Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Did I do that murder right?

I wanted to do something a little different for this post… Something that may seem a little odd on the Romance Magician’s Blog… 

How many authors look at their stories and go “Did I do that murder right?” “Is this how a crime scene really looks?” “What do they look for when looking at the bones?” If you say a handful you would be wrong. Technology is rapidly changing and for a writer that’s the fun part. Researching all of the changes take time, and can cause an author to rip her/his hair out. In the end though, it makes a stronger story. It brings the reader in, so it can be enjoyed. So the reader can live in the author’s world. I have written before about the writer’s toolkit. This time I’m going to write about the Forensics’ toolkit.

In the world of Forensics there are many different paths that one can take. You have a Crime Scene Investigator, a chemist, a Forensic Anthropologist, etc. These are all vastly different paths; however, each one tells their own tale. Each one adds an important part to the story. Each one has their own story.

Years ago I was able, as part of a college class trip, to tour a Naval Criminal Investigative Services facility. Some of the coolest tools in the world reside their. One of the things that stuck out to me the most though, was that one person had one job. They had a person that would interrogate suspects, a person that would analyze items from a crime scene, etc. The Field Agent Afloat for my ship was my instructor. That was the first time that I learned just how important research could be.

Imagine as a reader you know exactly how all of the equipment works, but an author uses the wrong word. You’re stuck on that. You can’t move past it. The writer is supposed to learn, research, and add to their world by knowing yours. Now, imagine you are delving into the ever popular world of Forensic Anthropology. You are competing with the likes of Kathy Reichs, Lee Childs (yes, some of his work touches this), Kay Scarpetta, etc. These are big names to live up to. You want to do it right. First, learn the bones. Yes, all 270, which is how many bones we are born with. The human body loses bones as we age. Why? Because our bones fuse together over time. This makes Osteology extremely important.

Next, learn what all can be done with Forensic Anthropology. It’s an absolutely amazing field! New things are being learned as technology advances. Criminal Profilers, F.B.I. Agents, Forensic Pathologists, etc are all using forms of Forensic Anthropology. As technology advances they can tell you things like how old a person was, whether an injury occurred near death or years before, how tall a person was, long term obesity, potential pregnancy, possible cause of death, and so on. 

The general exam can give an overview of time of death, entrance wounds/exit wounds, and general appearance. For a Forensic Anthropologist though, the good stuff begins with bones that have been cleaned. In order to clean the bones they use detergents to clean, by boiling them. I can tell you that you never forget the smell of bones boiling. It sticks with you. Once the bones are clean though, you can see fracture patterns. This can give you an opportunity to look at what might have caused an injury, the force behind it, or the weight applied.

However, even with everything that can be determined from a set of remains… The evidence found is only as good as the first responders are. If they are careful with the crime scene then it will be easier for a review of the remains to be conducted. There’s a thought that we never leave something completely undisturbed. Upon going into a room/site you always take something and leave something behind. The same goes for a crime scene; therefore, it pays to be extra cognizant of this fact. Especially when writing scenes that detail your investigator without putting gloves on. That always makes me want to scream.

Keep in mind that the bones are the roadmap of someone’s life. It pays to respect their roadmap. As a writer that respect is just as important. Surround yourself with tools of the trade like bone manuals. In fact, the Human Bone Manual is one of the most important research manuals that you can purchase. 

Now, here’s a little tip. If you want to showcase bones from a war zone in your story, depending upon how long the war’s been going on, your remains might show striations upon the long bones as evidence to malnutrition. Or old healed fractures could showcase a survivor of domestic violence. Human Osteology can even show whether or not someone is who they are believed to be. For example, the famous mafia hit man that suffered a compound fracture of the femur as a child; however, the body being examined doesn’t show such a fracture… Then you might still have a hit man running around somewhere out there.

These are just a few things that can be examined in the course of a murder mystery or suspense thriller. A few aspects of each can even be tossed into other genres, mixed and matched until it’s a perfect storm of suspense and intrigue. While it’s important to tell the story as your characters want it told, it’s even more important to tell it where the readers are swept away by it.

Now, as a parting question. What is your favorite forensic character (any aspect of forensics) and why?

Monday, May 04, 2015

Editor's/Reader's Perceptions

I always take something away from edits on my stories and sometimes it's not what I expected at all. Usually I kind of can tell when I have an issue with some part of the story or where I think I didn't give enough page time to certain parts of the action. When the editor tells me I need to beef up a section, I can pretty much predict that I was going to get pinged in that part. LOL

The things that make me shake my head and say, "Hmmm, I never thought of that" are things the reader/editor takes from their own life experiences.  I have a couple of examples to share.

In a story I have that is no longer (yet) available since the publisher closed, the hero's name is Jackson Hughes. Having early on decided that the hero was going to be the brother of a hero in another story, I had his last name already in my head. As I was writing, though, I needed a first name for him. The heroine doesn't know his name for a while so I didn't start the story knowing what it was. When it came time for him to tell her his name, I glanced around my living room at the horde of teenage boys hanging out with my son and picked his pal, Jackson. It was a good name to go with Hughes so I nabbed it.

