Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Crime Writers Homicide Investigation School

I'm a real straight-arrow so I never meet the "nose-picking, booger-eatin' morons" Sgt Derek Pacifico talked about in his Homicide Investigation school for Crime Writers last weekend in Covina, California.

For a long time I've been collecting "stupid criminal stories", but Derek topped them all. I just never meet AHs (figure it out) who shoot somebody in the face and think they don't die.

A group of us at the California Crime Writers' Conference in June 2011 heard him give a 4-hour presentation on Interview and Interrogation techniques and were spellbound. We wanted more and he dished it up for us.

Pacifico was funny, serious, thoughtful and thought-provoking. As a law enforcement trainer he's travelled the country teaching the same material to cops. He's worked Homicide Detail as well as all the other facets of police work and now is a Sergeant with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office.

He liked us because we wanted to learn and didn't sit there, arms crossed, giving off testosterone fumes, and the attitude of "Yeah, dude, go ahead. Teach me something I don't know." He was honest and forth-coming about what really lies behind the crime scene tape.

We liked him because he's just plain likeable. From video clips we saw he's got a line of jokey, rapport-building bullshit with criminals in the interrogation room that got him a lot of confessions. I can see why.

The case studies were particularly interesting because they provided a reconstruction of what first just looked like confusion--and probably was. We learned the tedium of stringing a scene and blood, bugs and graves. It's not exciting the way it is on TV.

He's talking about setting up a conference of some length just for crime writers bringing in experts he teaches and works with. Where? To be decided.

I can't wait.

Check him out at Global Training Institute. http://www.crimewriters.globaltraininginstitute.com/HOMICIDE_SCHOOL.html See also Jude McGee's write-up for Ransom Notes. http://judemcgee.com/2010/05/homicide-or-murder-sgt-pacifico-tells-it-like-it-is/comment-page-1/#comment-37

PS Sorry I can't figure out how to link in this software.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Saved by a quarter hour

It’s been a long hot, humid summer and the crisp fall air can’t come soon enough.

As one of those individuals who suffers in torrid atmospheric conditions – my brain turns to mush – I admit my resolve to finish to my writing project by the autumn has suffered tremendously: from ennui, sluggish holiday recovery, family crises, procrastination and laziness. Should I give it up? It certainly feels like it.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve been carrying a host of characters around in my head, trying to finish this MS for what seems like eons. Life keeps breaking out around me, throwing up challenges and problems, hassles and calamities. I’m getting a bit tired of these make-believe creatures. They clamor to set about and do things, make pronouncements and go off on tangents. And as prepared as I am to bow to their wishes, I’m supposed to be somewhere else - in real time - in fifteen minutes, or half an hour. And so they wait, impatient, and displaying characteristics I have not yet assigned to them.

What to do? Karen Blake-Hall, our fearless writing group leader, is a firm believer in the fifteen-minutes-a-day regime, especially if you’re on the run. But I write in chunks, I say. What on earth could I achieve in fifteen minutes?

Well, Karen, I’m a convert. You can achieve a lot in fifteen minutes. And the best accomplishment is regaining your momentum. It doesn’t take much. Fifteen stretches to a half hour; a half hour is suddenly an hour. And if tomorrow is busy?

Fifteen minutes will do. You stay in touch with your work. You quiet those characters for a bit and seize control once more.

Mired. Stuck. Blocked. Whatever it is, it seems to just take a nudge – fifteen minutes at a time. At least for now.

Bring on the cool air. My head needs clearing.

Killing is Murder

The coming theme of the National Crime Writing Month Blog is "50 Ways to Kill Your Lover".

At the risk of jumping the gun, committing murder on paper isn't as easy as it looks. Here are 7 ways NOT to kill your lover.

