Showing posts with label ThrillWriting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ThrillWriting. Show all posts

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What in the World is a Marine Raider?

Marine Raider. 
For other Marine Raider images go HERE

No? Never heard the term? 

I recently received a lovely note from a Marine after I sent out a newsletter that mentioned that my new novel WASP had a hero named Gage Harrison who was a Marine Raider out of Lejeune. "Uh oh," he said, "Marine Raiders haven’t been around since mid-twentieth century." 

And you know what? He was right! Sort of.

You see, the Marine Raiders were developed as an elite unit back in WWII. The Marines didn’t very much like the idea of an “elite” unit and the effort was ended in 1944 when they were considered "no longer necessary." And then, yup, America decided they were pretty darned necessary. 

In 2014, they were back but this time they worked under the name MARSOC – Marine Special Operations Regiment and later reclaimed their original name Marine Raider – like Gage, my wonderful character.

AMAZON LINK

You all know about Army Rangers and SEALs. You know of the difficult selection process and the rigorous super-human training that they go through. And this is the same for the Marines. The Marines were faced with establishing their own brand of super-hero. They began by building on what they knew from the other branches, but as the Marine Raiders' role clarified, so did the selection and vetting process as well as the training.

“Raiders' capabilities are a unique blend with more emphasis on amphibious operations than, say, Army Rangers, but less than SEALS. And they offer something else, that aggressive can-do Marine ethos.” (NPR, 2016)

One of the reasons that Marine Raiders are not well known is that they keep a low profile. There are some Raider units that are not even discussed officially. This anonymity is part of their mystique and perhaps partly because they are a small group of operators. 

According to a Marine, Price, interviewed by NPR at Lejeune, 
“…the Raiders say their size is also a strength because it means a tighter team. They have only about 3,000 Marines. That's little more than a tenth of the number of troops in Army special operations and less than a third as many as Navy special ops. Arkin [Military analyst William Arkin] says a big question is whether their identity will be distinctive. He thinks they should lean heavily on the traditional Marine expertise in brief, hard-hitting missions and coastal fighting.”

In WASP, Gage’s skills are put to the test – good to know he had the background and the intensive training so he knew how to get the job done.




WASP: Available on most platforms

Zoe Kealoha is a military research scientist. Her work with microrobotics is meant to save lives. But she’d kept her work a secret to protect her from just this kind of scenario. As footfalls outside her bedroom door stalked closer, Zoe knew her quiet world was about to be upended.

​Unlike Zoe’s orderly world of hypothesis and laboratory controls, Gage Harrison loved the rush he got from his high-risk job as an elite warrior with the Marine Raiders. He was a Marine in every sense of the word. His soft spot was Zoe.

​When Gage hears Zoe’s screams from inside her home, his instincts and training switch from lover to guardian. He’ll stop at nothing to protect her from those plotting her abduction. Gage and his team are willing to risk everything to guard Zoe and her top secret military research. Zoe and Gage work together to untangle the sticky web of intrigue that traps politicians, schemers, spies, and lovers and those willing to put money over loyalty.


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I hope you enjoy my book - it's getting stellar reviews. I'd love to hear what you think!

~ Fiona


This article is based on an NPR article found HERE 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pets in Fiction! with Sue Coletta


This week, I've handed the reins over to the lovely Sue Coletta. Enjoy!
~ Fiona














Ways to Include Pets to Enhance Your Fictional World



I love writing pets into my stories. Not only is a great way to show a killer’s soft side, but they become important family members for the main characters. In my stories, I’ve used a Rottweiler, mastiff, and St. Bernard (MARRED and CLEAVED), a calico, tabby, and
all-black cat (Wings of Mayhem), pet crows (Blessed Mayhem), and a black bear (A Sultry Abyss in SCREAM). I’ve even borrowed a friend’s Bulldog for Black Out (RUN), but I felt so responsible for him, I couldn’t include him like I’d originally planned. God forbid I returned him emotionally scarred from the experience. It’s much safer to use fictional pets.

Need a way to show your character’s quirky side? Include a bearded dragon, snapping turtle, boa, tarantula, or exotic bird.

Is your character adventurous? Give him a pet moose, lion, leopard,
or tiger to love. How ‘bout a pet elephant? When writing about pets let your imagination soar.

Fit the pet to a specific character to cue readers about their personality. By using well-thought-out animals, it can say a lot about who they are, where they live, or even, their state of mind. It’s also fun to juxtapose. Give a tattooed biker a Chihuahua or toy poodle. Readers will love it!

A few things to keep in mind when writing pets into fiction...
If you kill the pet, you better have a damn good reason for it, a reason readers will understand.

For example, Bob and I watched John Wick recently. [SPOILER
ALERT] I fell in love with the Beagle puppy his dead wife sent him. When the bad guys murdered him I almost shut off the movie. If my husband hadn’t begged me to keep watching, that would’ve been it for me. Turns out, this moment kicked off the quest (First Plot Point in story structure). Not only is it an important scene, but if it didn’t happen there’d be no story. See? Understandable reason why he had to die. John Wick would not have gone ballistic over a stolen car. The puppy was the only thing left he cared about. It had to happen.

The safer option is to not harm the pets.
Why Does the Character Have That Specific Pet?

Like I mentioned earlier, you need to know why the character chose that pet. Is he lonely? Does a couple use their pets to fill a maternal/paternal need? Are you using that pet as a way to show the character’s soft side? Does the pet become the only one who'll listen to their fears, sorrow, or hidden secrets? In other words, for an introverted character, pets can assume a larger role in the story so your character isn't talking to him/herself.


As the writer, you need to know why that dog, cat, bird, lizard, or bear is in the story and what role they play in the plot. Does a K9 cop track criminals? Did your criminal character train a horse to be the getaway driver? Does the killer feed his pet hogs or gators human flesh? Why that fictional pet exists is crucial.
What’s the Pet’s Personality?

Animal lovers know each pet has his/her own personality. If you’ve never owned the pets you’re writing about, then I suggest doing a ton of research till you feel like you have. For example, while writing Blessed Mayhem I needed to know how crows communicated and how people could interpret their calls. What separated a crow from a raven, what they felt like, what they smelled like, what foods they enjoyed most. In order to make the characters real I spent countless hours of research into the life of crows. They’re fascinating, by the way. I now want a pet crow of my own. :-)
What Does the Pet Look Like and How Does S/he Act?