Imagine my shock when I got my edits back and the editor commented, "Is he supposed to be Hugh Jackman?"  HUH??  I confess, I had to think about think about that for a minute before it sunk in.  Nope, I totally DID NOT have Wolverine in my head when I wrote this story. I had to laugh when I wondered how many readers would hit on the same thing.

On another recent story- one that I am working on edits right now on- I gave the villain the last name of Bates. I did this because I had been dealing with a lawyer with that last name in my day job and he was driving me crazy calling me. When I got the comment from the editor, "Great reference to Bates Motel" - I laughed aloud. Again, I never even thought of that. I needed a last name and this one was at the forefront of my brain so I grabbed it. I DO hope readers make this connection because that would be awesome cool. What "badder"  bad guy is there than Norman Bates in Psycho?

What about you? Anything you've seen as a reader that you wonder if the author had double meaning? Or you as an author didn't intend but readers/editors took away from your work?

OH, and since it's May 4th, May the Fourth be with you! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Novel Interview -

Engaging Novel Interview

Instead of interviewing an author or writing about my own work, I will interview a Southern Magic author’s novel. This will work basically like a book review, except it will only cover the first 16 sentences of the novel. See if you can guess what story this is, and who wrote it.

Throughout the endless, hot summer of 1864, Isabelle Ryan Holloway had watched her entire world crumble around her like the parched, red Georgia clay. Her heart plummeted to the toes of her well-worn shoes as she, her mother, Caroline, brother, Grayson, and Uncle Hewlett, the grizzled old manservant who’d attended her father until his death, walked up from the servants’ quarters to take back possession of her house.

“They’ve cut down every tree,” she cried. A jagged stump remained where an oak once stood her father had planted as a boy.

“They used them for firewood,” Uncle Hewlett murmured. “Some of the chairs, too.”

Isabelle squeezed her eyes shut against the sight of the charred remains of one of her dining room chairs her Grandmother Ryan had imported from England.
How many happy, carefree meals had her family shared, seated on those very chairs, when her father and grandparents still lived?

It was as if those chairs represented a different time. A time before war had come to Georgia, before the Yankees had come winding up the drive at Clover Bottom, like a writhing snake, poised to strike. Soldiers on foot, on horseback. Wagon after wagon—all filled with wounded.

She’d faced the Federals down, pitchfork in hand, but in the end, she’d had little other choice than to acquiesce, and give them the house to use as a hospital, or risk losing it to their torches. There’d been so many men. So many blue coats interspersed with the less common, colorful Yankee Zouave uniforms. And if, on that fateful day, they’d charged her, there hadn’t been much she could have done other than add a couple more wounded to their number. Further resistance had been futile.
(16-sentence exert)

1.     Does it connect the reader with the protagonist? Yes. I connected to Isabelle and felt her sorrow. The hopelessness and helplessness of being in a war torn area surrounded by the enemy.

2.     What is happening? Isabelle and her mother, brother, and uncle are sneaking in the back door of her home to take back control.

3.     Is it dramatized? Yes. Her heart breaks at seeing their dining room furniture used as firewood and the desolation of the countryside.

4.     Does the action move the story forward? Yes. Isabelle and crew are sneaking in the house through the servants’ entrance. The scene is described but not overly done – it was engaging.

5.     Does what happens have consequences? Yes. This little revolt could cause the Union Army to burn Isabelle’s house as punishment for resisting or she and her family would be added to the list of causualties.

6.     Does the protagonist do something? Yes. Isabelle walks then pauses to mourn the burned tree and furniture, setting the surrounding scene as they journey from the slaves quarters to the big house.

7.     Does the protagonist desire something? Yes. Isabelle wants her home back and for the men to quit destroying life as she knew it.

8.     Is the action current? Yes, for the most part. This is a mix of current action and remembrance of what led to this. It sets the overall scene in an effective way.

9.     Is there enough setting? Yes. I see the plantation in my mind with everything bare around it because the wagons and troops have destroyed everything but the house.

10. Does what happen raise a story question? Yes. Does she succeed in running out the army or does she lose her home? Or, is she put to a different purpose now that she is rebelling against the reigning army? Since the home is used as a hospital, does she fall prey to the men inside? Lots of questions to be answered. This is a historical so we know the big picture of events, but we don’t know what happens on the individual level.

I give the start of this story a full 10 points because all questions were answered with a yes. So, what do you think? Is this a story that you’d like to read? I’m intrigued myself and want to know how it ends. The author has graciously agreed to award the story free to one luck individual. Post a comment to qualify. Below are the Novel name and a short summary as well as the Author Bio.

Hope you enjoy my review,
Philisha Byrd Stephens