Showing posts with label Mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mystery. Show all posts

Monday, July 17, 2017

Brought Down by Her Heaving Bosom - Helping Writers Write it Right

(Photo credit: Wikipedia

When I joined the Search and Rescue team, I was given a mentor, Brian, to help me get off to a good start. Having been a Girl Scout leader for over a decade, I already had some expertise in the woods and most of the necessary equipment on hand. One day, Brian came over to my house to inspect the survival pack I’d put together. As we walked to the side door, he stopped to look at my rhododendron in its full display of beautiful violet blooms. Hands on hips, shaking his head, he asked why I had planted it. The truth was that I’d received the bush as a gift when my third child was born. It had been a barely-alive bush in a gallon bucket and now, twenty years later, I loved that the plant had grown to the same height as Kid #3. That bush was a source of pride. I didn’t understand the sour look on Brian’s face as we moved into the house.

Fast forward a few months. I totally understand that look on Brian’s face. I haterhododendrons. Rhododendrons are the bane of Virginia searches. In order to fully clear an area, a searcher has to climb through these long obstacle course bushes that seem to be created by the devil himself so he can laugh at us.

Worse than those darned rhododendrons? Briars. Sheets of briars. Curtains of briars. Briars that snag at our clothes, wrap into our packs, swipe hats from our heads and glasses from our faces. There’s no going around the briars. When you’re walking a grid, searching for clues, it’s straight through.

The last time I was out on a search, Brian happened to be searching next to me in a swamp. He put his hand on a tree trunk to help him balance as he scooted under the briars and past the rhododendron when BOOM! The entire tree–and I’m talking about a tree with a three-foot trunk circumference–went crashing down. That’s why I now call him Paul Bunyan. Paul and I stood looking at the tree for about a nanosecond before we were off searching again. On that particular day, with the temperatures in the nineties and the humidity at eighty percent, the mosquitos found our sweaty faces particularly delicious. If we stopped, they swarmed.

Despite what I’ve just written, I truly enjoy being on the Search and Rescue team. It’s not easy, but it is important. I’m honored to be part of a such a dedicated group of people. Also, I have to admit, I like it for the misery factor. Yes, you read that right. Believe me, there’s not a masochistic cell in my body. But professionally, it’s necessary for me to understand just how miserable a mission can be. It’s important for me to know how the brambles wrap my ankles to trip me. To struggle to stay positive, smiling, and kind to those around me as the heat beats down on my head. To feel the weight of my pack after five hours traipsing up and down the mountain side. I need to find where the blisters form (and it’s not where you’d think). I believe that first-hand knowledge, even if it’s only the tiniest glimmer of reality, helps my writing be more vivid and correct.

Imagine reading a book in which the heroine was saved by a retired SEAL. He swept her romantically into his arms. She clung to his neck as he cradled her against his chest. Then, he ran five miles through the jungle to safety. I’d be laughing so hard, I’d be crying. Though I’m certain that wouldn’t be the emotion the author was going for.

Sure, if I was in the backcountry and someone was strafing the area with their AK on full auto, I’d try my darndest to get myself out of Dodge. Running though? Hmm. Consider the obstacles of wayward vegetation: falling trees, vines, stumps and roots… Consider that the ground is almost never flat under foot. Consider that the debris that falls to the ground is not only slippery, but it hides holes. Deep holes. Now imagine the hero stagger-running forward — a sixty-pound pack on his back, a damsel draped (beautifully) in his arms. He can’t see where he’s putting his feet past her heaving bosom. She must weigh a good hundred and twenty pounds. Readers, have you been to the gym? Have you seen the guys with their Rambo-muscles lifting a hundred and twenty pounds? Does that look easy? (I swear, Hubby, I’m just looking at the men’s muscles for research purposes.)

Notwithstanding that hundred and eighty pounds of extra weight, our hero is running full tilt. Dodging bullets. Scrambling through the foliage — Please note, there are one thousand seven hundred and sixty yards in a mile. In five miles, this guy has to sprint a football field eighty-eight times. With that in mind, that five-mile run might seem unreasonable. In this scenario, the more likely outcome is that after a hundred yards of super-human effort, our hero’s foot goes down into one of the holes. Crack! The hero not only dumps the lady-in-distress onto the (snake and poison ivy covered) ground, but now he’s writhing in agony with a broken leg. His bellows call the bad guys to their location like the sweat on a search and rescue team member’s face calls in the mosquitos.