First, you’ve got to know the basics…their markings, voice, breed, habitat, diet, etc. Then delve deeper into the expressions they make when they’re happy, content, sleeping, aggravated, and downright pissed off. Every animal has their own unique personality, mannerisms, and traits. Evoke the readers’ five senses. Don’t just concentrate on sight. By tapping into these deeper areas, our fictional pets come alive on the page. It can really add a great deal to a story, too. A scene where the hero or villain cuddles with a pet can add a nice break from the tension, a chance to give the reader a moment to catch their breath before plunging them back into the suspense.

Plus, they’re fun to write.

Does the Basset Hound snore so loudly he keeps the rest of the family awake? Is he now banished to the garage at night? Does the German Shepherd's feet twitch when he's dreaming? Does the Bulldog throw his owner the stink-eye when he can't reach his favorite toy? (Waving at you, Otto!)

Let's talk dogs. They do more than bark. Use their full range of grunts, moans, groans, happy chirps, and playful growls when your character plays tug-of-war. For cats, nothing is more soothing than a purr rattling in their throat as your character drifts asleep. Soft claws can massage their back after a brutal day.

Years ago, I had a pet turkey who used to love to slide his beak down each strand of my hair. This was one of the ways Lou showed affection. I'd sit in a lounge chair with a second lounge chair behind me, and Lou would work his magic till I became putty in his beak. He knew it too. After all that hard work, I couldn't deny him his favorite treats.

Read Sue Coletta's ThrillWriting interview where she tells us what it's like to hang out in a barrell, hiding from the bad guy. HERE

Go to her Amazon page HERE

Her web page is HERE

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Getting my Jam On! Interrupting Communications: Information for Writers

English: Electromagnetic waves can be imagined...
English: Electromagnetic waves can be imagined as a self-propagating transverse oscillating wave of electric and magnetic fields. This diagram shows a plane linearly polarized wave propagating from left to right. The electric field is in a vertical plane and the magnetic field in a horizontal plane. http://weelookang.blogspot.com/2011/10/ejs-open-source-propagation-of.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our guest today is Jeffery H. Haskell who writes as Cassandra Sky West. We'll start our interview with Jeff in his non-writer persona and then switch to get to know what Cassandra has been writing about. Let's take a moment to get to know Jeff.

Jeff, can you tell me your professional background and how your background feeds your prose - what do you write?

Jeff -
The two things I could really call 'my profession' would be the US Army, and a technical support agent.


I spent 5 years in the Army doing comms work before I left to go to school. I went to school for journalism, and even won some big awards, but the inherent dishonesty of reporting was too much for me. Plus, I suck at school.


From there I fell into working tech support. I was young enough that I knew more about computers than the people older than me and in the 90s that was enough.


I worked that until 2011 when illness prevented me from talking on the phone for very long. Most of my tech support was phone based, I worked in call centers.

So how does this feed my prose? When I was a kid... let's say 'I had a bad childhood' and I didn't really have parents in any meaningful way. I loved Spiderman and Star Trek, and I used to write what we call fan fic now, but back then with no internet, it was just me dodging homework to go live in another world.

Of course, I read everything. Sci-fi, fantasy, as long as it was fantastical, I loved it. A few years ago, after being out of work for 4 years, I decided to revisit writing as a career. Mostly thanks to Lindsay Buroker's blog.


I started ghost writing on Upwork for urban fantasy. I had never really stopped writing since I was a kid. I decided I could write urban Fantasy. I use my background, my experiences, and my ability to research to bring as much life to the worlds and characters as I can. 


Currently, I write urban Fantasy as Cassandra, and Superhero and Sci-fi as Jeffery H. Haskell.


Fiona - 
And along the lines of research and making things as life-like as possible, you are here today to help us understand communications and how to make them not communicate.

Can you give us a brief overview of how communications uses electromagnetic signals as a path to understanding how we can interrupt them in our plots?

Jeff -
We call them by different names, cell phones, routers, AM/FM radio, etc., but they are all the same thing. They all use electromagnetic radiation (EMR) to transmit signals. Antennas receive them.


When a EMR signal is transmitted there are several ways it can reach its target, either in a broad circular transmission that blankets an area (AM/FM radio) through a directed signal (satellite dish) or through bouncing off the ionosphere.


These signals all have their own wavelength, something layman refer to as frequency. They aren't exactly the same thing, but close enough.


Fiona - 
So let's say we're the CIA or FBI, and we have a warrant (ripping this article from the headlines!) how would they intercept those signals without interrupting the conversation?

Jeff - 
Bear in mind, they have highly specialized equipment, often stuff you can't even buy on the market.


Fiona - 
Gosh, I hope so!

Jeff - 
If you're talking about cell phones, there are a lot of ways you can hijack the conversation without interrupting it. The irony of cell phones is, they actually made it easier to tap phone calls than land lines.


In the old days, if they wanted to tap a phone, they would either have to go inside the house and implant a bug in the room or the handset. Or dig up the line and attach a bypass to it.


The easiest way for them to do it now, and I believe Wikileaks just confirmed this (not to be political), is to simply gain wireless access the phone itself. Use its own software to record and listen to the call.


Fiona -
So to interrupt - wire tapping is so last year ...well, maybe not last year as in 2016, maybe many many years ago. It just isn't done.

Jeff - 
No, they still call it wiretapping, but no, no one really does that anymore.


The other way to listen is by hacking the cell company (which apparently the NSA had been doing) and routing all calls through their government computers and recording them.


There was a brief time when the FBI or whoever would have a tech van with a dish on top, and they would scan for signals, decode them and listen in. You had to be in the area of the cell phone you wanted to listen in on, but you could do it.


Now the government doesn't do that even. They hack everything and plant software that lets them listen from the source.

Fiona - 
I see they make baby dolls that start recording the stuff that goes on in your house now. Have you seen that?

Jeff - 
If it is wireless, then just like smart TV's (see Wikileaks) they can use that to listen and watch.