  1. Shoot your lover point blank - GSR is a bitch to get out of your clothes.
  2. Shoot your lover at a distance with a hand gun - unless you have practice, chances are you'll miss.
  3. Stab your lover through the heart - again, not as easy as it looks. You have to get past the ribs and actually find the heart.
  4. Stab your lover anywhere without making a mess. While inflicting a mortal wound isn't too difficult. It's much harder to stab without causing a long and noisy death.
  5. Bludgeon your lover anywhere without making a mess. It isn't just that blood splatter. It's the negative images where parts of your body gets in the way of the blood splatter. You can get rid of your clothes, but its hard to get rid of walls.
  6. Strangle, smother, or any other method that requires brute strength unless your murderer is very strong or your victim is very weak or incapacitated. (There's a reason women traditionally use poison except...)
  7. Drug overdose - if you want an instant death. Drugs and ingested poisons take time to work. They're also messy because the body tries to purge the toxins. I found a way around this in my next book, but first I had to be lectured by a medical friend of mine who read an early draft. (More about that when I write for the NCWM blog.)
Of course, any of these obstacles can be overcome which brings us to "How Real Investigation Don't Work Like CSI" - but that's another story.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Honouring A Reading Companion

Like many avid book lovers, I do not often read alone. My life has been rich with cats, from Snooker in Ottawa, to Smudge and Tart through high school, to Manon, Syzygy, and Synergy. Manon passed away last week, but only after being the centre of a number of legendary stories. This is the story of how she spent her twilight days.

My elderly cat, Manon, has decided to spend her remaining days as Manon, Queen of the Balcony.
On the July long weekend, I took her out to soak in the sun. I get direct light from 7-9 a.m. We’ve done this for years.

But this time, when I brought her in, she hopped down, and like a kitten, scooted between my legs to go back out before I could close the door!

It was warm, I was home, and she wasn’t going to have heatstroke as the sun had passed, so I let her stay out. About noon, she started crying by the sliding door.

I went to check on her. She gave me a Look, and moved into Attitude Meowing.

I finally got the message: “Oh, useless Servant, bring me my repast!”

So she ate out there, napped, eliminated, napped. At dusk I brought her in and she vaguely remembered that her previous favourite pastime was sitting on me while I read.

But the next morning, after having her Iam’s with a side of yogurt, she was at the door, donning her Regal Ways. I let her out, and hours later had to drag her in so I could do errands. As soon as I returned, she went back out.

By the Monday night, when I brought her in, she did a sit-in by the screen door, wailing. I had to turn off the AC, and have the maximum screen door in use (with a temp litter box handy) so she could sleep by her Queendom.

Tuesday, I had to go to work. She belligerently threatened to have the SPCA called for animal cruelty if I didn’t let her out for the day.

She’s 19, diagnosed with oral cancer (the vet agreed we’ll just do hospice, with no intervention), so who am I to say she can’t spend her last days how she pleases? She does let me bring her in for the odd hour of reading, and a couple of nights she’s agreed to sleep with me. She is one happily retired kitty!

However, her Queendom and powers of persuasion are expanding. I think she has cowed the Weather Gods, as it has not rained ONE DROP since she took up her new residence. (3 weeks!)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

NaNoWriMo from a writer's viewpoint

I've done NaNo a couple of times. As a writer, I discovered a lot about myself and my story. You discover if you have endurance or not. Yes, endurance, not how long you can run before you succumb to muscle fatigue but how long can you sit in a chair before you become numb from the waist down? 

The next thing you discover is whether you prefer M & M's or Reese's pieces and cola or coffee? Remember you are pushing to write as many words as you can each day so stopping for food slows you down.

The hardest thing for me to discover was that the family could actually operate without Mommy. This is both a  blessing and a curse. It's great that I've raised the kids to be self-sufficient but it hurts my feelings that they are.

So Jill, here are some other questions to ask the authors of your panel.

- M & M's or Reese's Pieces, cola or coffee?
- Are you prepared for your characters to veer off your storyboard and go their own way?
- Food, do you have your freezer full of quick to cook meals?