There’s a reason why SEALs say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” There’s a reason why a SEAL probably wouldn’t be tearing through the jungle. There’s also a reason that writers are told “write what you know.”

And what I know is, it ain’t easy to hack your way through a curtain of briars.

Fiona Quinn's newest series:

The prayer on her lips is JACK Be Quick.

It’s been months since ex-Navy SEAL Jack McCullen last saw his fiancĂ©e, Suz Molloy. He was on the other side of the world involved in a grueling black ops mission for Iniquus Corporation at the behest of the US government. Mission fail meant a special flight home, and an ambulance ride to the hospital where Suz should have been waiting for him.

Devastated by Jack’s last death-defying act of heroism, life quickly takes a turn for the worse for Suz. Terrorists attack the school where Suz teaches first-grade. Suz saves her students’ lives, but her own moment of heroism leads the terrorists to believe she is a CIA operative. Suz is taken hostage.

When Jack rouses from his surgery to find Suz missing, he knows something is very wrong. Led by the psychic “knowings” of his Iniquus colleague, Lynx, Jack risks everything as he desperately tries to reach Suz in time to thwart the terrorists’ plot and save her.

This time, his mission is for more than love of country; it’s for the love of his life - his heart and soul.

You can READ IT NOW!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Who Has Jurisdiction? A Question for Crime Writers with Tina Glasneck

This post was written by ThrillWriting friend Tina Glasneck, who jumped in to help me out as I am furiously trying to meet a deadline for my publisher. So a big thank you and welcome to Tina. Tina's other articles on ThrillWriting are: Paralegals 101  and Prepping the Alleged Perp.

Who has jurisdiction?

Being a part of a writing community provides opportunities that are not always possible to enjoy alone. This past weekend, I attended a wonderful workshop regarding the Cop Culture and the Organizational Differences in Law Enforcement.This workshop was about getting the details right.

There are different branches of law enforcement including, Tribal, Federal, Task Force, State Police, Private Security, Sheriff, Local Police, and even Campus Police. When creating a crime story, a mystery that entails that a crime occurred, it is important for to question jurisdiction, and to know which law enforcement agency might respond.

In understanding the jurisdiction issue (and it is not always based on county, city, state or country lines), let's look at the example of a laptop being stolen. If it happens on a college campus, it’s usually something reported to Campus police, but it could also be reported to the city or county police who have jurisdiction over that campus, based on where the campus is located.

What about the state police? Would they look into something as benign as a stolen laptop? Well, it all depends. For example, in Virginia, Virginia State Police would be called in “to investigate any matter referred by the Governor.” Additionally, “[t]he Attorney General, commonwealth's attorneys, chiefs of police, sheriffs and grand juries may request the Department to investigate matters that constitute Class 1, 2 or 3 felonies.”

Class 1, 2, or 3 felonies include: murder, and malicious wounding, and although it does not include burglary or grand larceny, I think that if it is connected to such a matter, it could then still fall under the perview of the State Police.

Now let’s suppose that this laptop has something egregious on it – say it is connected to a serial killer, and all of his victims, for such a matter the FBI would be quite interested. According to the FBI’s website: “The Bureau concentrates on crime problems that pose major threats to American society. Significant violent crime incidents such as mass killings, sniper murders, and serial killings can paralyze entire communities and stretch state and local law enforcement resources to their limits. Particular emphasis is put on criminal street gangs, bank robberies, carjackings, kidnappings, interstate transportation of stolen property and motor vehicles, assaults and threats of assault on the president and other federal officials, and the theft or destruction of government property. As part of this priority, the FBI also investigates crimes against children, art theft, child prostitution, fugitives and missing persons, and crimes on Indian reservations.”

Can you see where we're going with this? It is not just the object but how it connects to the overall crime.

And what about these organizations working together. Borders do not always stop one law enforcement's jurisdiction. This is called concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means: "The authority of several different courts, each of which is authorized to entertain and decide cases dealing with the same subject matter.”

It is important to understand concurrent jurisdiction, especially in our understanding of the FBI, DEA, and others working in a task force. “In law enforcement, “concurrent jurisdiction” may exist, where a crime may be a local, state, and federal violation all at the same time.” See FBI on task force.