Fiona -
That's so creepy!

Jeff- 
1984 seems like a fond dream compared to the reality.


Fiona - 
Okay, new scenario.


The good guys (we only help the good guys here at ThrillWriting) need to stop the bad guys from communicating. How could they do that?


Jeff -
If I didn't mention it, I know most of this because I spent five years as a 31 Kilo, Combat Signaler. I had a top secret clearance and (at the time) used the most advanced radios in the world. Jamming is actually a bit more tricky than listening. 

Fiona - 
How cool is that! I knew I was asking the right person to help me understand this.

Jeff - 
It sounded much cooler writing it than the actual experience.


Fiona - 
So go back, can you define Combat Signaler? What did your job entail?

Jeff - 
I spent almost a year at Fort Gordon, Georgia, home of the Army Signal Corps.

At the time they were just transitioning from the PRC-77 (fondly known as a prick-seven) which was an unencrypted radio from Vietnam (yes, this was 1992. The Army doesn't upgrade quickly) I was the very first to be trained on the new sincgars, multi frequency, encrypted radios. I'm not sure how much of this is declassified these days so I'll just say this, they were impossible to jam, and as far as I know, still are.

Combat Signaler just meant I was in charge of the radio. Before the sincgars that meant you were just the guy who go shot first.


Fiona - 
I got stuck at Prick 7. I so love that. I have to put that in a books somewhere. Next book, everyone, look for it!

Could you define singars

Jeff -
Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, is what it stands for Impossible to jam! This is important.

It was a universal radio that could talk to everyone. Believe it or not, up until that point the services COULDN'T radio each other.

Fiona - 
Wait - what?
Is that fixed now?

(Jeff takes a moment to go and make sure he isn't releasing classified information to me so the DoJ doesn't come knocking on my door. Not to say that I wouldn't love to meet them, just to say I don't want to meet them under those circumstances. And it looks like we are cleared to continue this conversation)


Jeff - 
The basic stuff is declassified. 


Up until the sincgars came out, the branches of the military couldn't talk to each other. Everyone used different radios made by different companies and each with their own encryption (if they even had any).


If you needed to talk to the Airforce you would call the rear echelon, and they would relay the message. Fun, huh? We fought 4 or 5 wars like that.


On to why they are impossible to jam. First, I am going to explain jamming.


Here is what you need to jam a signal:


  • You need to know the frequency. You need to be close to the source (remember, some signals travel by bouncing off the ionosphere which starts 50 miles up).
  • A power source more powerful than the one the transmitter uses and a larger antenna.
Fiona - 
How do you discover the frequency, just messing around with a dial?

Jeff -
Well, with the right antenna and the right computer program you could scan for freqs in use. Or, if it is something like a commercially made cell phone, the FCC has laws that restrict their freq use. You could google 'Razor flip phone frequency' and probably get it.

Once you have all those things (see how it is harder than listening in?) You have to be ABOVE them. This is important. EM signals travel at the speed of light. If you are trying to go for a 100% jam, you have to turn on your jammer before they connect their call, and for best results be higher than them.


Fiona- 
Physically - like on a hill or in a tower - or standing on your van?

Jeff - 
Yes, physically (for best results).


After that it is just a matter of 'keying the mic' to transmit. If you're 50w radio is transmitting and someone with a 2.5w cell phone tries to talk, the signal will be washed away by the 50w signal.

In the Army we had a special Humvee with two massive antennas on them and a 100kw generator. When we flipped the switch, NO ONE could talk. We would sit on hills and do it randomly for fun just to mess up training exercises

That's area jamming, by the way. There is such a thing as direct jamming, but it takes even more specialized equipment and a directional antenna. However, the benefit is you don't need as big a power source.

Area jamming is what I described first. You sit on a hill or a house and overpower everyone.

Directional jamming is when you use something that looks like a satellite dish and you point it at the target you want jammed
it has the advantage of being smaller, using less power, and it is far more mobile.


However, if your target were to go behind something resistant to EMR, they would be free of the jamming.


So there are trade offs.


Fiona

What surfaces would be resistant to EMR?

Jeff -
Anything that conducts electricity well. Copper, aluminum, gold, etc.


Also, lead. But that is because it is so dense the waves can't pass through it.


I say 'blocked' but some of these things absorb it, it amounts to the same thing.


There is also a way to seal your home or HQ by building a Faraday cage. Which is a thin wire mesh, like chicken wire, but made from copper. You put it in your walls and then run a low amount of power through it. No signal can penetrate it.

I wish they would put Faraday cages in movie theaters.


Fiona -  
Yes!
Why can't SINGARS be jammed?

Jeff - 
SINGARS can't be jammed. Essentially they don't transmit on any one frequency. While they are transmitting they change frequency 111 times per second. Of course, they have to be synced to another sincgar to do it. But because you can't know what freq their on, you can't jam them.

Fiona -
Thank you.

Here on ThrillWriting it is tradition to tell the story behind your favorite scar. Would you indulge us?

Jeff -
Sadly, most of my scars are less than fun stories. But if I had to pick a favorite... One time in high school a kid who hated me threw a quarter stick of dynamite at me. It went off an inch from my shin. Shredded my pants and dented my shin bone. The skin is still discolored and you can feel the indent behind it.

Fiona-

Kids in your school threw dynamite? What??? 

Jeff - 
I didn't like school, to say the least.


Fiona - 
Goodness. Well, since that time, now you are writing under the
beautiful name Cassandra Sky West. And your books are doing really well. One of them you've recently put on sale and our readers can snag it for only 99 cents!

WITH THE DAWN
Alexi Creed needs to know who murdered her, and why. When she wakes up with no memory of her previous life, the only clue she has is a sudden, undeniable thirst for human blood. She finds allies in a mysterious witch with an enigmatic warning of the future and a brooding werewolf in search of redemption. Together they must fight malevolent vampires, agents of the Arcanum, and the forces of darkness if she is going to uncover her past and save the world from a night that will never end. READ IT HERE


A big thank you to Jeff AKA Cassandra Sky West for visiting with us and helping us to understand this subject so we can write it right.