Have fun and good luck to all participating in this year's NaNo.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Don't Lecture Me! It's all about Entertainment

The other day, an American interviewer challenged me about the purpose of fiction; should it always contain a moral message?  Specifically, should crime fiction?

My instant answer:  No No No!  The purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.

Why?  We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave.  Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets, that expose us to the ‘evil’ of greedy politicians, nasty world despots and out of control celebrities. 

If fiction – and crime fiction in particular – was required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much.  If the good guy always won – if the bad guy always got caught – wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?

Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something?  Of course it can!  Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours.  Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist.  Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.

Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while.  But above all else, entertain me.  Don’t preach at me, even from a distance.  I don’t want it from my fiction.

Just tell me a damn good story, thank you.  Take me out of the real world for a few hours.

That’s the purpose of crime fiction.

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at
Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin Books) is available at Amazon.ca, Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.. 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

If you were just beginning...

I'm planning an October panel discussion of published authors, as a prelude to "NaNoWriMo" (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to be as useful as possible to people who are going to begin (many for the first time) writing a novel. The format will be that a moderator will ask the authors 5 or 6 questions, letting each author take a few minutes to reply to each one.

Possible questions:
  • What is your writing schedule?
  • Where do you write and what tools, machinery, music do you have there?
  • How do you begin - story boarding, outlining, character sketches...?

    Think back to when you were beginning. What did you need to know? What was interesting, what was inspiring, what helped?

    What else should I ask?

  • Tuesday, 9 August 2011

    We Are Not Alone...

    The online universe is still expanding. There were many wonderful mystery blogs going strong when Write On Mystery was set up. Indeed, we couldn’t even go with our first three choices for blog name!

    Here is just ONE of the mystery blog lists I came across: http://www.invesp.com/blog-rank/Mystery_Novels#google1

    My first real experience with a mystery blog was with the Ladykillers, top Mystery Book Blog 2010. http://www.theladykillers.typepad.com/ This is an impressive blog, with author photos, links to websites, appearances, advance promotion of upcoming blog topics, and guest bloggers. Very nice that you don’t have to be a member to comment. They get several responses to most of their entries.

    Another attractive blog, http://mysterysuspence.blogspot.com/2011/07/mystery-crime-fiction-blog-carnival_31.html, has been around since 2009. This one focuses on reviews. They have over 400 members, and interviews with the likes of Jan Burke and L. J. Sellers.

    A Canadian contribution to the sub-genre is http://mysterymavencdn.blogspot.com/. They use lots of photos, including latest book cover of the blogger.

    The Cozy Mystery List blog comes up often when using Google. It’s a simpler format, focused on the cozy sub-genre of mysteries. http://www.cozy-mystery.com/blog/

    Using the theory that we are all one big supportive community, I encourage you to check out these blogs, and find more wonderful ones. Post there if you like, and if appropriate plug Write On Mystery.

    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    Defining Success

    How do you define your success?

    Success is defined in the dictionary as: degree or measure of succeding; favourable or desired outcome. As writers we define success as a contracted book but there are more ways for us to count our successes.

    One of the ways I count my success is writing one hundred words a day. They have to be new words so when I do editing I still have to write my hundred words a day. Now you might say that's not much of a challenge but I usually don't stop at a hundred words. I get two or three pages done each day, more on days I don't go to work but if all I get is two pages every day for seven days, then I have fourteen pages or a chapter every week. At the end of the year, I've written fifty-two chapters. Whoo! Whoo! for me.

    Accountability is another way to measure success. Another group has word count Wednesday. Now that means that every Wednesday you post your success. Now many words have you written? Have you entered a contest? Have you submitted to an editor or an agent? In othe words, what have you actually done for your writing career for that week.

    In another writing group we have success bracelets. Now what sister doesn't want a lovely bracelet with each step of her writing career symbolized by a charm? I'm typing this article and looking at the way my charm bracelet reflects the light. It's a wonderful measure of success.

    I hope I've given you some ideas that you can incorporate into defining your success as a writer.