This is where task forces come into play, and there will be agents from multiple agencies on the task force.” Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft. “Ibid. As a side note, the FBI does investigate matters which take place on Tribal land, as well, just as it can have an attache in the embassies located outside of the US borders..

Another jurisdiction to consider is the sovereign jurisdiction of the Tribal nations. The Federally recognized tribes, who have reservations, are their own sovereign nations. While some of these reservations have their own tribal law enforcement officers, those that do not have their own police force use officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). For more information, see BIA.Gov

When writing that next piece and working on solving that next case, consider that question of jurisdiction. Not only do we have to look at the crime itself, but as to the severity of the crime and if concurrent jurisdiction is indeed possible. The theft of this laptop can, from my understanding, be a jumping off point for multiple agencies to get involved in the investigation, and it will depend on the details on who actually takes the lead.

A special thanks to Lilianna Hart and Scott Silverii for leading such a wonderful workshop in making sure us writers get it right, and can take our writing and careers to the next level!

 (Look for Scott Silverii ThrillWriting articles by doing a search at the top right-hand side of this blog)


TINA GLASNECK writes in an array of genres and loves a good story. She appreciates a good cup of coffee, characters that cause visceral responses, and a nice helping of laughter to balance it all out. Learn more about Tina and her writing at

Some things are worth killing for.... Alexandria "Xandy" Caras was charged with murder - a mass murder. The charges were dropped; the case dismissed. Or was it? A serial killer with a "Moses complex" is out for blood - Xandy's blood - and the blood of those who have sinned against the 10 Commandments. The bodies are piling up, and he's getting closer to his number one target: Xandy. Only her death will make it all stop, silencing the deranged killer who thirsts for far more than just revenge.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Helping You Write a Killer Plot - an Interview with a CSI and Death Investigator

Fiona - 
In this article, we will be visiting with Karen Sue Lind who is a certified CSI.  

Karen Sue, can you introduce yourself to us? I'm wondering what brought you to this career and what types of personalities would flourish doing CSI work.

Karen Sue - 
I grew up a mystery fan and read all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon books I could find. When I was 13, a good friend was kidnapped and killed by the serial killer William Bonin, known as the "Orange County Freeway Killer". The loss and quest to understand is what drove my interest in forensics.

I studied Crime Scene Investigation, and Crime Analysis at University of Riverside, California and am a certified Crime Scene Investigator.  

I also have extensive training in collecting and preserving entomology (go HERE for crime scene bug info) specimens having trained under Dr. Neil Haskell. 

I spent 3 years performing autopsies, x-rays, and fingerprint work before promoting to investigator. My official title was Deputy Coroner. It is a sworn and armed position with limited peace officer powers allowing me to protect myself and my crime scene when needed. I spent 8 years in that position, and was a training officer as well. I averaged about 300 cases a year, and that included all types of deaths.

It takes a special kind of person to do my job. The television shows do not, and probably could not, show what it actually does to the soul and the mind. Besides being very gross at times, it is very emotionally draining, and you cannot clear your mind of the things you see.

Fiona - 
Can you talk about that for a moment? On TV, in movies, in books even (where there's a better opportunity to show the dark and the light in a character), the CSI and others on scene are just doing their job; but as psychology advances, we know that there is an enormous price that an individual pays. What systems did you put in place to help you survive doing this very important job?

Karen Sue - 
To do this job, it takes someone with a strong sense of survival. It can be dangerous in the field, and you have to be street smart.

My husband is in his 29th year in law enforcement. I knew that I was not meant to be a cop, but he introduced me to the field of forensics at a civilian level and I went back to school when the kids were older. To survive as a cop's wife, you have to have a strong personality because they are not always available. There is a lot of worry when you have a spouse out there on the street and it makes you stronger.

For some reason my husband and I have known many friends and family who have died unexpectedly or tragically. That has also made me stronger. I have a strong will to survive. I also know what it is like to lose someone close and have so many questions about what happened. It is my desire to help others understand what has happened to their loved ones. That drove me to be the person who helps them find out.

This job is not for everyone. I have heard stories of people who hired onto the coroner's office and not even last past lunch. Some cannot take the gore of the job and others cannot take the emotional pain it inflicts.

Fiona - 
Did you have self-care routines in place? Yoga? Walks alone in the woods? -- Wait, that might spark some distress . . .