You can stay in touch with Jeff/Cassandra here:
http://cassandraskywest.com/  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Poignant Essay on Eating Disorders with Olivia Vetrano

English: Centaurea sphaerocephala flower
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dear ThrillWriters,

I want you to write it right. I want you to understand different perspectives. To this end, I try to bring you a broad array of information that can help you do your best job in not just entertaining but touching your readers. 

Today, I m sharing an excerpt from a talented young writer's blog.

Olivia Vetrano has been our guest before when she did an interview with me about writing characters with mental health disorders. You can read it HERE.

She wrote this piece so poignantly that I wanted to bring it, and her blog, to your attention.

From TheDisorderedDreamer.blogspot.com:

An Open Letter To My Eating Disorder
Dear Eating Disorder,

I miss you.

Which is terrible to say. So much so that I would never allow those words to fall from my lips as they so easily fall from my fingertips.

And that’s not fair.

None of it is.

But then again, I was the one who raised you. I didn’t know it at the time, I was just a child. And a child shouldn’t try to foster anyone. It’s backwards. I couldn’t see it was wrong back then. You were just as innocent as I was and we kept each other company. You were someone I could turn to and I was someone you could trust to keep you a secret; locked away in a dark, warm place.

But then I grew up, and you grew malicious.

I’ll never forget the days you tested your newfound voice. You were speaking for yourself, and I was too stunned to fight back.

So I gave in.

You had never let me down before, maybe you knew what you were doing.

You take the lead, I’m right behind you.

Please continue reading this essay HERE

Twitter: @oliviavetrano
instagram: @oliviarosevetrano

BLOG - The Disordered Dreamer




Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oh, the Places We Will Go! Info for Writers with Sue Coletta

English: Wine barrels at the storage room at T...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our guest is Sue Coletta - I love keeping up with Sue on Facebook because she's a writer after my own heart - unless you experience it, it's hard to write it right. 

The other day on Facebook, I read one of Sue's posts to my husband because he could so identify with Sue's hubby. Can you tell the story about the chair for us ThrillWriters?

Sue - 
My husband and I had just watched a movie. He got up to brush his teeth and came back into the living room to find me curled in a ball on the seat of the recliner. He asked, "What are you doing?" I said, "Do you think I could fit inside a suitcase?" His response was, "Dead or alive?" Which cracked me up. 

What went through my head was, earlier in the night we'd watched a true crime show. I'm addicted to Discovery ID. And this killer stashed a girl in the suitcase and wheeled her out the lobby of a hotel. I loved the idea.
I was thinking of using it in a story. But before I did I wanted to make sure it was plausible. Hence, why I curled up.

Fiona - 
Only a writer's husband would come back with "dead or alive?"

Once I was at a conference where they were supposed to have a setup that included the bugs and smell of a dead body. My car broke down in the rain. I was on the phone with Hubby at 6 am sobbing that I was going to miss it. "I'm so upset, I so wanted to smell the dead body," I hiccoughed into the phone. "I know you did, baby, and I want that for you too." It takes a special someone to love a writer.

Sue -
Hahahaha! Sounds like something we'd say to each other.

Fiona - 
Let's take a step back. Tell us about you and your writing life. How does your education/past employment feed your prose. What genre do you you write?

Sue - 
I write psychological thrillers mainly, though some of my books are also mysteries. Past experience always plays a hand at what we write, don't you think? During my lifetime I've walked with notorious biker gangs, lawyers, cops, and the average Joe. All of which help me with create believable characters. My past work as a salon owner doesn't play a role, but my work as a paralegal has definitely helped with my research.

Fiona - 
Now I'd disagree with the salon part - you get to sit with different people and get to know them in a way few of us do - when they are feeling vulnerable about their appearance.

You have another story - you were trying out barrels. Can you tell us the story of why? And give us  feedback so we don't have to try it ourselves?

Sue -
I'd just gotten the edits back for CLEAVED, the sequel to MARRED, and when I re-read the opening chapter, I noticed something was missing. The opening starts with a character trapped inside an oil drum. On further inspection, I realized I had no real life situation I could pull from, which made the writing matter-of-fact rather than emotional. When this happens, I need to experience what the character is going through in order to write her, so I asked my husband if we had any oil drums. 

We had a 30 gallon drum, our neighbor had a 55 gallon, like in the chapter. Excitement built in my chest, and I said, "Is it empty? I need to get in there." Fifteen minutes later, I was climbing inside the 30 gallon drum. Which caused a problem right off. You can't just step in and squat. It's too narrow. I needed to tuck and squat, if that makes sense. 

Picture it like this. My hands are on the outside rim. I hike my knees to my chest, then slide in already curled up. That was a tight fit, too! The first thing that struck me was the enormous pressure on my lungs. Pain shot to my ankles, knees, and neck from the odd angles of being stuffed inside. The darkness got to me too. It's pitch black. I couldn't see a thing, which made my heart race even more. My mind swirled with things like, "How much oxygen do I have? What if I can't escape?" Even though I knew my husband was outside the barrel. It doesn't matter. When you're in that situation your body reacts no matter how you try to reason with yourself. 

I stayed for a while in there, too, to see if I could regulate my breathing, but I wasn't able to fully recover natural breathing. In fact, the longer I stayed, the more pressure there was on my lungs. I was able to move my arms, but nothing else. 

When I traded the 30 gallon for a 55 gallon it felt like Club Med. LOL But soon, my body responded in the same way...pain in the ankles, knees, and neck, tightness (to put it mildly) in my chest. I even asked for husband to duct tape the top closed to see how hard I'd have to push to escape. Turns out, it was fairly easy, because the duct tape didn't stick to steel that well, but at least I could experience how she'd try to escape...by using her hands and the back or side of her face. Basically, if she tried to straighten she'd put enough pressure on the lid for it to pop loose. Unless of course the killer clasped the metal bung. Then she'd be screwed. Something to keep in mind.

Fiona - 
Okay just reading those last sentences, my body freaked out. 

Duct tape is often in movies and books - but writers, it doesn't do the job read about it here in Duct Tape 101 and Duct tape 102.

Sue, how were you when you got back out? How long before you, for example, could run or fight? Were your limbs asleep?