    Series entries

    I just finished the new Sookie Stackhouse short story in Home Improvement: Undead Edition (edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner). The short stories in the Sookie Stackhouse series have been interesting. Some have depicted pivotal events (such as Sookie being informed of her cousin's death), others have seemed as if they might lead to whole new and amazing story lines (such as Sookie sleeping with a shape-changing fairy - which seems to have had no consequences, at least so far...does anyone know what gestation period would be likely?), this story may have introduced a new ongoing character, or added another complication for Sookie if anyone searches her land. If we gained new insight into any character, it may have been J.B.!

    In Dark and Stormy Knights (edited by P.N. Elrod) the new Harry Dresden story by Jim Butcher is fun, introduces a new character who may be a player in the series future, and shows us a side of Harry that we already know, but that we love. I have to say that my favorite short story of the last few years was "The Warrior" by Jim Butcher published in Mean Streets. Lovely entry in the series, character growth for Harry, and a different view of the series (and the world) for the reader!

    The latest Jim Butcher novel, Ghost Story, is an interesting series entry. Some entries in series are game changers, others circle back to the status quo, and some seem like second halves of the story told in the previous book. Ghost Story seemed to me to be the second half of Changes, and the two together are a game changer in the series. Changes raised some disturbing ethical questions about Harry. In Ghost Story some of the questions raised are answered, and the story (the entire series) can move forward in a new direction. Nicely done! This is not the book that one should use as an introduction to the series, but it is essential for those who follow Harry Dresden.

    The series entry I'm anxiously awaiting is the "Ivan" book in the Vorkosigan saga. If anyone is interested in a taste of the Lois McMaster Bujold series, there are links to free "samples" from the series in the Baen Free Library:

    The Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning"


    and one of the prime entry-point books for the Vorkosigan series, The Warrior's Apprentice.


    Monday, 1 August 2011

    Dog days and holidays

    A week by the sea – not a thought spared for writing, even emails – and there’s a curious lightness to my being, a certain liberty from all things cerebral that is enlightening and emancipating.

    A more enterprising would-be writer would count a holiday as a break to really get down to some serious writing. Not me. I’d rather relish the things that live and play outside my head, rather than the characters that inhabit it daily, crying out for dialogue, action, plot.

    So, I’ve come home. They haven’t. They’ve been away, too, God knows where, and at this point I don’t really care. It’s hot, the AC isn’t strong enough, my desk sits in direct sunlight. An added fan brings some relief, yet still my hot brain doesn’t want to write. I’m still on a beach. My toes are in the sand, my head under a straw hat. My heart is still cooling itself in the ocean. I no more want to sweat it out with a passel of words that need re-arranging and rewriting than do the proverbial flight to the moon.

    My characters all live in England. It’s November there, it’s rainy a lot of the time, and there’s angst and a few murders to be solved. They’re all wearing wool suits and good stout shoes and it’s cold. There’s fog, drizzle and each home, office or building they enter and inhabit is damp, moldy, and without central heat. All in all, it’s a world away from our hot summer. A bit of cold damp is highly appealing right now, but how to get there? How to recapture the presence and personalities of those characters that were carefully produced and assembled in my head? I’ve missed their foibles and strengths, curiosity and courage, but I’m reluctant, in these dog days of our brief summer, to plunge into their world again.

    Those experts are right: One must write every single day, otherwise you risk losing your momentum, your flow, your initiative. Seems mine went out with the tide and didn’t return.

    But write I must, heat or no heat. The people in my head seem to be returning, even as I plunk away here at the keyboard, and they’re beginning to hammer at the door to my overheated creativity. They want out again. They want to get back to work. They tell me they were at the seaside, too, walking the beach, dining out, gazing at stars, breathing that energizing sea air. They enjoyed the break from the November rain, they say. Now it’s time to get back to solving those appalling murders. Fun is fun, but justice is far more important, they say. So get over it and get back to it.

    The dog days, at least for now, seem to be over. So are my holidays.