do the foul deed....).

The way matches are made, he explained, is prints are taken and uploaded into the State Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) or the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) which is connected to the FBI. This system has access to 70 million criminal fingerprints, and 34 million civil fingerprints (if you're a teacher, government worker, etc. and had your prints taken for security purposes, you're in. With me.). It takes around 20 minutes to compare a card with 10 fingerprints to others in the system. For a single print, it takes a bit longer, around 45 minutes, if the fingerprint quality is good. Sounds good, right? Not all police departments have access to the system. Between lack of access to technology and understaffing for the time-consuming and tedious evidence collection and analysis, most crimes aren't solved more quickly, and some not at all.

One thing that drives Guy crazy is when a show has detectives getting fingerprints off clothing or other rough surfaces. Not happening, unless your novel is a sci fi and they've developed technology in the future that can do this.

Like fingerprints, DNA is collected. There are 15 million samples-and there are 7.5 billion people. Odds are against a match unless your perp is already in the system. However, all prison inmates must surrender to DNA and fingerprint sampling, and now some states require both DNA and fingerprint samples be taken especially from suspects in violent crimes.

RIP chalk outline guy. Unless you're writing a 1920s murder mystery, he's long dead and gone.

Blood spatter: There are various types. Transfer is from the source (victim) which is moved by a handprint, foot print, etc. Passive is when it drips or runs by itself. High velocity looks like it was sprayed with a mister, medium velocity has larger drops and splatter, and arterial spurt looks like someone spurted ketchup against the wall. (Unscientific, I know, but it helps give you an idea).


If you want to determine the direction of where a blood spot originated, the formula is: Angle = SIN-1 (Width/Length). Yeah, don't ask me, it's been decades since I did that kind of math. If the spot is elongated (looks like it has a tail, kind of like a comet), the tail points in the direction of travel.

Finally, here are some terms relating to the stages of death (more than just rigor. Who knew death was so complicated?).

Pallor mortis - a paleness that presents in light-skinned or white people within 15-25 minutes after death because there is no circulation.

Algor mortis - lowering of body temperature after death.

Rigor mortis - After 3 hours, the body begins to stiffen, reaching the maximum stiffness after 12 hours. This disappears about 3 days later.

Livor mortis - when all the blood settles in the lowest part of the body, creating a purplish-red discoloration. Even if the body is moved, the discoloration remains.

Decomposition, the breaking down of the body, occurs next, followed by skeletonization.

Next week, the final part: mistakes for writers to avoid.

Char

*Above information, except for my notations, were obtained from Det. Olivieri's extensive knowledge and his handout, Scene of the Crime: How Experts Handle A Crime Scene. He lists The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry and Det. Sgt. Joseph L. Giacalone, ret., http://joegiacalone.net/cold-case-squad/ as his sources.