Sue - 
They weren't fully asleep, but definitely tingly, on their way to falling asleep. Also, I scraped my back sliding into the first barrel. Forgot to mention that. Once I was out, my breathing did not return to normal. It took a while to recover, actually. I'd say a good ten to fifteen minutes for the pressure to release from my lungs. The pain in my neck lasted all day, sort of like when you wake with a stiff neck from sleeping wrong. My ankles and knees weren't too bad after ten minutes or so, but if I had to run for my life afterward, I'd definitely have a hard time.

Fiona - 
Now I'm wondering about your psychological well being. How did the experience affect your decision making? How long did it take for you to feel relief from the stress? And did you have nightmares about small spaces that night?

Sue - 
LOL I'm fine, truly. I do these type of things all the time. Decision making while inside the drum gets skewed. I'm guessing it's a combination of things...oxygen deprivation combined with panic. I felt relieved immediately upon escape, but that pressure on my lungs still played with my head. No nightmares, thankfully. 

I did, however, write a much better scene. Score!

Fiona - 
Here on ThrillWriting, we always ask about the story behind your favorite scar 

Sue - 
Hmm...interesting question. I have a few scars to choose from, but I'll go with my eyelid scars because I almost died in that accident. It was a brutally hot and humid summer evening, around 8 p.m. At the time I had a 2 hour and 10 min. commute each way to work. The air conditioner died. I hadn't been sleeping well due to a bad break up. I'd worked 10 hours and was only 5 miles from my house when I drifted off, totaled 4 cars, and woke with my face in the windshield. 

Someone had rushed from their house (the guy whose new porsche I totaled) and removed me, laid me back with towels wrapped around my face. I didn't know it then, but when he pulled my face out of the glass my eyebrow and lashes stayed behind. The doctors told me I'd never regrow either the brow or the lashes. They did plastic surgery to repair the eyelid and side of my nose, and they picked out as much glass as they could from my eyes, but I picked out more glass for weeks afterward. 

Anyway, little by little I noticed tiny hairs growing. The doctors couldn't believe. After a couple months, I had a full eyebrow and lashes. I'm now in medical journals.

Fiona - 
Holy smokes!

Well, I have to say today we talked about things that set my nerves on end. 

Can you tell us a bit about one of your books?

Sue - 
In honor of publisher's b'day bash, MARRED is on sale for 99c (Kindle version). 


When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller torments Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

Fiona
Thank you!

If you all want to keep in touch with Sue, here are some links.

website: http://www.suecoletta.com/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/SueColetta1
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SueColetta1

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Talk About a Plot Twist! Jury information with Judge Hopkins


Today our guest is the Honorable Judge Hopkins.
Judge, would you introduce yourself to everyone?

Judge Hopkins-
My name is Bill Hopkins and I have been in the legal profession since 1971. I have been a civil attorney, criminal defense attorney, prosecutor, administrative law judge, and trial court judge, all in the state of Missouri.


Fiona - 
This article is "Jury Nullification in Criminal Trials" which is not something I've ever heard of before. But you're going to walk us through this new way of twisting our plots. I'm just going to let you have free rein.

Judge Hopkins -
Doug Linder wrote an article about jury nullification, which I recommend to you. It’s found HERE


“Jury nullification” is a fancy legal term for what happens when a jury doesn’t buy the prosecutor’s reason for the state’s case even though the defendant is truly guilty of a crime. In other words, the jury cancels the effect of a law that they don’t like. The law may be in their minds immoral or unfair or wrongly applied to the defendant (the one on trial).

Now, as a writer, you could develop a thousand or more plots just on the information set out above. For example: 
Is there a defendant who admits to killing his ailing wife who was suffering from terminal cancer and was in pain so extreme that no drug could alleviate it? A jury may have a great deal of sympathy for the surviving husband. The jury lets him go although he is definitely guilty of murder. But, wait! A month after the trial, a juror finds out that the “grieving husband” had his wife take out a million dollar life insurance policy when she was healthy. The insurance carrier has paid off. Now the defendant is going to Belize with his sweetie who he’d been seeing long before his wife got sick. The informed juror convinces all the other jurors to help him kill the grieving husband. The Case of the Informed Juror. Sounds like an Agatha Christie plot. Or maybe Perry Mason.

Linder, in the article cited above, asks if juries have the right to nullify. Juries clearly have the power to nullify. But that doesn’t mean they have the right to nullify. If the jury in a criminal case finds a defendant not guilty (which, by the way is not the same as “innocent”) then the state can never prosecute the defendant again. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states (in part) that no person shall “...be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb....” The state is allowed to try a defendant only once.

Today, courts not only don’t want to tell juries that they can nullify (or cancel) a criminal law they don’t like, they are often actively discouraged to nullify. In Missouri, for example, jury nullification is not allowed. Things could be different in whatever jurisdiction you’re writing about. Checking with the state bar in the capitol would be the best way to find information about legal questions where you live.

Judges in Missouri instruct jurors that it is their duty to apply the law as it is given to them, whether they agree with the law or not. And, I suspect, it would be reversible error for a defense lawyer in my state to use jury nullification in a closing argument for a client.

The Case of the Unwelcome Snitch. Another plot might be that a jury really wants to free a person who is clearly guilty. One of the jurors who wants to send the defendant to prison, sneaks a note to the judge, explaining that the jury’s deliberations are wandering into forbidden territory. There’s a hung jury and later the snitch is found dead behind the courthouse, beaten to death with the judge’s gavel. That’s kind of flimsy, but you get my drift.

Linder reports that many legal scholars “have suggested that it is unfair to have a defendant's fate depend upon whether he is lucky enough to have a jury that knows it has the power to nullify.”

I won’t comment whether I think jury nullification is fair or unfair. However, I know that judges worry that courtrooms will become hotbeds of anarchy if jurors are told they have the power (but not necessarily the right or duty) to nullify a law. Judges also worry that jurors do not have the legal training to decide what the law is or isn’t. Jurors should decide facts only and apply the law that the jury instructions give them, whether they agree with the law or not. That’s what most judges (I suspect) believe today.