Karen Sue -
I am fortunate that my husband as well as several friends, and family members work in related fields so I can talk to them about bad cases and they can understand and support me without me having to go into detail. I also have a couple rescue dogs that are now registered as my emotional support dogs. When I would have a bad day and come home emotionally drained, just interacting with these loving, giving creatures would give me peace and comfort me because they need no details and no explanation.

In the beginning when I first started doing the job, I found myself drawn to watching birthing shows. My husband asked me what was causing me to watch all these shows about babies! I said I think somewhere in my head I am trying to balance all of the death with new innocent life!

I also have multiple hobbies of reading, crafting, and gardening.

Fiona - 
What a beautiful image of you balancing the death and new life. Thank you for that - and don't be surprised if it shows up in one of my books. It's very poignant.

You mentioned dangers in your job and needing street smarts. Can you tell us more about this? In my fictional and research contact with crime scenes, the crime is over and the CSI comes in and does their job. But your answer tells me that you have to both be gathering evidence and looking over your shoulder - do you have an officer guarding you as you work?

Karen Sue - 

In the department that I worked for, we were sworn with limited peace officer powers. We had the option of wearing plain clothes or a complete uniform. Either way, we were always armed. 

I received training in hand to hand self defense. My utility or duty belt (go HERE to learn about a  duty belt) included a baton, pepper spray, handcuffs, and of course my firearm. 

I had quarterly firearm qualifications just as the fully sworn deputies did. I can shoot with either hand, though not at the same level! of course!

Because I investigated all types of deaths, I was in a variety of situations. I also was responsible for notifying the family of the death. (For information about death notification, go HERE) I have been at homicide scenes where the suspect was unknown, and could be one of the family members I had to speak with. I have been at scenes where gang members returned to boast their kill, and the victims gang was waiting as well.

The most dangerous part, where the street smarts come in, would be with notifications. The family members of ex convicts and drug dealers also die, and we are still obligated to find them and notify them the same as anyone else. I worked alone and often found myself in bad neighborhoods in the middle of the night, knocking on doors.

When you knock on the door of a drug dealer at 2 am, and announce Sheriff's office, they do not think you are there to tell them their mother has been in a car accident. They think you are trying to bust them and do not handle it well. I have had to be quick with my words to keep the situation calm and focused.

Also, family members often react badly when they learn of a loved ones death. I have had family members start accusing each other and get physical with each other right in front of me and had to calm them all down with "verbal judo" as I was out numbered and knew drawing one of my weapons would only make it worse. When I got their attention I was able to calm them to the point they apologized to ME! That is where the street smarts and being quick can make the difference between walking out of a scene or becoming a victim as well.

Fiona - 
How did you move from CSI to death investigator? Was that a career path you sought out?

Karen Sue - 
I actually wanted to go into profiling, and started taking classes in that field. The college then began a brand new CSI program, and I added those classes. I was one of the first to complete the certification. My belief was the more knowledge the better. One day my husband learned of an entry level position at the Coroner's unit and suggested I apply to "get my foot in the door". As part of their screening process I had to go there for a day to interact and observe autopsies. Once I was able to look into a body and hold a lung I was hooked!!!

Of course all of my profiling and crime scene training proved useful later on as an investigator! My husband thinks I would have ended up in a medical profession had I not had our kids so young and devoted myself to being a full time mom.

Fiona - 
What was the most surprising thing that came with your shift from field work to lab work? And that begs the question - how much time had you spent (by percentage field v lab in your capacity as CSI?)

Karen Sue - 
Unlike TV, the crime lab has a different crew than the forensic technicians who collect the evidence. 

Even though trained as a CSI, my job at the Coroner's was specific to evidence related to the death itself. If I had a homicide victim of a gunshot for instance, I needed to take note of the caliber of any casings but I did not collect them. The CSI/Forensic Tech did that. Even if there were hairs or other evidence ON the body, I assisted in collection but signed them to the CSI who then delivered and signed them over the Lab tech for analysis.

That is a pet peeve of mine. Unfortunately TV makes it look like any one of us can do all parts of the job, but it does not work that way. There are actually so many different "jobs" involved in the process. Everyone has their part. Even with as many different people involved, it still takes a long time to process evidence. If one of us were doing all the different parts it would take forever. I realize TV has to modify their show to get things done in a timely fashion, but sadly many families think we can also get things done that quickly and we can't.