As I said, this is an article about criminal trials. Today, in America, there is very little control over prosecutors, who, in some ways, have more power than judges do. I was a prosecutor once. I could’ve announced in the newspapers that I was investigating Suzy Saintly Citizen for smuggling dope from Canada. There would be a flurry of news. Then I could say, “Sorry. There’s not enough evidence to charge Suzy Saintly Citizen for this serious crime.” If I were a deceitful prosecutor and knew she had never so much as stepped on a crack in an attempt to break her mother’s back when she was in kindergarten, I have now ruined her reputation. Nothing could be done to me as a prosecutor. Note that everything I said to the newspaper was true: (1) I’m investigating a leading citizen of the town, and (2) I’ve decided that there’s not enough evidence to charge her. 

Another plot: The Case of the Slimy Prosecutor.

Linder’s article concludes: “[J]ury nullification provides an important mechanism for feedback. Jurors sometimes use nullification to send messages to prosecutors about...what they see as harassing or abusive prosecutions. Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid—it provides some play in the joints for justice, if jurors use their power wisely.”

I could go along with that. A good book on criminal law that every crime writer should have is by Leslie Budewitz:

Full disclosure: I am in the book!


Fiona - 
So fun!

Thank you so much for this information. Would you please take a minute and tell us about your latest book?

Judge Hopkins -
My latest book DISHONEST CORPSE was out last year: 



The ebook versions of my first two books (COURTING MURDER and RIVER MOURN) are FREE from Amazon. Courting Murder.

Fiona- 
Free books? Woohoo!!!

Thanks for joining us. Happy reading and writing!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Relationship Deal Breakers: Things to Keep In Mind When Constructing Characters

Author: Bagande
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relationship deal breakers: traits that ruin the chances right out of the gate


This article is based on the study conducted by:
1. Peter K. Jonason1
2. Justin R. Garcia2
3. Gregory D. Webster3
4. Norman P. Li4
5. Helen E. Fisher5
1. 1Western Sydney University, Australia
2. 2Indiana University Bloomington, USA
3. 3University of Florida, Gainesville, USA
4. 4Singapore Management University, Singapore
5. 5Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA



Awesome! Your hero has met the one. It was a magical heartwarming encounter. He turned and bumped into her, and she spilled scalding hot coffee down both of their fronts. It was a shared moment of excruciating pain and quick undressing. But she took his number! Sure, it was with the understanding that he'd need to pay her dry cleaning  and medical bills. But it was a foot in the door!


What characteristics could you give your would-be love interest that would assure the reader that the hook up will never happen?

Well, it turns out that the NUMBER ONE - "no thank you" quality is...

 A MESSY unkept appearance - Described as a "disheveled or unclean appearance," according to 71% of women/63% of men. Clean them up before you send them out on the street. If you think that your heroine's showing up all grimey from digging in the garden with that cute little  smudge of dirt on her upturned nose is going to catch the studmuffin you've conjured up, deep down your readers (for the most part) aren't buying it. 

LAZY -Seventy-two percent of women/60 percent of men


NEEDY -
That damsel in distress isn't pulling out the knight in shining armor qualities of your hero. 57% of men would take a pass. Women? Yeah, they need a man who can take care of his own issues. 69% are heading out the door.


Poor Sense of HUMOR - It's a major mrph for relationships. 58% of women/50% percent of men say no to humorless partners. So make them funny, even if they met clinging to the side of a cliff, desperately kicking their feet trying to save themselves.


LONG DISTANCE Relationships.
Now this is relative. Living ten miles away in a city like Boston or LA can mean an hour commute to get there for dinner. In Texas, ten miles means they live in your backyard. 47% of women/51% of men won't get into a relationship where their love interest lives too far away.

BAD SEX - 
Here's an interesting one. Only 44% of men thought bad sex should end the relationship. 50% of women would call it quits. I'm going to leave that one there - but this kind of turns things on its head for me. I would have thought that number would be MUCH higher and possibly reversed. But it looks like women aren't willing to put up with men who are bad in the sack.

INSECURITY - 
47% of women/33% percent of men would let this relationship go by the wayside. Insecurity in most relationships is draining as the other needs constant petting and reassurance.

TECH-OBSESSED
Another interesting one. What a gender difference. 41% women would call it quits. 25% of men. Look how low that number is for guys - Take the inverse that means 75% of men are A-OK with your character binge watching Netflix all day.

LOW LIBIDO
27% women/39% men would break up if their partner had a low sex drive. So if you put this with the category for bad in bed, you could see how someone with a low sex drive, but who did well when things heated up, might still have a shot at this relationship.

 INCREDIBLY STUBBORN
34% of women/32% of men 

CHATTY
20% of women/26% of men find being chatty worse than TOO QUIET  where only 17% of women/11% of men would find this a deal breaker.

BLUNTNESS
No thank you says 17% of women/11% of men.

I DON'T WANT KIDS
The "I don't want kids" phrase will shut the door on a relationship for 15% of women/13% of men.

HAVE KIDS
12% of women/14% of men prefer their partner not have children already.

TOO BUFF
Yeah, there is such a thing. And it's a problem for 10% of women and 7% of men. Conversely, "NOT ATHLETIC" is an issue for only 6% of women - but still 7% of men. So build your characters somewhere on the interior of that spectrum.

Here's to your characters finding their heart's desires and living happily ever after!

Cheers,
Fiona

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Was Your Character Thinking? Or: What I Learned on a Cold Dark Training Mission

English: American Black Bear Ursus americanus ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was out in the mountains of Virginia, training with the the K-9 Search and Rescue teams, but I was thinking a lot about plot development and characters. 

If I could pick one nugget to share from my experience, it would be that in a "situation" whatever the situation is that you've cooked up for your character, the thing on their mind will be the last related story they were told. 

Example 1:

I had been out as a walker most of the day tracking the handler who was tracking the dog who was tracking the lost person. We had a "find." A young woman and her friend were hanging out in the bramble as our subject. After applying fake first aid to a fake injury, we assisted in an equine evacuation. The girl and her friend had been in the woods for hours, and I was asking how they did. The woods can be a scary place. "Were you afraid?"
"Only of bears," she said.

Huh, okay. 

Fast forward, dinner's done back at base, and they're calling for volunteers to be staged in the woods. I was glad to do that, I'm quite comfortable in the woods, and I had sufficient equipment in my pack that the below freezing temperatures and chance of snow didn't feel concerning. So off I went. We drove until there was no more fire road, then I was walked waaaaay out into the woods until I hit the location they'd assigned me, and my handler left me there. The last thing the handler was talking about was bears in the woods. Since it was pitch black out there, I asked if I was allowed red lights (we don't use white lights in the woods if we're not using a search beam, because we're trying to keep our night vision. I use a green light when I'm walking in the woods at night, because it's easier to read a topographical map.) 
"Why do you want lights? Are you feeling scared?"
"No not really, it's just that you've been talking about black bears; and when the K-9 runs out of the brush, I'd like to know it's a dog and not a bear. I'd like to know if I'm about to get  licked or mauled."
"Good point, but no. We'd prefer you not use your lights."

So there I was. Alone. Wrapped in a black tarp. Sitting under a tree, contemplating life. And the rustling sounds around me. And was that a snort? 

As I said before, I'm perfectly okay in the woods, night or day. What sent me out of my comfort zone was that a potential threat loomed in the forefront of my thoughts, since it had been alluded to twice that day in the context of sitting alone in the woods. 

Those earlier conversations are what made me pull my knife out of its sheath and stab it into the dirt beside me. I kept my hand on the handle. A low level hum of "what if," ran the entire time I was waiting for my "rescue."

Example 2:

Fast forward; The K-9 team found me as the moisture in the air started to rise and the dew began to form. The temperatures were dropping precipitously. I headed to the equine camping area to warm up in front of the campfire before Hubby and I drove to our tent to get some sleep. Around the blaze, we were sharing war stories of past searches. One of the last stories they told was that the night before, only one equine searcher was in the area. It was a single woman in her horse camper. She was the only one who was supposed to be there. Late in the evening, she heard two men talking outside. She listened as they circled around her trailer. 

The woman called over to base and several men came over and did a search. Finding no one, they went on their way. The strangers came back and tried the woman's door handle. She racked the slide on her semi-automatic and called out, "Leave now or I shoot." They high tailed it out of there. 

It was an odd story because no one should have been testing her door's locks. It was also concerning because no one was supposed to be in the area, not even park staff. To be honest, there aren't many who want to hang out on the top of a mountain, camping in December. 

I heard the story and promptly forgot the story. That is, I forgot it until Hubby and I were in our tent. We were the only tent in the whole campground and the campground was a good distance from the equine area and even farther from base. No big deal, Hubby and I are perfectly comfortable in the woods. Though, a little warmer would have been more pleasant as far as our comfort went, that's for sure. 

As we lay in our tent, a dually truck drove around the camp twice, nice and slow. 

Here's what I was thinking:
I'm in silk long johns in my sleeping bag. My boots are a hassle to get on. No one would hear me if I screamed. My pack is in the car. I have no gun. I didn't even bring in my knives. It's around twenty degrees outside. There's nowhere to run except deeper into the woods. Dressed the way I am, there isn't a good chance of survival if I run towards the woods. My best option, if these men come to cause problems, was to get past them, out the small tent door, down to the bathhouse and lock myself in the shower room. Of course, I'd be barefooted and in almost no clothes, so unless they left pretty quickly or there was a ton of hot water available, I'd probably freeze. 

I'll be honest, the bears were such a long shot in terms of actually being a problem, that it was just something that played through my brain. The story about the men - who tried to enter our teammate's trailer and had to be chased off with the threat of gun fire - that was much more worrisome. Worrisome enough that I only slept lightly, keeping an awareness of the sounds, trying to catch footfalls coming toward the tent.

The next morning, I was talking about it with Hubby. Of course, he was in the same straights I was -- clothing and weapons wise. He'd heard the same story and the concern of folks not on the mission being in an area that was supposed to be empty. He went through almost the same thought processes as I did. 
"So what did you conclude? Did you have a plan?" I asked.
"I guess it would come down to who won the fight us or them."
So he had imagined how he'd have to spring from the sleeping bag (and we had to stay zipped against the cold). His conclusion, we didn't have a good shot at coming out of this okay. He hadn't considered getting to the showers but said that would have been a good route. 

We both decided that we'd make better weapons choices next time around. Live and learn and come out the otherside. It's all an adventure.

On the drive home, I thought about the significance of that last story one hears, the last odd concern that was expressed. It has the power to construct a new understanding of an otherwise okay situations. The storytelling becomes a warning that looms large when in a situation where the other person's story elements are lining up with yours. It's a great way to get to know a character or twist a plot.

I thought this was a pretty good thing to keep in mind as characters are sharing their stories with the others in a book. So I'm sharing my observation with you in case you're wondering just what your character would be thinking.

Cheers!
~And happy writing.
Fiona



Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Safe Is Your Character? Information for Writers with Jacqueline Ward

Jacqueline Ward is a Chief Executive Officer at the Safety and Reliability Society, in England. This is a membership based organization that deals with major hazards. She is a Chartered Health Psychologist and has done research into women's health, domestic violence, missing people, Alzheimer's, central nervous system, and disaster management & human factors in engineering. How cool is that?

(This article was edited for American spelling)

Fiona - 
Does any your work background show up in your writing, or do you use your writing to escape from these subjects?


Jacqueline - 
I have used my knowledge of missing people and domestic violence extensively in my writing, and I'm currently writing a psychological thriller where the central character is a psychologist studying psychopathology! Not based on me though - honestly.

Fiona - 
Let's chat about trauma psychology. I bet you've had some experience with TV, movies, and books, where you're thinking - in no universe is that how it happens. Can you start with some of the common mistakes creative types make when they're putting their characters into a highly charged atmosphere? 

Jacqueline -
I have a lot of experience of what happens step by step in major disasters. Part of my work is to read and evaluate major incidents reports and to draw out lessons learned, so I understand them at a deep level. 