As for field work verses what I will call "desk time", I would say I spent more time at my desk researching disease, reading through stacks of medical records, speaking with doctors about their patients (my decedent), tracking down long lost family members of transients, researching medications and their side effects, talking with other agency investigators and district attorney investigators as well as writing up my reports.

Not all cases warrant a field response. That is one of the many things I plan to clarify in the website I am working on - how it is decided what happens next with a case.

Fiona -

Let's take a moment and talk about the amazing resource you are developing for us writers.

Karen Sue - 
It will have detailed posts of what I do and why! 

I am almost ready to have my new and improved website up as a source of forensic information for writers as well as interested public. 

There will be photos and details of lividity, stippling, decomposition and decubitus ulcers, as well as entomology information complete with photos of my projects. I will also eventually expand into PTSD in law enforcement, what it is like to be a cops spouse, and provide downloadable forms for emergency information for children and the elderly, especially those that live alone.

The website is 

Fiona - 
Here are some photos that Karen Sue took of a staged crime scene - (that's an actor not a real victim).You can find the link just look under "blogs I follow" on my right toward the bottom my sidebar.

Fiona - 
Was it ever an issue in court that you were a death investigator but not a physician?

Karen Sue - 
It has not been so far - for me anyway. I am very careful about how I write my reports. I make it clear that my observations at the scene are external and sometimes presumed until autopsy. In the first couple of years as a tech, I worked many autopsies. I knew from that experience that the Forensic Pathologist would do the dissection of the organs and make the final cause of death report. My job as an investigator was to determine MANNER and the pathologist determined CAUSE OF DEATH. They are 2 separate things but go hand in hand for the death certificate.

Fiona - 
Readers - for more about autopsies, medical examiners and dead bodies go to the DEATH DO US PART tab in the archives above.

Karen - I know that you've left the field now, but did you like doing your job?

Karen Sue -
When people asked me that, I have always replied that I love my job. I worked hard to get the job. People assume I mean I love the gore and such; however, what I LOVE is helping people at the worst time of their life. I have been there myself. My own father committed suicide by gunshot, and I was the one who found him. I HAVE BEEN THERE, and I know how it feels. 

I am grateful for the strength and opportunity to help others when they are in that position. I feel the family members left in shock DESERVE someone who will answer their questions with compassion.

Fiona - 
And finally, here on ThrillWriting it is a tradition that you share a scar story.

Karen Sue - 
I would say my biggest scars are emotional and come from child cases. I have autopsied children as well as worked field investigations of child related deaths. Every case effected me in some way, but the children left the deepest emotional scars. 

One case that stands out to me was of a young boy. He was playing outside and a neighbor's puppy got loose and ran over to the yard where the boy was playing. His father had just stepped inside to get something. The boy was frightened of the puppy who just wanted to play. The boy began to run and the puppy chased him. They both ran out into the street from between parked vehicles. A truck, being driving by a young man in his early 20's was driving down the street at that very moment and unable to stop in time struck both the boy and the puppy. The driver was not speeding, was NOT under the influence and not distracted. He simply could not stop in time. What really got to me was that no one was doing anything wrong. The puppy just wanted to play. The boy was scared. His father was not negligent and was only inside a minute. The driver was not doing anything wrong. And yet here are multiple families who have no other connection but this horrible tragedy and it was nobody’s fault. There was no one to get justifiably angry at. Even the owners of the puppy had done their best but puppies are escape artists. The puppy owners happened upon the death scene as they were out looking for their puppy. I had to tell them not only was their puppy dead, but as a result of its escape a young boy had been killed and a young man forever scared by his part in the event. So much pain and yet nobody really did anything wrong. Nothing that happened was due to wrong doing or bad people. I realized with that case it is easier when there is someone to blame, someone to be at fault, and especially when there is someone to prosecute and punish for such a tragedy but there was not.

So many cases stick with me. I usually would carry out the children myself whenever possible and if I close my eyes I can “feel” the weight of their lifeless bodies in my arms. I feel as though there is damage done to my soul from the evil than I have seen and cannot unsee.

Fiona - 
A huge thank you to Karen Sue for helping us to understand more about crime scenes and the humanity behind the professionals who work a crime scene.

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.