It just happens that major incidents with lots of danger and fatalities are the subject matter for books, TV and movies. 
  • One of the most common mistakes I pick up is alarms. It's either no alarms at all, or all the alarms go off and everyone runs in all directions. There is never a procedure that everyone follows. Quite often this mayhem is portrayed as the cause of the disaster and fatalities, when it definitely isn't. 
  • Also, when one person is bellowing orders to lots of people in a noisy environment, I am shouting at the screen. It is usually massively oversimplified, in film and TV. I guess to save money, but in books it's usually lack of research.

Fiona - 
In some people, they follow the rules - you mentioned the alarms - surely there have been times when a group has practiced evacuation  and even though someone is new (perhaps visiting) but enough people know the process that the new players can be herded along.

But what happens when the way the populace has been taught to respond is thwarted? The exit they were aiming for is ablaze. Can you break down what kinds of reactions might happen - are there in your field specific "types" that you plan to accommodate or even depend on emerging?

Jacqueline -
A lot of this is cultural. 
  • Firstly, alarms. When an alarm is put into place and it has a process around it (alarm sounds, employees/staff exit and guide the public out) it is rehearsed. The problem comes usually at the first stage when the initial alarm goes off to indicate something is wrong. 
  • Quite often and a real problem is alarm desensitization. The person in charge of the facility or venue may have rehearsed the alarm so often that the populace is used to it and begin to perceive every alarm as a rehearsal. This is a direct reversal of what should happen biologically in the flight or fight. 
  • Then there is the reaction to an alarm by the crowd. This differs significantly in different disasters. 


Fiona- 
That's so true, and obvious when you say it. I might have understood how one of my characters would act/react - but I also need to be cognizant that they are acting within a group that will have its own personality traits. Can you give us a couple of cultural examples?

Jacqueline -
Let's take the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, the incident was caused by alarm desensitization. Alarms were possibly overridden by the survival instinct. The individualistic culture of the UK might have played a role. This is an example of the exit that is ablaze. In this situation, the crew had fairly clear instructions about how to leave the rig but fire blocked their way. So their fight or flight instinct was invoked. Their lives were threatened and their senses heightened to find any way to survive. Sensory amplification in hazardous situations in common. In this case, they had no choice but to jump into the sea that was on fire.

Alternatively in Japan with the Fukushima nuclear incident, all procedures were followed to the letter and fatalities were extremely low (from the nuclear incident, not for the natural tsunami incident).

Major hazards are so rare that there is not enough data collected to assign types to people who have survived or perished. This is also why there are very few prediction models.

Fiona -
Let's talk about prediction models - what elements are involved?


Jacqueline -
Taking infrastructure hazards as an example, a big focus has been on the safety and reliability of the engineering of things like trains, planes and buildings. Many prediction models focus on the performance of the complex system and its parts - how the materials have performed in the past. This is combined with the past incidents and near misses with similar vehicles or buildings.

It is only fairly recently that human error has been taken into account when predicting disasters. 

The people who design and operate prediction models to prevent accidents and disasters are just as much heroes as the people who act when the hazard happens - without their foresight there would be many more disasters. 

I'd like to see more of them in books, films and TV, but they are not as sexy as someone who (often unrealistically) runs in and rescues someone from a burning building. Believe it or not there are whole teams of people who are responsible for keeping military vehicles safe and reliability so as to protect the lives of the people who operate them in war zones. 

Part of my rationale for working in this field is to keep nuclear power safe. I used to be against nuclear power, but as it is here to stay we need to be able to manage it in order to prevent a major accident with lots of fatalities.

Fiona - 
I can totally see a lone hero on a planning committee trying to bring a flaw to the attention of those who'd rather turn a blind eye.

Okay ThrillWriters, we have a new hero! Maybe it's our beta heroine, who knew the risks the whole time. The alphas are in high gear, and she's running into the fray with blueprints in hand. "Listen to me!"

So Jacqueline, let's make you in your position into a character. What common qualities do you see in someone who is working in your field?


Jacqueline -

  • Someone in my field would probably have a science background and a deep concern for the safety of people and for the environment, so they'd be compassionate
  • There is a certain amount of confidence needed as 'speaking up' is part of the job description, but also being able to operate on a national level, as the work involves understanding and reporting on the National Risk Register to government. So resilient also.
Fiona - What would you like to teach us about your world that I would never guess or know to ask about?

Jacqueline -
That major incidents are a lot less frequent than we think they are and that they can almost never be predicted. There is a book called Black Swan by Naseem Nicholas Teleb that anyone interested in risk and disasters should read.


Fiona - 
In the ThrillWriting tradition, it's now time to share your favorite scar story.
Jacqueline -
It's horrible. I've never been good with electric knives and one day when I was heavily pregnant with my third child I was chopping cabbage, and I cut my arm open with the electric knife I was using. As if that wasn't enough, I ran to the bathroom to wash it and even though there was no one in the house I locked the door behind me. I couldn't get out as the lock stuck. I was bleeding badly and then I felt labour pains. It took three hours for my partner to come home and find me, and the ambulance was accompanied by the fire brigade who had to break the bathroom door down. I was OK, my baby son was OK, but I have a big scar on my arm to remind me of that day. People sometimes ask me about it and ask if I tried to commit suicide, which is ironic as I was actually giving birth, but it gives m an opportunity to open a conversation about mental health and have been able to facilitate healing through it. So all's well that ends well!

Fiona - 
AMAZON LINK
Thank you.

I'm sure you are all anxious to learn about 
Jacqueline's writing.
Why not check out her work RANDOM ACTS OF UNKINDNESS

DS Jan Pearce has a big problem. Her fifteen year old son, Aiden, is missing. Jan draws together the threads of missing person cases spanning fifty years and finds tragic connections and unsolved questions.

Bessy Swain, an elderly woman that Jan finds dead on her search for Aiden, and whose own son, Thomas, was also missing, may have the answers.

Jan uses Bessy's information and her own skills and instinct to track down the missing boys. But is it too late for Aiden?

Set in the North West of England, with the notorious Saddleworth Moor as a backdrop, Random Acts of Unkindness is a story about motherhood, love and loss and how families of missing people suffer the consequences of major crimes involving their loved ones


Her website, www.jacquelineward.co.uk, is a great way for you to get in touch with her also her Twitter - @jacquiannward

Cheers! And thanks for visiting.